Loving Me Some Robyn

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My marvelous GF introduced me to this awesome song.  Six months after, still jammin’ to it.  Though I love this song, I won’t be doing this anytime soon:

Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend

Heartache. Betrayal.  Loss.  Awkwardness.  Sick jams with slammin’ moves.

You go, girl.  You go.

Keep jammin’, all.

-K

Mask Work

Theatrical Process

I did a short mask class teaser session yesterday (a mask class workshop, if you will).  We worked with larval mask and hats, and then with found masks (gas masks).

For the larval exercise, we just stood in the mask, looking at the room.  Afterwords, we left the mask and got feedback. There were four of us and three larval masks.  The first of us to go chose a mask with a huge jaw and tiny eyes – a very simple mask at first.

His presence onstage totally changed.  I noticed every small motion of his shoulders, the way his torso moved.  The mask seemed at once curious, small, and lowly.  It reminded me of popeye or of a small child.  I could not get the idea of the sailor out of my head when looking at the mask.  Furthermore, the eyes- two small cut out circles – enthralled me.  They were such small dots but they stared so deep.

The mask I chose looked something like the clown Violator from Spawn (for those comic fans out there).  When I had finished with my mask work, my peers reviewed me.  They felt that the mask seemed to create a very sad character.  I remember that one of the eyeholes dug into my actual eyesocket a bit, forcing me to view the world lopsidedly.  My breathing really changed inside the mask (after all, one does need to breath heavier inside a mask).

Our last two members chose the same larval mask – one with a jutting forehead and a small slit for a mouth.

The first wearer was a girl, a good friend of mine who I knew to be a very responsible person.  What was interesting was that her mask was very angry at first, very threatening.  When she looked around the space and tilted the mask up, I saw a great deal of curiosity in it, and then when she came back to look at the audience, the mask was no longer angry in a threatening manner, but tight-lipped: it knew something we wanted to know but it wouldn’t tell us.

After she remove the mask, she told us that the mask pressed against her mouth, making her breath through her nose: an interesting correlation to the tight-lipped emotion the mask portrayed on her.

The second wearer was a boy, taller than the girl, who I knew to be something of a quiet but fun-loving sort.  On him, the same larval mask was simply distant, like a teenager at a funeral:  It was taking in everything around it in a detached manner.  As the mask looked around, it became more bemused and interested in the world around it, and returned to look at us in a sort of stupor, like one taking in information but not fully processing it.

What really hit me was how different this same mask was on two people.

Next, we worked with found masks, in the form of gas-masks.  We partnered up for this exercise, myself and the jaw-larva wearer going together.  I chose a circular one to see what it might help me convey.  Our instructor told us to be aliens – everything around us was new and strange.  We were to begin sleeping and awaken to find ourselves in a new world.

So we did.  And everything was very new: the lights, the piping of the batons, the room, and a staircase.  What I found fascinating was my partner’s body – I figured if we were alien’s we weren’t human, so the human form would seem strange to us.  After watching him move about for a bit, I decided to try motions similar to his.  I looked at my own hand, then at my ‘legs’ and my ‘feet’ and then I ‘stood.’  This felt crazy, like I was rising up on top of gears and pistons, coming up from a great depth and emerging.  My partner touched the back of his head after our instructor said something and I thought we had to end the excercise, so I remove my mask, only to realize my partner was still in mask, still in the scene.  I had become an audience member trapped onstage.  So I sat and watched him until he finished.

After our exercise, my peers pointed out that I had stood with a posture which I had never had before, I seemed to be a lot bigger, to have a much larger presence.  That being said, we (as aliens) had seemed to be children to the audience, and our instructor asked us that the next time we did mask work to remember to look at the audience in order to pull them in.

It was crazy looking at alternative ways of viewing both as an actor and as an audience member.  It really opened my mind up to the idea of masks!

On Acting

Theatrical Process

The hardest part about acting is not being oneself.  Certainly, it is impossible not to be oneself when one does something, but then, one is, often enough, not being oneself.  Often, people do ‘perform’ for other people, employees treat their bosses differently than they do their coworkers, friends treat strangers differently than lifelong buddies, a spouse treats their partner differently than their parents or their children.  Confucius had categorizations for various relationships among people, and Jesus of Nazareth stated “Give Caesar what is due to Caesar, give God what is due to God,” which implies two different relationships between different types of perceived authority. In light of all this social evidence of people ‘not being themselves,’ or at least putting on different airs for different people, the hardest part of acting shouldn’t be that hard.

