Went out to see Hamlet at the Archway Studio Theatre the other night. It was pay-what-you-will night and my colleague Laura Zenoni was playing Ophelia, so I hopped the Metro and got out to North Hollywood. Archway is one of the hundreds of little theatres that sprinkled liberally about the LA basin and they have a nice little setup with small play space, some lights and entrances at each upstage corner. It was “two planks and a passion” and there was plenty of passion to go around on that little stage as a troupe of players young and old, veterans and rookies, stood up and told that wrathful, sexy, heartbreaking story of a murdered king and a son’s revenge.
When actors get up onto a blank stage to tell a great story my heart begins to pound. It’s all about the possibilities, the potentials. I’ve performed in three different productions of this play and I know it cold, so when the lights come up on the actors I’m less interested in “what happens next”, and more on “how will what’s next happen?” The company kept their nose to the grindstone and their emphasis on the text and just told the story cleanly and clearly and that made for a good evening in the Theatre. As artists we are often caught up in a fervor to do more, more, more. A painter friend of mine talks about knowing when to stop painting, actors need to keep in mind the line between telling the story and self indulgence. It’s quite invisible so we must go by feel, instinct, and the eye of a really good director. (and there are so, so few). One thing my friend Laura did that was different was, during Ophelia’s mad scene, as she was handing out flowers to her brother and the King and Queen, she began to eat the Rue Blossoms. It was a lovely gesture. She reverted to childlike behaviors and let them tell the story of her lost sanity.
As ever there is one scene, one moment that, over the years, I’ve waited for a production to address and make sense of. In Act VI, Scene vii, Gertrude returns to the chamber where Laertes and Claudius are conferring and announces that Ophelia has drowned. Laertes then asks a strange question “Where?”. Then Gertrude gives a long speech about how Ophelia was standing at the river bank, the ground beneath her gave way, she went into the water, blithely singing old songs kept afloat by her voluminous skirts. Then finally she drowns as her clothing became soaked with water and pulled her under. Gertrude’s speech is a problem for me because it suggests that Gertrude saw Ophelia go into the water and then just watched as the poor girl drowned, and did nothing. I have only seen one production where that issue was addressed, the recent production with Benedict Cumberbatch. In that telling, they suggested that Gertrude had made up the story of Ophelia’s drowning in order to spare Laertes the ugly truth of his sister’s death. A choice, a good choice, though I think there is a lot more there for a good actor mine. And the key may be in Laertes question “Drowned, O, where?” Perhaps if he is asking “Where could she have drowned? We’re in a castle!” That might open the door for Gertrude to play that moment as more than just a beautiful speech.
The company of Hamlet at the Archway stayed pretty much in the realm of clarity and story. Now and then there was some scenery chewing but hey, sometimes that is just what an audience wants and needs. I knew they were alright though during the final poisonous scene, that orgasm of revenge and retribution that the entire play has been building to, when Hamlet and Laertes are fighting , Claudius is fretting, the whole court of Denmark is in distress and Gertrude picks up the venomous chalice and starts to drink. Even before Claudius spotted what she was doing, two young women sitting near me started whispering to each other, “Oh my God, oh my God”, “Oh no”, “She’s gonna drink the poison”, “no, no, no”.
Mission accomplished Archway. You trusted Shakespeare and you all came through together.
In 1979, after getting out of the Marines I was doing Theatre in Orange County, attending college on the GI bill and working as a stage carpenter at Saddleback College. I knew I wanted to be an actor and rather than move to LA and study there, I instead went to New York and entered the 2 year conservatory program of the National Shakespeare Company. There I trained to be a classical actor.
Since that time I’ve attended ongoing classes from time to time in NY and LA and found the difference in approach and emphasis to be logical. New York is a Theatre town and much of the material used in class is drawn from Theatre. In LA classes, Film and Television material is favored. I’m not going to draw any comparisons because there are brilliant teachers on both coasts and great actors have come out of both places. Speaking for myself though, and myself alone, I am glad that I chose to train in the classics and do a lot of Shakespeare jobs at the beginning of my career.
Since that time I have never encountered a piece of dramatic literature, Theatre, Film or Television, that I could not understand, appreciate, analyze and eventually master. Studying and playing Shakespeare gave me a foundation in language, history, literature and good, old fashioned, rip snorter storytelling that has served me well across the entire spectrum of my work, from Army training films, to half-hour comedies, to big hollywood movies, to Broadway and to tiny black box theaters on the “fringe”. To my colleagues who have yet to dip into classical theatre, especially Shakespeare. Find a class. Try it out. It won’t kill you, and it will make you stronger.
