Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The need to keep learning

When I was young, beginning to work, and studying, I saw famous actors bring work into classes, because they needed to work on roles they hoped to play, or because they needed to work on a problem they had in their creative process. Because I grew up in that environment, I thought it was normal. Time has shown me that it was unique. At least, in the domain of acting. I've had Martial Arts masters who are up and practicing earlier than everyone else, know of the best artists, painters, writers, dancers, athletes, who need to work on their skills. Who work harder than the rest. Often, the more successful they are, in the world's eyes, the harder they work. Most of them always worked that hard. The love they have for what they do makes them want to work to be the best they can be. I was lucky to grow up at a time when this was true of acting. Now, while many actors have been through University programs, spent a lot of money learning some basic principles and techniques, once they finish their studies they are finished. There's nothing more to learn. They just want to work. The other day I heard William H. Macy say that he believed that actors were getting better. I wish I could agree. But, I don't. While there is a lot of good work being done, it is much less personal than the work I grew up seeing. And, which everyone wanted to do. The artistic movement centered in the Actors Studio in the late 40's, 50's, and 60's was unique. Whether one likes it or not, it has influenced the profession enormously. Unfortunately, most of the work we see today pays lip service to the deeply personal nature of creativity in acting. The work is competent, correct. But, it isn't what Tennessee Williams demands of his actors. Or, Eugene O'Neill. These are the writers who define what American actors believe they need to be able to do if they are going to be considered to be artists. When you watch wonderful acting, something deeply personal is revealed. It is what defines the art form. Certainly, intelligence is important. What we know, from Stanislavsky on, is that great actors share a philosophic point of view in their creative process. That, like all other artists, in all other artistic domains, the actor desires to be deeply, personally involved in his creation. It means that the actor must really live the characters life, not simply represent it. Any student of history cannot dispute this fact. And, if one needs to do this, one needs to continuously keep learning and practicing. While I see actors working, I don't see many of them who believe they need to keep learning.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Politics and Art

I've always said that if someone is writing scripts with politics as the central theme, it meant that you had nothing to say. So, last fall, when I wrote and directed The Good Morning America Johnny Johnson Dream Show, which was about a morning information and commentary tv show, I had to wonder, sometimes, if I'd hit bottom. But, whatever doubts I had about myself, I knew that I wanted to discuss some of the problems we are all living through, which happens in the play by a lot of dead people coming back because they have things to say about what is going on, now. Rather than me inventing them, they came to me. It was a fascinating process to write a play where the characters told me what to say. While the result was not exactly what I wanted, it was an entertaining evening. I am like Bertolt Brecht in that I think that, if you want to discuss important realities in people's lives, you have to entertain them. Or, they won't listen. That's why the best scripts that focus on social and political issues are comedies. Though, for me, the most political play I know is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Because, if people believed that love is the most important thing in life, they would change their lives. And, the world, and the way we function. Reading the newspapers, listening to the comments of television journalists on how to fix all the problems drives me crazy. The opinions and views are so short-sighted. Fixing problems is rarely a quick fix. Fixing problems really means discovering the source of the problem, which normally is going to be something that exists for a very long time. After all, greed, self-interest, and entitlement (the term for greedy people without power) are nothing new. Making laws may sometimes solve the problem, temporarily. If the laws are judiciously enforced. Ha, ha. As though politicians, judges and lawyers are going to enforce laws against themselves. No, we are going to have to admit that we are sick. If we did, we might be able to cure the problem, and ourselves in the process. One of the basic problems is how we define success. I grew up in a world of power and fame. I had enormous difficulty defining success. Because, I didn't want to be like all the successful people I knew. None of them were happy. I thought that most of them had betrayed themselves to become successful. That's the problem with the American dream. You are made to believe that, in order to be successful, you have to betray yourself to get what you want. Once you get it, then you can be who you want to be. Except, no one talks about the fact that when you get there, you are no longer who you were. It was very difficult for me to want to be successful. And, do what I had to do to achieve some of  my dreams. Yes, I believe that life is the process of trying to make your dreams come true.