The more appropriate way to phrase the earlier critique would be that the hardest thing about acting is know what comes from oneself and what comes from the character.  What parts of one’s acting are habit, for instance?  Is there a certain bias to the ‘neutral base’ that actors take?  Is there a given impulse which an actor often plays?  The better actors know themselves, the better they can make choices that create characters.

One excellent model for this process is Brechtian theatre.  It encourages actors to at once be themselves and play a character.  The character can be created through a series of indicative actions or ticks or gestures which give the audience cues as to the character.  The actor themselves can comment on the action occurring before them while still ‘playing’ the character.  While this may not always be the best ‘product’ for an actor to achieve, it does make for a good method of understanding what parts of performance come from oneself and what parts come from a character.

The danger of breaking down oneself into a series of understood actions is that one can lose self confidence.  If an actor is never themselves, then they must always reject their personal neutral in order to take on a character.  This is an unhappy extreme, even less happy than the extreme of always playing oneself, an extreme in which there is incredible self – trust and confidence.  A happy medium can lead to added growth both in an actor’s repertoire and in themselves.

Often, in Western Theatre, there is a drive to comprehend the text, and in various methods of script analysis, character can emerge.  In the plot of a play, actors can undertake a series of actions which reveal their characters.  However, this series of actions is not enough to fully convey a ‘real’ person.  The text alone, the lines and actions and subtext behind a verbal enaction, are not enough.  The voice does not only speak through the body, especially in a gaze centered medium such as theatre.

The whole person is viewed onstage.  The face, the hands, the feet, the legs, the hips, the back, the armpits, the groin: all visible, all judged, all symbolic onstage.  The way an actor can give more than just the plot, the method by which an actor can convey a deep and lasting story, is through the body.  How does a character carry themselves?  Does it have old injuries, fears, role models?  What do these conditioners do to the body and the way it is carried, where it holds stress, how it gestures, what way the fingers touch?  In this analysis of character, that tells back story through the body, actors must deconstruct themselves in order to realize what patterns that they, as people, carry by habit, rather than by choice.

To clarify: acting is not pretending to be someone else or to ‘make believe.’  While these elements become part of being an actor, the key to noun is the verb: act.  To take action, to execute a choice.  And so, before one can act, one must make a choice, and then carry it through with confidence.  For this reason, actors break down text into beats, actions, verbs, text and subtext, in order to choreograph their designated image.  So I say, the better an actor knows what they always do, the better they can make a choice that is not themselves.

To clarify further: no one is never entirely not themselves.  Even socially, people perform certain aspects of themselves.  Philosophically speaking, no one is ever anything more than an aspect of themselves, and so at all times, one is being a certain side of oneself, never the entire thing.  So it is with acting.  The better one can make choices, the better one can act.  So, what is a well-made choice?

A well made choice has a trigger, its verb, and an end.  This end becomes the trigger for the next choice.  Triggers can be anything sort of input: a visual trigger: an object, an action, an event, and so forth; an audio trigger: a phrase, word, or a sound; a tactile trigger: temperature, exhaustion, touch, pain; an olfactory trigger: any scent; or a taste trigger: any taste (this ties to scent). The trigger begins the choice.

Once the choice’s trigger has been activated, the verb must be enacted.  If a sight is repulsive to a character, they must react accordingly until they receive a new stimulus (external or internal).

The duration of choices can be long or short, depending on the set circumstances.  Often, a series of complicating circumstances may cause an initial reaction to be stifled and then covered, leading to a series of choices: reaction, revelation, stifling, cover, or: cover (until a complicating circumstance is gone) then react.

This rapid pace of clear choice changes demands that an actor both understand their own physicality and their own mentality: where does the person go as a reaction?  What are the person’s feelings about a stimulus?  What are the common choices the person makes as a reaction to given triggers?  How are the character’s physicality, mentality, and choices different?

It is important for these reasons to work on character from the outset.  While I recommend trying a series of characters and choices in order to find freshness and vivacity, I also recommend solidifying character early enough in the process for the physicality and mentality of the character to be easy to access.  Notice I do not say natural – the person is natural, the character is artificial.  The character should never become ‘natural,’ it will lend itself to the person enough.  The character should be easily accessed, however.

For helpful methods on character work and choices, as well as character awareness, I recommend the works of Konstantin Stanislavski and the acting method called Archetypes, based on the psychological work of Karl Jung.

Direction Ideas

Theatre Business

I have two big direction shows coming up in the next few months.

