Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bad Acting Teachers

I wish I had written this post when I was feeling more emotional about it because I think it would have conveyed my anger better, but as it is, I will have to write it feeling more calm.

In my graduate program I have had the opportunity of meeting and working with some very interesting and, sometimes, famous people in the theatre industry. In my time here I have, for example, met Hal Prince, Sally Struthers, Tommy Tune, Tony Curtis, Karen Morrow, and Don Pippin among others. Two weeks ago we had a special guest speaker, a renowned acting coach in L.A. who has worked with such performers as Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Hunt, Hilary Swank, Hank Azaria, Noah Wyle, and Michael Clarke-Duncan, and many of these celebrities have won awards for specific movies he coached them for. This man (who I won't name (although if you do the research you can probably figure out who he is) came to do a two hour workshop with both the graduate class and undergraduate class where he would work with some of us on specific scenes we've been working on in class. It was something I was looking quite forward to, and I was excited.

Now I am not one who swears or is easily prone to anger, but this man's behavior left me feeling very upset, and the words "asshole," "douche-bag," and "bullshit" were very impressed on my mind in regards to this man and his methods. This man was one of the most arrogant, abusive, and emotionally-manipulative people I have ever met in my entire life, and I found his teaching style (if one can even call it that) repugnant and disgusting.

This man was one of those cliché "Method acting" teachers who felt he was successful in teaching one to "act' if he made you have a "real feeling," even if that feeling was completely inappropriate to the scene or the role. For example, the first scene he worked on was a scene from Hedda Gabbler, in which two of my friends were working. This man basically tore into one of my friends on a very personal level and made her cry and then made her and my friend do the scene again and felt he had succeeded in helping them be better actresses because my one friend was weeping and my other friend was obviously angered and uncomfortable because of the whole situation. Never mind that those emotions had nothing to do with the scene or the roles they were playing.

This man was an insulting blow-hard who contradicted himself on many occasions, and I found his teaching methods extremely irresponsible. I don't care if he's the greatest acting teacher in the world; his lack of humanity was repulsive to me, and I don't ever want to work with someone like that.

He was constantly name-dropping and telling us how excellent a coach he was and how much he cared about acting and actors, yet in the same breath he would insult us and deride us without knowing anything about us. He fully admitted he hated people in general and told us at the end of the workshop that if anything he said had offended or upset us, it was our fault, not his. He seemed like such a bitter, cynical man, and I was so disappointed and angry by his behavior, not to mention that he didn't really teach us anything we didn't already know; he simply insulted us and treated us like crap.

Most of my teachers (except the guy responsible for bringing him in) were upset by his behavior, and two of my teachers even walked out on the workshop. After the workshop, several of us got together and bitched about the guy for about an hour and a half.

I told my students (who weren't even present for the workshop) that any acting teacher who kills their spirit in the name of better acting isn't worth their time, and two of my own teachers told my own class just as much.

The reason I even post this is because there are acting teachers out there like this man who are emotionally-manipulative, abusive, self-important jerks, and acting students think they have to put with it because of the results. I think that is a psychologically damaging route for an actor to take, and I don't think an actor should have to put up with such crap. I'm embarrassed that this man is so renowned in the industry and that supposedly smart actors and actresses put up with his garbage.

There were a handful of actors in our group that enjoyed the workshop, and I suppose if they got something positive out of it, more power to them. What I learned is that I neither want to work with people like this man nor do I ever want to become someone like this man. One thing he said in his workshop is that he was a nice guy once, but that he wasn't anymore and didn't care what people though of him, and that his acting was richer for it, to which I say, "What profiteth it a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his own soul?"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Things Never Change, Do They?

So I was reading Antigone by Sophocles, and something struck me. For those of you who don't know the story of Antigone, without going into great detail I will say it involves a political leader named Kreon who is so dead-set in his proclamations and in being right that he forgets to be wise (now that doesn't remind you of anyone, does it?).

