Read Death of a Salesman again, finally. One of the cool things to be noted in this play, that I think may be just literarily trendy but is still very cool: do you know what Willy sells? You may think you do, but you don’t. Miller never mentioned it. Happy said he had an “eye for color” and his boss asked him to turn back in his sample case, but otherwise we don’t know what Willy sells. This could have been for one of two reasons. One, because Miller doesn’t care what Willy sells, and information about this detracts from the plot, or two, because Miller wants to allow the director some sort of cursory, superficial hand in developing the characters for the play. Actually I think a combination of these forces may be at work. You can also see this kind of non-naming, leave-it-to-the-director sort of stuff in Albee. Check out The Sandbox: what does the musician play? I always thought it was a clarinet. My friends have told me a flute and a piano. Fact is Mr. Albee never told us what the musician is playing, nor anything about him except “young would be nice.” I always imagined a skinny black guy with a balding pate and a sour demeanor. You can imagine whatever you want.
One of best things about Death is that Miller works with characters that you, the audience, have seen before. Linda reminds me of my mom. Very much so. I think that’s what may make Miller timeless. He works & alchemizes with real people. That’s what makes him kick Odets’s ass …
Odets’s Awake and Sing, according to the prologue, is dated. I will go further and state that by and large it is a piece of shit.
BESSIE: Eighty thousand dollars! You’ll excuse my expression, you’re bughouse!
Granted, the play was written in 1933. Granted I don’t know any lower-class Jewish families who lived in the Bronx at that time. Granted I don’t know their patterns of speech or dialogue. Granted I’m just an undergraduate computer science major with a sharp cynicism. But when a line like that comes into a play, it can do NOTHING but shock the audience back out of the story and into the realization that THIS IS ONLY A PLAY. This is the cardinal sin of theater–to make it affected or fake. There is no reason to get up on stage and say this. And don’t pick on me because it’s only one line. Miller uses every damn line he writes, and so did Shakespeare. Odets is full of pre-existential bullshit like the line mentioned above. I hate him. I will kill him.
Saw a homeless person drinking a cup of coffee in the Square so I watched him for five minutes. He did it better than anyone in class. We all act. We don’t live the parts. We may be okay at fooling people but I saw more in those five minutes than I’ve seen in section for the past three weeks. We suck basically. People do not wear their emotions on their faces except in plays. People wear something else on their faces.
When we were children we were taught that a frown drawn on a circle with eyes implied that the circle was a sad face. We were also taught that the circle with a smiley line meant that the circle was happy! Mad, lines above the eyebrows. And I say that that is not the way we look when we are happy, sad, or angry. The moral of the story is that all actors overact. The homeless person I saw in the street had a street face on for sure, but there were a hell of a few stories going on beneath that street face. When you are cold you don’t shiver and pull your head into your neck like some sort of inverse giraffe. You just feel cold. We don’t hop up and down to keep warm. We just look slightly pissed off to be out in the cold and not in the steam heat about a block away, with the December ice cutting through your coat like a hissing knife we stand and look a little pissed. That’s all.
The difficulties actors put up with are unfair! Here is an interesting exercise idea: put two actors in front of a classroom. Unbeknownst to the rest of the class, have on player think of his/her greatest sexual experience and have the other player think of the death of a loved one. BUT at all times the actors wil try to keep refrigerator-door faces!!! It would then be up to the watchers to determine who was thinking of what, and how the watchers were able to tell. We would then get into the realm of “true” motivations. We would then learn how to act behind the walls of indifference which we as vulnerable humans hide ourselves. This is important. It would be more important for a play like Pinter’s Homecoming where walls and blocks and negated communications are an integral part of the plot. Learn to act without acting!
Read Streetcar, again. I think Williams does what all good dramatists try to do: take a couple people you can sympathize with and put them on stage to bounce off one another for a couple acts. Is this how Shakespeare got started? Streetcar is cool. I have to imagine Blanche as going absolutely insane at the end or else the show doesn’t work for me. She has to be emotionally, mortally wounded. I don’t know why. The ending of the play always cooks right off the page.
Read True West. The essence of the story is not a fight. The essence of the story is the attempt to reconcile irreconcilable personalities. Austin and Lee go at one another, but they are too much alike to not be parts of the same person. The play is a status play. The status of the players shifts from scene to scene and produces action. These guys were not created to fight–they would not be brothers if their hatred was from the heart. A fight in Shepard’s mind is a form of communication and not the failure to communicate or the breakdown of such communication.
Read the whole first part of Hagen. Seems good. The coolest thing about it (I don’t know how cool this is) are the “tricks” to getting yourself sick, drunk, awakening from a wide sleep, or whatnot on stage. That’s nice, but I wonder if writing these things isn’t a bit like giving an actor a “magic” wand that will instantly work with the power of placebo when invoked. If Uta Hagen says you will cry when this happens, you will cry when this happens. Concentrate on objects. Objects are fine. At this juncture in my life I do not worship them. This is partially due to the fact that I am a Harvard senior and am immensely full of myself to the point that I rarely accept without question that which is told to me. Also this is because I think object acting is of limited value in certain non-conventional situations, i.e. improvisation.
Pure improvisation requires a different sort of characterisation technique than the one given in section; that is, we cannot sit and concentrate on an object and then portray an emotion. There is simply not enough time between an offer and an accept onstage to invent objects and concentrate on them, since objectification (?) is essentially an analytical process that culminates in an emotional reaction. Therefore, for the Immediate Gratification Players I created a new game called Pardon Me which allows the instant generation of characterisations. All the players stand in a circle. The acting player says to the person on his right, “Pardon me, are you a fireman?” Instantly the person must adopt the movements and vocalizations of a fireman and say “Yes, I am.” Play continues to the right with different characterisations.
Eventually after the players became comfortable with the game, we switched to first names only. Therefore the players had to create entire personalities based on arbitrary input–ergo, improv. Note that characterizations are, in my mind, different from characters. Actors create characters. Improv’ers create caricatures.
Read Johnstone’s book, Impro. This book tells how improvisation is done. Once you really grasp the concepts of low and high status, you look for them everywhere. Seducing is something high does to low status, but rape is something low does to high status in an attempt to swap statuses.
Began training my own improvisational theater group, The Immediate Gratification Players, last night. Was amazingly and utterly impressed with the performance of people who have apparently never done improv before. I really am believing that it is a function of desire rather than so-called “ability.” If you want to improv, you can. That’s all. That’s my theory. We’ll see whether it stands.
In section we had to talk about an imagined piece of fruit that we studied. What a trip! Is this stuff really useful to us as actors? I can talk about a piece of fruit, sure. I can convince you that I actually have a piece of fruit. I can also convince you that I’m a Shakespearean actor, or a bum, or a dude from Texas examining fruit! So what’s the deal? What is being taught here? Ignore the world and concentrate on your fruit? Huh?