As I look ahead to them, I have a thousand thoughts spinning in my head.  Mostly, I want my actors to get the most out of the experience.  I know my first show will deal a lot more with product (I have 2.5 weeks of rehearsal for it) than with process.  My goals for that show are to have a lot of character work meetings with my actors before the ‘rehearsal’ period starts.

The second show will leave me a month and a week of overall rehearsal time, which is nice, because I want intense but fun rehearsals that, above all, help my actors grow.

I remember the first Second Season I did at the College made me very vulnerable in the process, I had to work like hell to find my character.  But I kept going, and I kept working through technique and character and old habits and reworking over and over.  And time and again, I had these revelations about the character.  And the experience was wonderful.

I want to give that to my actors.  What I think will do it more than anything else is structure.  Art is freeform, it is chaotic and divine and organic.  But it acts as a reaction to structure.  Deadlines, time constraints, and limitations create artisitc impulses and creativity.  Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

So, here’s my rehearsal structure for my later show:

Warm Ups: These will always vary day to day depending on problems from the day before, and will bring in a number of excercises to help develop character, technique, and relationships onstage.

Blocking: Give the actors end points, let them go, and fix as time goes on.  Tweak issues and go largely off of character based impulses.  This part will greatly focus on actor technique.

Character: Round tables that will focus on the text: what it says,  what it implies, what could make it say more.  Also, character backstories and histories, using dramaturgical notes for each character to help actors discover more to build on.  Also, excercises that devalue the text in favor of character improv and the character mindset.  This part will focus more on mental and emotional aspects of build.

Vocal Fixes: These will include text based scene and character work, where actors will be asked to bring in focus words, ladders, work on patterns of physical technique layered onto vocal technique with text.

The Three Rehearsal Rule: Scene by Scene: First rehearsal block.  Second Rehearsal Fix (semi off book).  Third Rehearsal Run (Off Book).  This should help actors get off book faster.

Body Fixes: These will be part of warm ups and character work.  What ticks are the actor?  What gestures are the character?  What are the character’s ticks?  Lead points? Relations?  Emotions? Triggers?  Where does the character’s power come from?  Where does the actor’s power come from?  Helping actors differentiate themselves from the character so they can make choices rather than fall into comfortable habits.

For the first show, many of these character elements will be worked on before the rehearsal process so that actors can review themselves before they get into the rather intense rehearsal process.

The first show will also be much more pre-blocked than the second show, of necessity, so character work will have to come before it so that the blocking can flow from work with the actors rather than be imposed on them.

These are just initial acting ideas.  As I work on my thesis for my second show, I’ll have more direction excercises to help the actors build scenes and characters.  I’m really looking forward to directing again. I really like seeing a scene build up from the ground and evolve in ways that are unexpected but still fit in with my overall concept.

What will be excellent in both cases is that the shows will both be comedies.  That means that each show will, of necessity, give off a good vibe.  Of course, comedy, like tragedy, needs a limit.  I’ll need to pick and choose comic and straight bits in each show in order to avoid sloppiness, but I think that will be part of the process with the actors (although doing my homework ahead of time couldn’t hurt)

Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis

Plans

So,

Rocket Science and Theatre never really seemed to gel.  Until I got to thinking:

a) what is it that Engineers can’t do that theatre people can?

b) what is it that Theatre People can’t do that engineers can?

a) socialize.

b) tech.

by socialize, I mean, Theatre People (actors especially, also dancers and other performers) are taught to Improvise, get in touch with their Emotions and even be able to call them up or, if feeling them, Analyze the Feeling.  they are studied in the Manipulation of their Selves – both Feelings and Physicalities – which enable them, if they so choose, to Express themselves articulately and effectively.

by tech, I mean Engineers are trained to work with Mechanics, of whatever variety, and Understand how the World around them works.  They can Manipulate space and time (or use their advanced Understanding of the interaction between the two) to Change the World around them.

Theatre People don’t always know how to change the world around them, but they certainly can express themselves.

Engineers can do wonders with technology and comprehension, but don’t always know how to say the things they mean to say as they mean to say them.

Synthesis: An Acting Therapy Group designed to help engineers which also gets tech- savvy people interested in local theatre endeavors and gives engineers a Productive Hobby.  An eye for an eye helping the world see better, if you will.

The overall idea could be very cool.  I wonder if anyone is already doing something like this… research time!!!

Macrocosm

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On The Human Thought

This essay focuses on the use of human invention and culture as part of the human animal function and how humanity is naturally aimed at space travel.