I saw a good film the other day on Cable TV. Thank God, there is, occasionally something worth watching. It is very discouraging to pay a fortune to zap through over 300 channels and find nothing to watch. The film is called, Cinco Dias Con Nora (Nora's Will in English). It's an Argentine film made in 2008, about a Jewish woman who commits suicide the day before Passover (Jewish Easter) begins, and who can't be buried for 5 days. I won't tell you anymore. Except, that it was a pleasure to watch. The are many wonderful Argentine creators, writers, directors, actors and actresses. It's a film with a lot of quiet humor, truthful and entertaining. Whenever I see something like this, that moves me, that is simply about life, without pretension, I feel alive and hopeful. Even for myself, and my own creativity. Living in New York isn't an easy thing to do. It's all about fighting for recognition. Well, isn't that what success is? So, seeing something that is simply human, and that we can discover and enjoy, is very comforting.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More thoughts on art, contact, and expression

Thanks for the response on the first day. Please, if you send me a comment, don't send it from an unknown account. The internet is a wonderful place, but when misused, as we're seeing a lot nowadays, it allows people to say things that, for one reason or another, they won't take responsibility for. I'm not one of them. If you make a comment as unknown, I will delete it. And, not pay much attention to it. All the rest are very welcome. I may even address them in one of my blogs. I don't know. This is new to me.

To continue my earlier thought, is there anything that we create that isn't inspired by, or affected by, our life experience? What we do is based on what we know, of our past, and of all the life around us, happening as you read this, and I write. Often, the difference in the work of an artist, and someone who pretends to be one, is what they know about life, consciously or intuitively. Not that this is a new thought. But, in the world we're living in, there is so much information telling us that we are machines, that we forget what being human is. Being bombarded with information, we defend ourselves, often, by going out of contact. It's very comfortable. It can also be deadening. And, deadly. For, in that contactless state of being, we can believe anything. Because, our senses can't tell the difference between what's real, and what isn't. This is frightening. Worse than any nightmare I can have. Of course, one can't be in contact all the time, we'd be exhausted and worn out very quickly. Isn't that part of what Post Traumatic Stress is? How does one stay in contact, and be able to defend oneself, be able to rest, so that we don't overload? It's a search for that peace and harmony that we spend many hours, and millions of dollars, on searching for. And, doing, when we think we have found it. For, after all, we want to remain alive. And, human. I've always believed that perfection is being the most human you can be. I learned that studying the lives of great human beings. Who, after all, seem to be more human than the rest of us.

John's first blog Friday May 11th, 2012 New York

This is my first blog, so I want to make my intentions for the blog clear. While the blog may deal with theater and film, which is what my work is, it will be a place for me to talk to you about anything that strikes my fancy. I was brought up to believe that life and art were separate from one another. But, I don't believe that. I can't find any example of art that isn't inspired by the artist's life experience, whether it is the artist's rendering of a place or person, like Van Gogh's paintings of places and nature, or Picasso's Guernica, Of course, in theater arts, in which I include film and television, we don't always think about this reality. That's because, most of the time, theater and film are forms of entertainment. They hold our attention for a moment, amuse us. We don't think about anything in particular. We are amused for awhile. But, once in a while, theater, and let me remind you that I include film and television in the term, rises to another level. We are not simply entertained, we are moved. The writer, producer, actor, director, portrays something that reveals something about life to us. It may be only something about how a human being behaves, thinks, and feels. And/or, he or she may also reveal something that we think of as being social or political. Because of who, or where, the character is. Because, of what the character is doing, thinking, feeling. Sometimes, this happens in a moment of silence, when we see the human being revealed to us. As we are revealed to ourselves, when we are alone. Or, cannot sleep at three am, lying in bed, eyes wide open. Certainly, while I want to entertain people, I also want to move them, be it comedy or tragedy.