At a dinner party once I listened intently as a musician, a violinist of some standing around town, was talking about the life of a working player, a professional artist. She eventually came round to the subject of practice and in response to the question “do you practice every day?” she explained something that really stuck with me, “I practice every day. I have to because, if you miss one day of practice, you know it. If you miss two days of practice, your teacher knows it, and if you miss three days of practice, the audience knows it!”
Practice is a big part of the life of a professional artist. A good friend of mine who is a painter, always has a sketch pad and crayons with her. She finds time to draw every day. She says that she must in order to “maintain”. As a young actor I was taught to practice daily. As soon as I left the conservatory and began my career I let the daily practice thing go. Heck, I was working a lot and felt I didn’t need to practice. Was I right? Was I wrong? Who knows? That’s how it went.
Now I’m decades down the road and seeing my profession in a new way, as an artist and as a small business man. I am my small business and in order to have success, my one and only product must be in the best shape possible. So now I practice daily. When a job is pending I’m looking at the script. When an audition is coming up I’m working on the sides. When nothing is going on I’m learning a new monologue, or going back over an old one. I take exercise daily, keeping the body and mind sharp. If I’m to practice my profession at a high level, I have to have high standards.
To any young colleagues who might read this, take note. We are all talented, and some of us work harder than others. Those that work harder also work more. Talent will never replace hard work.
Man oh man I guess I’m living right. Last year I did a really sweet little job working on a music video with a major music star. This project was so “hush-hush” that I had to sign an NDA and refrain from talking about it. It was fun and the major music star turned out to be a very friendly and engaging guy. Couple weeks ago I got a call from a production company about a project that I knew nothing about but they seemed to know me and the person on the other end of the line was saying things like “…we want you to come back” . I referred them to my agent and manager and carried on with life. Now an offer has come through and next week I’ll do a couple of episodes of the first streaming series to be produced by Apple Inc. It’s called “Vital Signs” and it is a series that is growing out of that secret music video I did last year. Not only do I get a couple of episodes to further develop my character from the video, but I even get to do a couple of scenes with that big music star I mentioned. I have to say I am one blessed guy.
Gun. What an experience! Gun is a labor of love and passion brought into the world by a fellow names Sam Upton. Sam wrote the screenplay, and is directing and starring in this film about redemption and never giving up on oneself. Sam really impressed the hell out of me. To any one of those hats is very demanding, but all three? Amazing! I guess what struck me most about Sam is his level of enthusiasm about film making. The set of GUN was high energy and happy and fun. I will remember the experience for a long time to come.
The role I played in GUN was small but crucial. Trinidad Sanchez comes from Cuba and is one of those guys who occupies a place in the fight game, developing new boxers and breathing new life into the careers of boxer who have lost their way. While that sounds like an honorable endeavor, there is nothing good and pure about the way Trinidad goes about his business.
I did a lot of research on boxing, the business, the people, the culture. Sam suggested I check out the Wild Card Boxing Club. I did some googling and found it on Vine street not far from the Hollywood and Vine metro station. I also found out that this boxing club is owned and operated by Freddie Roach, the great boxing coach and trainer who has trained world class boxers, especially Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and the great champion, Manny Pacquiao. I decided to jump in the water and grabbed a metro train to Hollywood. I found Wild Card and was pleased and surprised to find Freddie Roach himself sitting at the reception desk of the club, running the day to day. I walked up to him, introduced myself and explained, “I’m an old man who wants to learn the fundamentals of boxing and appreciate the sport more”. In no time at all Freddie set me up with a trainer, a club membership and a pair of hand wraps. I came back the next day and began to learn.
Boxing is a grueling and fascinating sport. The pure physical demands are really, really daunting. I would suggest that anyone who wants to practice boxing first get into pretty good shape just to survive a training session. A boxing workout is broken into rounds. A three minute round is followed by 1 minute of rest. In a boxing gym there is a timer running at all times, it signals exercise and rest periods for the whole gym and most people will conduct their workout accordingly. For me a workout would begin on the treadmill for 20 mins or so just jogging and getting warmed up. During this jog I’m stretching my shoulders and shadow boxing. At the appointed time my trainer Paulie calls me over and wraps my hands. The hand wrap is crucial. Without a proper hand wrap a sprained or broken hand is almost a certainty.