A human being, at its most biological level, is an animal.  It needs food, drink, shelter, and reproduction.  Unlike most animals, however, human beings have a highly advanced capacity for the use and creation of tools.  Indeed, after a certain point, the evolution of the human race can be tracked more by its technology than by its biology.  In addition, following the evolution of Humanity by Technology raises fewer ethical questions than following its Biology.   When looking at the progress of technology, one regards the phrase  ‘necessity is the mother of invention.’  What does this mean?

What is necessary?

If we look at humans as organisms, we find, as mentioned, that food, water, shelter, and reproduction are necessary.  Thus, all inventions should aid in one, if not all, of these categories.

As humans invented tools, they also invented societies and rules and religions and governments and culture.  Throughout history, culture and invention have driven each other’s focus.   The invention of the telescope, the astrolabe, star charts, have all bred controversy and confusion as man began to comprehend the universe beyond Earth.  This led to a changing understanding of not only the philosophies and religions of the world, but also of the means to navigate the globe and reach new lands.  An improved understanding of the heavens led mankind to better navigate in unfamiliar territory, to expand societies and cultures which were growing beyond their borders.

Societies have always had an expansionary tendency.  In the system which has dominated most of human societies, the most celebrated civilizations were those whose reign encompassed the most land, who demanded tribute from the most cultures.  With this as a marker of success, humanity has found itself at a strange new equilibrium: most of the world has been discovered.

To be more accurate, the surface of the land has been generally taken over.  That endless horizon after which pioneers have chased has vanished – horizontal expansion has ceased.  However, vertical expansion is still possible.  People can live in higher and higher buildings in more and more clustered groups, making cities and societies.  The problem with such areas is that it reduces a human instinct: survival.

The culture of the city is different from that of the country.  In cities, populations have exploded, crowding occurs, and the drive to reproduce is reduced.  This leads to views that encourage longer lifespans, more varied ways of life, from cultural awareness to sexual enlightenment, but also reduces the drive to create new life.  In more industrial societies, the nuclear family has become a model – fewer people in families with fewer generations raising children and fewer chidlren being produced.  The number of single parents is higher in cities.  The use of contraception is encouraged as a means of reducing disease ( a problem more rampant in urban centers).

With this in mind, in the advent of a global village, the entire world has become a city.  The ideas of first world nations now tend toward those of the city – more nuclear families, fewer children, less drive to reproduce.

In many circles, the act of sexual intercourse has become a stimulant rather than a tool.  The idea of the large family is not the first-world citizen’s idea of success.

Economists have noted that the most severe problem facing mankind today is the threat of overpopulation.  Food is not necessarily the problem: transport and resources is, however.  With more people, the expansive tendency becomes a warring tendency as more and more bodies vie for space on an increasingly ‘smaller’ planet.  That horizontal urge that humans have for ‘space’ is conflicted by the dangers of a global urbana.

Some theorists believe that humanity is reaching its peak population.  This is a problem: never in its history has humanity had a ‘peak population.’  If a place becomes too populated, people move outward, they travel, they settle elsewhere.   With all the societies and cultures in existence today, that same solution of moving has many more complications.  Immigrants the world over face oppression and alienation.  As societies become more and more tied to their citizens, the hope that lies in immigration is reduced.

Humanity should not have a natural peak.  Throughout its history, mankind has always found new horizons and new places to live.  All we need do now is switch from a horizontal expansion to a vertical one.  As technology evolves, the habitats which humanity can safely occupy expand. Human life can exist in deserts, under oceans, in the stars, even.

The rapid development of communication and data technology allows for ideas to be transfered faster, and so technology and culture continue to ‘evolve’ more rapidly.  However, the current culture is concerned more with lamenting overpopulation and complaining about use of resources than it is with continued expansion.

If humankind becomes a starfaring species, then many problems will be alleviated (although not eliminated).  Earth is a finite place, but the universe is ever expanding.  If humans need more room, if a population is becoming too great for this one world, why not populate more?

Travel across the stars has been the subject of fiction for years, and has even, to some extent, been acheived.  Satellites that orbit the planet show that space is a frontier which mankind is ready to explore, and the Hubble and other explorative satellites encourage expansion into the rest of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe.

There is no reason that mankind should reach a ‘peak population.’  If our only solution to ‘overpopulation’ is to stop reproducing, then why not simply expand?  We can go further, we can gain land, fame, and that ever-fascinating horizon line by becoming frontiersmen once again.  The human need to reproduce is reinforced by space travel, and as such, it is natural that the human race should expand into space.