Here is the advice his son, Haimon, gives him:

Father, the gods' most precious gift to man
Is reason. Now, I know I haven't the right,
Nor the skill, nor, god knows, do I want,
Ever, to tell you that you have reasoned badly.
And yet it's possible that someone else
Might think differently and still be useful.
I realize that, normally speaking,
It's not for you to hear what people say,
See what they do, learn what they feel and think.
You terrify them; they say what you want to hear,
Everything else they hold back.
But I hear what they're saying, I hear their whispers,
Their muttered words in the dark...

...Father, there's nothing more dear than your success.
What greater happiness can ther be for a son
Than to see his father's name increase in glory,
And for a father to see his son do the same?

I beg of you, don't make the mistake of thinking
That only you are right. The man who thinks so,
The man who believes that only he has wisdom,
That he alone has the gift of words, the power
Of Reason - that man, when you lay him open,
Is seen to be empty. There's no shame in yielding
To Reason, even for a wise man.

Trees that bend with the flooding torrent
Come through safe and sound;
But those that resist are torn out, roots and all.
The same in sailing: pull a cloth too taut,
And never slacken, you'll end bottom-side up
For the rest of the voyage. Give yourself leeway, father:
Forget your anger, allow for change.

I know I'm young,
But if I had advice to give,
I'd say that men should always be all-wise
By nature. But since that's not the way of things,
Then learn from the good advice of others.

One thing I like about really good theatre (and I think Shakespeare and the Greek classics certainly qualify) is their universality. The flaws and predicaments that faced the characters in these plays are the same issues we deal with today.

Somehow I thought the speech was apropos. Good advice for any political leader. Even one...say...that we know. ;-)

That's all for today, though I do have plans to post an entry dealing with what I feel is deplorable methodology as far as teaching the art of acting is concerned. A recent experience prompted my feelings about it, but it is far too lengthy to talk about now. I'm a busy boy lately and also very tired right now, so I don't know when exactly I will get to it, but it is something I'm quite eager to write about , so I hope to do it sooner than later.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Great Day For Democrats!

I am pleased and happy. I don't know how much it will change things, but I am optimistic. Control of the House. It looks like control of the Senate last I heard. And Donald Rumsfeld is out. Some Democratic victories in Utah. Bush's last two years should prove challenging for him. What a delightful day!

Jonah told me why he doesn't vote. It's actually an acceptable reason. I still hope to sway him to exercise his right to vote some day, but I'm okay with his reason and decision.

My current show, Twelfth Night, is proving to be a blast. I'm having such a great time in rehearsals.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Boyfriend Doesn't Vote

Read this post knowing that I am doing it with a somewhat humorous tone rather than a dead serious one.

I was somewhat distressed to learn last night that Jonah doesn't vote. He didn't explain why (he said it was long story), so I am not judging his decision not to vote. But, since I am a pretty politically active individual myself, it bothered me (certainly not to the extent that it has any bearing on my relationship with him; I still love him.) He jokingly said if it's not a problem that he's not Mormon, certainly his failure to vote shouldn't cause any friction between us. And he's right. I may consider it my civic duty to vote, but if he chooses not to, I suppose that is his prerogative. "Besides," I told him, "if you're going to vote Republican {which he very well might have done}, I'd rather you didn't vote."

I guess the reason I feel voting is so important is because I feel it shows you at least care about what is going on in your government and is a way to bring about change when things aren't going so well. I feel very little sympathy for people who complain about their government, but don't participate in the voting process. I feel voting gives me a right to complain. For example, I didn't vote for George W. Bush in either election, and when I hear people complain about him who either didn't vote or voted for him, I don't feel much sympathy towards them because they are the ones that caused the idiot to be elected in the first place. But I can smugly say, "Well, I didn't vote for him."

But then I also realize that often my vote doesn't always seem to make a difference in my home state of Utah. It looks like Orrin Hatch is, once again, going to remain my state senator and people like Chris Cannon still get re-elected in spite of the fact that I think both men clearly are bad for our government. Fortunately, my state representative, Jim Matheson, who is a Democrat (although about as Republican as a Democrat can be in Utah) is staying in office. But I like Jim Matheson. I feel he's a man who votes his conscience rather than just straight party, and I feel that's an important quality whether one is a Republican or a Democrat. But back to my point: I don't always feel that my wee Democratic vote holds much sway in a particularly Republican-entrenched state (and it continually boggles my mind that people keep complaining about governmental issues in my state, but keep the same people in office year after year (just because they are Republican, I assume (perhaps wrongly).