Once wrapped I’ll do a couple of rounds of shadow boxing. Then the training gloves are put on and we begin 5 or 6 rounds of mitt work. The training gloves are 14 to 16 ounces and it can be a challenge just to keep your guard up for 3 minutes, let alone, throw punches, move lightly about the ring, and bob and weave. One of the first and most important lessons a boxer must learn is to breath. That may sound simple but in the unfamiliar, demanding and violent environs of the boxing ring, even something as simple as breathing must be learned. I found that, as I was throwing punches and defending myself I would hold my breath. In a very few seconds I was gasping for air and unsure of my footing. I would struggle to get through the round, and then barely catch my breath before the minute of rest would expire and I was back to “getting busy”, and I would hold my breath again. Paulie showed me how to exhale on the punch and create a physical rhythm that would govern my breathing, movement and timing of punches. In time I was able to get through the round with much less struggle. The workout would continue with a couple of rounds on the heavy bag, the speed bag, the crazy bag and then a lot of abdominal exercises. Strong abs are very important in boxing, not only to make it possible to take body punches but to make the upper body more mobile when slipping and dodging punches.
Before and after workouts and during my treadmill sessions I would just sit and soak up the atmosphere. Wildcard Boxing club is a small, stuffy, smelly collection of boxing equipment and boxing practitioners. Men and women of all sizes, shapes and social standing come to Wildcard boxing club and pursue the challenges of the “sweet science”. What I came to understand quite quickly is that Boxing is a martial art, like Karate or Judo or Tae Kwon Do. But is is also a physical practice like yoga. No one every masters yoga, they just practice at ever deeper levels. So it is with boxing. While there are boxers who have tremendous skill and speed are still students.
I was always impressed at how polite everyone is in the Wildcard Boxing Club. I mentioned this to one member, a man called Bo, (my name is Bodine but everbody call me “Bo”) a large, powerful and heavily scarred fighter who had been coming to Wildcard “forever”. He explained quite simply, “…well a course folks is polite up here. If you rude to people round here you could get yo ass kicked…”
Women and men train together at Wildcard, but there is not flirting or fraternizing. Everyone is there for one thing…boxing.
My the time I was finished with a month of training I have a sprained hand, sore muscles tight abs and a much deeper appreciation for this much misunderstood sport. Now that GUN has wrapped I’m seriously considering doing some more boxing training. My interest has been peaked. Stay tuned.
When I was a young actor sitting with the veterans, clutching my drink and listening to their stories I kept hearing a phrase get tossed around, “two planks and a passion”. That little phrase spoke to the fundamentals of Theatre. When you strip away the painted sets, the raked stage, the God Machine, the lush costumes, the makeup, the lighting, the stage craft you are left with two things, a stage and an actor with a story to tell.
The company of ANTIGONE at the Hollywood Fringe Festival is stripping away all the stagecraft, all the smoke and mirrors, and standing on a naked stage telling the story of a young woman’s moral courage. For an acting company to toss out all the accouterments of modern Theatre is a dangerous thing. It requires another sort of moral courage. This company is declaring to the LA Theatre scene that a good story and good actors to tell it, are all you need to provide a meaningful Theatre experience. The danger is simple, if we fail it is all on the actors and director. The glory is equally simple, if we succeed it is all on the actors and director.
The ANTIGONE company is taking ownership of the moment and giving it to the audience with open arms, eyes and hearts. Are you ready LA, to accept that moment, that gift, that story, that danger? Are you ready LA?
Living an actor’s life again and It’s familiar and strange all at once. Thursday night rehearsal in a makeshift Yoga studio behind a Silverlake residence. Going to emotional places that had never been explored in this version of ANTIGONE . (Be warned LA theatre goers. This Antigone will not be for the faint of heart) After rehearsal it was whiskey and shop talk at a local bar. I even managed to spend a few minutes flirting with a young, curly haired, woman from Chicago. Home by 1:30AM and falling asleep with my script in my hand was the most natural thing in the world. Up in the morning, to study lines, meditate, write in my journal, talk with my sister and look at the sides for my afternoon audition.
I got to stage 5 at Warners and felt calm, centered and prepared. This is my first audition since coming back to acting full time. No rushing from the office, wondering if my boss will be upset, no half-baked preparation, no split concentration. I was just an actor who had prepared and gave a good reading. The casting director Scott, has been good and respected colleague for 20 years. The other guys reading for the role of Father Diaz were long time pros whom I had greeted and countless auditions over the years. We embraced each other, teased and joked and wished one another well. I was home again.
