Monday, November 25, 2013

Freedom, health, and the theater of life that inspires an artist's vision

As you will see as you read this blog, while I work in the theater, my blogs may not be exclusively devoted to that subject. After all, Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage." At the moment, in many countries in the western world, we are being confronted with decisions that affect our lives being made by men and women whose sickness leads them to believe that what we need is more government. They do not believe that people are capable of being free, and responsible for their lives. And, millions of people vote for them, and support them.

In the United States, the Affordable Health Care law is an example of this. It is the result of a problem that has existed for years. Many Americans could not afford Health Care, as it was run by Insurance companies whose goal was not to provide Health Care, but to make a profit. Under the name of making a profit, they refused Health Care to many people, and refused to pay for procedures that were necessary because they were too expensive. Their behavior forced people to fight with them, or resign themselves to not being able to be healthy. This is, to me, a conscious choice by the corporation to commit murder, which they justify to themselves by claiming that they have a right to make a profit. I feel that every American should have health care. I believe it is part of the social contract in a country as rich as the United States. The first defense of a society is a healthy, educated citizen. It is not a new concept, or even solely a Socialist concept. It exists in tribal society, much older than Socialism, where the medicine man treats one and all. It is a normal, healthy desire to take care of any sickness in the society.

But, and this is a big but- the solution to the problem isn't more government intervention, and more limitation of freedom. It is true that the law has come into being, like many laws, because something is wrong. But, rather than fix it, which the Government could do by taking Insurance companies to court, or Congress being willing to regulate the Insurance companies, we make a new law that gives the Government more power to run our lives. The government should have taken the companies to court, as you would any criminal. That is what Government is for: To keep us honest. It is not for the Government to run our lives. I wish the arguing between politicians was rational,  based on what the real problem is. But, it gets lost, or is unseen, by men and women who only have a political agenda. This isn't a problem of left or right, but what is the best way to have a healthy society.

I think that this problem, of Governments believing that the solution to problems is limiting our freedom, because we aren't capable of being free, is the same in Europe, where the Central European Government is regulating people's lives by ordering them to do things like destroy Olive trees in one country, trees that have existed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, because some bureaucrat thinks that is the best way to establish fair trade. It is astounding to me that people are not screaming out against this, what is clearly, fascist behavior on the part of the bureaucracy. It is senseless, and life-killing.

Once we give up our freedom, it will be very hard to get it back. It will be against the law! It will be against the law for someone in the United States not to have insurance if they don't want it. It will against the law for someone in Italy to grow olives. It will be against the law for a fisherman to fish, when the problem isn't the small fisherman, but the large boats that over fish the world, and destroy the ecology of the Oceans of the world.

It may seem strange to you, but I think that this does relate to theater. Because theater, when it is practiced as art, reveals life, and human behavior, to ourselves. "to hold as 'twere, the mirror up to nature". The Greeks, Shakespeare, Chekhov, all of the great writers reveal us to ourselves. They are inspired by what they perceive of the world they are living in. People who believe that life is machine-like, break life down into small areas of expertise, and believe that people only know about a small part of the world. They cannot see the big picture. This is not what we learn from great artists. Or, great men and women. Art begins with life, not with a technique, but with their passion for life, to live and see what life is, how people behave. Then, their art, their technique, develops, so that they can express, with simple, profound, truth, what they perceive. Writer's in writing, actors in the characters that they create, directors in their vision of a world. This is what I have learned from the great artists who come before me.

There are members of the profession who do not believe that acting is an art form. Most of them happen to be directors. They say that the actor only interprets what the writer writes. Anyone who has ever seen more than one production of a play, or more than one Hamlet, knows this isn't true. Actors are creative, in their visions, in their capacity to express themselves in a form. Theater, and I include film and television, occasionally is more than simple entertainment. Though rare, the art of theater, and acting in particular, does exist. Because, good actors, like all artists, have something to say about life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Speaking of acting Shakespeare, read an article in Friday's New York Times

Here is the link for an article by Christopher Isherwood about acting Shakespeare in The New York Times today. Is it coincidence that Mark Rylance, whose work I like a lot, is American? Or, is some of the spirit and energy of his work due to that?