Yet, as I see the returns in some of the state elections this year, I actually do feel, for once, that maybe my vote did make a difference. I just think it's really important to be politically involved. Otherwise, how can we change what is bad or make the people we put in office accountable?

That being said, Jonah is a sweetheart, and, who knows, maybe he has a perfectly good reason for not voting (perhaps he was mauled in a tragic voting accident, and the trauma is just too much for him to bear; I don't know).

In any case, I hope you all voted.

Other info: Jonah and I had a talk about sex last night. We talked about what we're interested in doing and what we're not interested in doing once we have sex after we are married. It was a good discussion. I like that we can be frank and honest about that kind of stuff. I think it's important to communicate honestly and openly as a couple, and I feel we do that well.

It also gave me an opportunity to ask him if we could get an HIV test together before we get married and have sex. I made it clear it has nothing to do with trust issues (on either of our parts). I trust Jonah implicitly, and I know he feels the same towards me. It's more of a symbolic gesture; a way of saying that we are each other's first. I said to Jonah, "I hope that doesn't seem weird, but it's something I'd like to do." It's actually an idea prompted by something I remember reading on Scot's blog.

Jonah, as I guessed, had no problem with it, and said we could even take it together and review the results together. I was glad he was so open to it. He really is a great guy. I am so lucky to have the most understanding, patient, wonderful boyfriend on the planet.

We've been talking marriage. Obviously, we can't get married legally in this country, but we want to do something to formalize our commitment to one another. We haven't decided where or when yet, but it's been fun and exciting (and sometimes scary) to talk about). I can't believe I'm finally willing to commit and settle down with somebody. Believe you me, if you knew my dating and commitment issues in the past, I think you'd realize what a wonderful man Jonah must be for me to take this step in my life.

Before I met Jonah, I had all but given up on love and marriage. I truly believe God put him in my life, and I am so grateful and blessed to have him. Again, I know that this path is not right for everyone, and I truly do applaud each of you for doing what you feel is right for you. But this really feels right to me. It feels good. It feels happy. It feels right.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

William Faulkner and Twelfth Night

I should be doing homework right now, but just can't seem to get motivated to actually do it, so I thought I'd update my blog instead. Aren't you all pleased?

So I just recently started rehearsals for Twelfth Night , which I am extremely excited about. We have a really good cast, and I am so delighted to be working with this particular director. Even if the finished product isn't to the audience's or the critics' liking, I can tell I am going to have a lot of fun.

On the night of our first rehearsal our director read William Faulkner's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize as kind of a motivational thing and also to illustrate the vision he has for this particular production. Faulkner specifically talks about his role as a write, but our director asked us to substitute "writer" in this speech for whatever our discipline might be (i.e. acting, directing, scenic design, lighting design, etc.). So all you artists out there, take note:

Stockholm, Sweden, Nov. 10, 1950

"I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work--a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand where I am standing.

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

"He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed--love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

"Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."

I think you had to actually be at our rehearsal to really appreciate the spirit in which the piece was read, but I share it nonetheless.

Jonah and I are planning a trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios in December. We are both very excited about it.

My sister relayed an awkward moment she had at my cousin's daughter's birthday party yesterday. My cousin told her she heard I had a girlfriend (because of an email I had sent about a month ago). My sister replied that, no, I did not have a girlfriend. My cousin said, somewhat confused, "Oh, I thought he did." That was basically all that was said, but I did feel bad that my sister was put in a position where she didn't know what to reveal about my relationship with Jonah. I feel kind of obligated to tell my relatives and friends who don't know about me and Jonah. I imagine when I go home for Christmas I will at least start telling my relatives.

I've told some people and others I haven't. Not sure why. I guess I just worry about the possible negative reactions. I realize there isn't much I can do about that, but I worry about it nonetheless.

I can't believe I only have six months of school left. Boy, it has flown by quickly.

This post was rather random, wasn't it?