Thursday, May 1, 2014

When life is most real, we think its unreal-Adams' Apples at 555

I don't know a better way to say it. Monday night at around 1:30am we finished the first four days of filming Adams' Apples at 555, a feature film about a group of actors making a film of the play I wrote several years ago, Adams' Apples, that the Accidental Repertory Theater performed in 2011. I also directed and acted in it, and the dream was to make it into a film. I raised enough money to begin. And, hopefully, I will have enough to finish it.

Even when I decided to create the Accidental Rep, I wanted to make films, do live streaming of workshops, works in progress. Find a way to reach a public without always having to do the conventional methods for finding an audience to come to the theater. The low budget, showcase productions Actors Equity allows, while better than nothing, certainly are not ideal situations. One spends about the same amount of money that we will spend on the film, for a production or two, each one lasting sixteen performances, in the hopes that, at best, a few people will see it. And, one has to be around for years before the audience knows you, and begins to become a regular. A film lasts, and can reach a larger public. And, I hope that it will help bring people to our theater. Certainly, movie stars who do theater bring audiences to the theater. Maybe, our work will get noticed, too.

But, this is not the point of the blog. The point is that I have just lived through a dream coming true. The actors who had done the play before (three years ago), or those who hadn't, had no rehearsal. What I believed, and was betting on, was the fact that most of us have worked together for years, most have studied with me, and we share a philosophy of committing ourselves to do the kind of deeply personal, intimate work that defines realistic acting. As you may know, I believe that National theaters are founded by the playwrights who write about the culture they live in. American theater is founded by Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams. Any actor who wants to believe that they are respresentative of what wonderful American acting is, knows that he or she must be able to be deeply personal. Meaning, for instance, that Eugene O'Neill's play Long Day's Journey Into Night, is so personal, that he forbid it to be published or performed until after his entire family had died. You can't get more personal than that. I hoped that knowing one another would bond us together, in a situation without any rehearsal, not really knowing whether we knew our lines. (I kept telling myself that because I am the writer, if I didn't remember what I'd written, I could always claim that I was rewriting). What I know, is that I didn't want to focus my fear on whether or not I knew the lines. Somewhere, I knew we knew the play well enough. And, the fact that the film is about a group of actors making a film, I knew I had a way of dealing with problems that might arise, and synthesize them into the structure. And, I wanted life, not the kind of casual behavior, or absence of feeling that often passes for reality, that I call naturalism. It may be real, but its real boring. I wanted life. And, life is spontaneous. I committed us to that. We wouldn't have any other choice. Except panic, or theatrical conventions. And, I wouldn't accept that. At any rate, there are moments in many acting classes when actors can't remember their lines that something real happens. It seems very interesting until you realize that the actor is trying to remember what they say. Here, I hoped that it would feel spontaneous, as though we were thinking about what we wanted to say. And, during the filming, I was continually surprised by what we were doing, in the positive sense of the word.

The photographer, Gary Nolton, whom I didn't know, was willing to do the entire filming handheld, which I wanted because I think that the camera was an active participant, and the movement helped to make the audience aware of the fact that, while the characters appear not to be able to react to what is happening to them, like people in life, there was inner movement all the time.

Hopefully, we will complete the filming during the final week of July, in the country, so that we have scenes on location to use to intercut with the scenes we filmed in my Studio at 555 8th Avenue.

So, sometimes, life is not only a dream, as Calderon de la Barca said, but a dream come true.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman

It's been a while since I wrote here. I was traveling, working in Paris and Barcelona. Lucky me. I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman's death while I was in Paris. I never met him, didn't know anything about him, personally. But, I liked his work. I liked his spirit. I was caught off guard by his death. I had no idea that he suffered so much. I grew up around a lot of people who suffered, some of whom committed suicide. But, his type of suicide is like Marilyn, or John Belushi, people who have everything most people dream about wanting. And yet, they are unhappy, and they eventually succeed in destroying themselves. But, Hoffman had a family, seemed to have a stable life, which none of the other's did. It makes it more tragic to me. Because, he had children, a home, a partner for life. What on earth was wrong? Why couldn't he find peace? Certainly, anyone who truly lives will suffer. Life is hard.  Most people live lives of quiet desperation. But, artists have moments in which they celebrate life. They have pleasure in their work, in their creativity, dreaming, making their dreams come alive. They share their vision of life, living true, at least in their work. And yet, it isn't enough. Something deeper, some sadness in the depths of them, some feeling of not being loved, not loving themselves, overrides whatever success, in work, in life, that they may have. The unhappiness eats away at the foundation of their lives, until they crumble. Seeing this, how does one define what success is? How does one know what satisfaction is enough that one feels that one's life is worth living. This cannot be measured mechanically, despite what many people want to believe. For certainly, life is not about the garnering of riches and wealth, or awards, or even recognition, important as that is. Life is about the pleasure of living, of enjoying breathing, at least some of the time. That pleasure cannot be measured. It cannot be made into a law. It cannot be imposed. It must be desired, worked for, and earned. How much life do we waste, really, in fantasizing about what will make us happy. We spend billions of dollars a year seeking pleasure, most of which is like sugar that dissolves instantly, and lasts less that a moment. Life, after all, is not what we strive for in the future, or what we regret from our past. But, what we do in the moment. Life is now. After all, if some of those who died had taken one more breath, they would not have died. I have many friends, and family, who believe in reincarnation. Personally, I have difficulty believing that the human being is the only reality in nature that lives eternally. I am more inclined to believe in recycling, in which all my memories, all my knowledge, floats in the Universe, and eventually becomes part of some new life, object, plant, animal, earth, sky, water, consciousness, whatever you want to imagine life to be. Certainly, it is far more beautiful than the mechanical world that many believe the Universe to be. After all, we dream, we imagine, we transform life. It is so sad to think that someone as fortunate as Philip Seymour Hoffman was unable to feel enough satisfaction in the life that he had to want to keep living it. Certainly, I do not know what his life was like. I can only look at a series of realities. But still, it is sad that what he had was not enough to overcome whatever wounding he suffered that he never seemed to recover from. If in fact reincarnation does exist, or if there is a place where what is left of us after we die go, I hope that he will find the peace that he sought to numb his pain. I do believe that some people really suffer so much that they do not want to continue living. I do not believe that he was one of those. But, what I say here comes from the pain I feel at his loss, at the waste of a life that brought us pleasure and insight into ourselves. I only wish that he could have healed himself, so that he could have had some of the satisfaction in life that he so well deserved.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Twelfth Night, Mark Rylance, and other thoughts

I saw the production of Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance last week, and enjoyed it immensely. From the moment I entered the Belasco Theater, one of my favorites, the night was a success. The theater, which has a long history, being home to the Group Theater in the 30's, has been beautifully restored. Unfortunately, they are also allowing the audience to bring drinks into the theater. I guess it's a compromise with an audience that is more used to going to movies than theater. However, watching the actors dress and makeup, and Mr Rylance warm up, in particular, is wonderful theater. Fortunately, it continues throughout the play itself. Watching a wonderful actor warm up is a treat, and a lesson in concentration and how they use themselves. Mr Rylance is no exception. My only regret is that he isn't American, as I said that he was in my last blog. He was raised in the US, and his first exposure to theater is here. But, he is English. There is still something particular about his spirit that comes closer to what American acting at its best could be. Imagine if Marlon Brando, or Robert DeNiro had done the work that he has done: Had the dedication to acting that he has. What would they have done with some of Shakespeare's characters?

I want to make it clear that when I write about a play I've seen, it's not my intention to write a review. I could. I know what each artist's contribution to the whole is. But, this blog isn't just about what plays I've seen. So, I want it clear, as those of you who follow this blog know, that I use this blog to write about all kinds of subjects. Because, as Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage..."

The night we went to the play was the day after the snowstorm, whose name I have already forgotten. There was so much talk about people staying home, because it was dangerous to be outside. that the talk made me check to see whether the show was on, or not. Honestly, while there is a need for caution, the panic created by all the warnings before the storm comes, means that even if the storm doesn't happen, it has already done a lot of damage. Grocery stores were emptied of products, as though it was the end of the world. I am not used to Americans behaving with such fear. It seems Un-American to me. We are a nation of immigrants. And, pioneers. Fear of life is not part of our history. Until now. I find it very sad. I, actually, like storms. I feel normal. For years, I have thought of my inner life as a micro weather system. When I was younger, I'd go jog in Central Park during a snowstorm. It was beautiful. I'd like to be like that now. I should get back in shape.

Several blogs back, I wrote about Waiting for Godot, and Beckett. And, said that Beckett was the most modern writer that theater has. You may wonder why? One has to read the plays to discover that. How can a character talk about a toothbrush, in so few words, and be talking about life? That happens in Happy Days. Beckett is very difficult to read. You have to read the stage directions, or you don't understand what he is doing. For me, reading Beckett is the most difficult of all playwrights. It is so essential, and so poetic. As all great playwrights are poets in disguise. Their words go from the superficial to the profound, reverberating through layers of reality. And, the more modern the playwright, the fewer words are needed. It is what we mean when we say, Modern Theater. For to me, theater is the art of the spoken word. Not to say the word well spoken, but spoken with profoundly simple, human, truth.