Monday, November 18, 2013

More thoughts on what I dream Shakespeare to be in NYC

My last blog was about the English production of Julius Caesar I saw at St. Ann's Warehouse in NYC. I thought that I should elaborate on that. Because, though I said I always admire the English, whether I feel their production has feeling or not, I know that the overall feeling I left with you, was that the production wasn't very good. I actually would love it if Americans mounted Shakespeare as well as the English do. I believe that it is the failure of my generation not to have carried the deeply personal, intimate reality of our work into classical theater. We came after the height of the artistic movement in the United States, the generation of my father, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, etc, whose intimate and personal work changed theater, film and television all over the world. I believe that our responsibility was to apply the principal of reality to classical material. Regardless of the efforts of Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman, we have failed to do that. I think that I have done it, to some extent, but in productions I've directed in Europe, most of which lacked the deep reality that I seek in everything I do. Anyway, as my friends and colleagues said to me years ago, "Johnny, why do you want to work in Europe? You'll ruin your career here." So, whatever I've done, it doesn't count here. The best theater production of Shakespeare I ever saw was Franco Zefferelli's production with the Old Vic, of Romeo and Juliet, starring John Stride and Judi Dench. It may have lacked deep feeling, the grief that marks great tragedy. But, it was alive. And, I saw the player's scene from Hamlet done at in workshop at The Actors Studio, with Kevin McCarthy, Geraldine Page, and a host of wonderful actors that were part of the ensemble that the Studio had in those days. It was directed by Walter Beakel, who later became an agent in Hollywood, much to the theater's loss. It had life! It was exciting and alive, and had a physicality, and personal relationships, that I believe marks American acting at its best. Passionate, intimate, physical, life. I imagine an entire production done the way we could do it. But, I've only seen it in my dreams. Most of the American productions I've seen are watered down, second rate versions of English productions, lacking the kind of skill and energy that the English have. We never have learned to speak the classics from the heart. Yet! I thought I owed you, and the English, the thought I am expressing here. I wonder if I'll ever see my dream come true before I transition, as my sister would say.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Shakespeare without feeling at St. Ann's Warehouse Nov.9, 2013

I have neglected this blog for too long. And, hope that I won't, again. Sometimes, I feel that I have too much to say. And, feel overwhelmed and lose focus on what is important in the moment. The other night I went to see the final performance of a well received an all-female production of Julius Caesar at St. Ann's Warehouse in New York. I like this theater, which focuses on many imported productions, and productions that have an unusual perspective. I always admire the English, regardless of whether I like what they do, because their energy, commitment, and skill is admirable and professional. This production was a version of Shakespeare's play, set in a prison. I often like the initial images of English productions. Though, I often feel that they never follow through on the promise of their beginning. This was true this time, too. So much of what was said and done seemed disconnected from the text. And, more specifically, the context of the character's lives. It is well presented, but without one iota of feeling. For years I have said that one can go to any National Theater in the world, and hear actors screaming. And that, whenever you do, you know that they have no idea of what they are saying or doing. Lots of excited movement and action, without any sense. Forget reality. Except for moments with Harriet Walter,  a very good actress who plays Brutus. She speaks well and clearly, with a human voice, not an actors voice. She makes sense out of her text, as opposed to the rest, who tend to recite their lines. Though, with a lot of energy. But, general energy is no substitute for real feeling. Despite my criticism, I would tell people to see it, as it is a very professional evening. I just prefer theater that has a little more feeling and reality, where I am moved and educated by the production revealing something about how human beings behave. To me, that is the least to expect from any production of a Shakespeare play.

I think it is my generations failure, speaking of American acting, not to have carried on the artistic movement that comes from the Group Theater and the Actors Studio, into classical plays. I have seen glimpses of work that I would call a truly American way of interpreting Shakespeare, with a deeply personal involvement and physical life that is one of the qualities that define the best of American acting. That we haven't done this is why I recommend seeing productions like this one. So, that one can dream of what else is possible.