Back home for some grocery shopping, postcard mailing and more time with the script. My mind is back in Thebes, dealing with a headstrong princess who is born to die. My phone announces that an email has arrived and ignore it until I’ve finished the beat I’m working on. I pick up my phone. The email is from my new agent. I’m pinned for the role of Father Diaz. Not a booking yet. But a great start to my career renaissance.
Off to rehearsal now. So much to do.
You can get tickets for Antigone here. Don’t wait! We expect to sell out.
Rehearsal. Working in the Theatre is about rehearsal, and study and more rehearsal. Eventually there comes an opening night and a run of performances. For me, each performance has been a rehearsal of sorts. Each performance is different and each day leading up to an evening performance is a small journey within the larger journey.
Antigone rehearsal today was dense and challenging and revelatory. The company began to wade into the shallow end of the story, and to get to know the temperature, the density, the depth of the story. In short order we were diving deep, exploring fearlessly. Such is the badassery of the Antigone company. There was no hesitation, no trepidation, no timidity. We know we are in dark, dangerous territory, and our collective instinct is to plunge in ever deeper. It is positively exhilarating to rehearse with a company of players who respect the material but refuse to fear it.
I feel as young and energetic as the young actor I was in 1980’s New York City shouting Shakespeare at the top of my lungs. The 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival will be a haven for new and bold writing and for bold and courageous acting of classic work. And that is exactly as it should be.
Tickets for Antigone at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, can be purchased online at: http://hff15.org/2158
Working on this production of Antigone has already been challenging and satisfying and the company has yet to all gather in the same room at the same time. Despite that we have all communicate virtually via FaceBook and other channels. This is just a tiny hint of the possibilities of Theatre in the Internet Age. Recently I had a very good 1:1 Rehearsal with the actress who plays Antigone in our production. We talked about scheduling future rehearsals and she mentioned that, in the event our schedules don’t allow getting together we can always rehearse over FaceTime. This idea struck me at something really interesting and rife with possibilities.
Actors for the theatre in America today are living in an age of enhanced communication, and practicing an art form that dates back 2500 years. During my last brush with the corporate world I was often heard to say that “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a reason to continue doing something. That often proved true in business and I think it is just as true in art, and perhaps even more so.
If we can FaceTime 1:1 rehearsals between actors, we ought to be able to use that technology for the table reads, round table sessions, style meetings, 1:1 rehearsals with Directors, and on and on? For that matter. Why not take it to the limit? Why not do all the rehearsals and all the meetings in a virtual space and have the company of actors gather for the first time on opening night? I would love to do this experiment and if there are any other actors out there who are game, hit me up. Let’s find new ways to do Theatre.
“Mind your own part!” was something we heard over and over again as young actors at the National Shakespeare Conservatory, in NYC. Our master teacher was a big believer in the actor as a self sufficient artist operating in a collaborative medium. We were taught to create our character, decide our motivations and execute our part of the story from a purely subjective stance. This philosophy created actors who were equipped to rehearse and perform through all manner of adversity, changes of plan, changes of cast, venue, script, artistic direction, budget, costume and on and on and on. In other words. The training I received in 1982 prepared me beautifully for LA Theatre in 2015.
During a recent lunch with Bari Hochwald, artistic director of The Global Theatre Project, I went on a riff about how I would like to direct a show without directing it. I would like to cast the show, send out the scripts and advise the actors to show up at the venue for opening night with their lines down pat and ready to work. It would be the full on, actor’s nightmare. I may yet get to do that, but for now, I’ll have to be satisfied with the the head spinning and heart pounding guerilla theatre badassery that we are practicing as we prepare to rock the LA Theatre scene. The Antigone cast will rock the Hollywood Fringe Fest as of collective of individual, disruptive, insurgent and fearless talents. When we all come together in the days before opening, we will all know the mission and how to complete it.
The cast of Antigone is made up of talented, committed and deeply engaged artists who are carving out as much time as they can for this timeless, challenging and captivating project. When we can’t all rehearse together we are, for freakin sure, going to be working on our stuff at home, in the car, during lunch hour and when we would rather be sleeping. To work on a Fringe Fest play in LA, you have got to bring your “A” game and a set of cojones like brass doorknobs. You must shout a resounding ‘YES” to whatever challenges are presented you and swing for the fences at every curve thrown. My blood is rushing as I write this because I know that audiences will be short of breath and long on excitement as we attack the Theatre Asylum Lab stage with Antigone during the Hollywood Fringe Festival.