Joy – a review by Jon Jon Johnson

art, Theatrical Process

Check out Jon Jon Johnson’s take on Joy and the theatre.  He’s working on Six Characters in Search of an Author right now over at WSC Avant Bard, and his post is a pretty cool reminder of something that working actors can forget pretty easily.

 

 

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

The Story of Spider Island

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Once upon a time, on a far away island in the middle of turbulent sea, there lived a tribe of people.  These people were much like the people you see every day – two arms, two legs, a head, a torso, loins.  They did the things that your people do: they ate bread, meat, vegetables; they sang songs, performed plays; they studied the philosophies of the world.  They were a people like every other people.  They lived at first on the south side of this island, a conic patch of soil with a dormant volcano in the middle.  They spread over the island slowly, mapping it and studying it and living and dying on the island.  Eventually, they lived in a great tribe that spanned the entire conic pile.

And as they studied the island, they learned much of its dangers.  And they danced and they sung and they believed that above all, they must live and thrive and never die.  Beyond all else, the people feared death: for of all things, the one thing that the people studied that they did not understand was dying.  They knew all the properties of all the parts of the island, they knew how the island worked and how to make it work for them, but they did not understand death.  So they made medicines and rituals and arts and philosophies to stave off death, and they lived longer and longer.  And they kept making children, and living lengthy lives, and covering the island with people.

And one day they found that they could not feed everyone on the island.  And they were faced with a choice: set out in the waters to find more food, or stay on the island and starve.  And the people went to the water and they made rafts.  And they found fish and fed their people and for a time, there was less starvation and the people were happy.

And as they ate more, they grew more, both in number and in age – they lived longer and longer and made more and more children.

And soon, the fish were not enough.  And over time, there was not enough room for both the living and the dead on the island, and the people were crowded, and the people were hungry, and there were only so many rafts.

So a few of the people on the crowded island made boats that were stronger than rafts.  But these boats took much lumber that people needed for houses and for food.  And many of the tribe people were made angry by the creation of these boats.  And the makers of these boats, the boatmen, fled into the waters.

But the tides turned against the boatmen, and while a few lonely boats made it safe into deeper waters, many of the boats returned to the island, their passengers barely alive, crashing onto the shores of the island.

The people of the island, seeing that the boats had failed, took the remaining passengers – those who were still alive – and brought them before the tribe elders, who gathered around the great fire, which brought heat, and knowledge, and purity to the food and water of the people.

And the elders of the island said

“these boatmen have traveled out into deeper waters, and have returned starved or dead.  there is nothing out on the water but death.”

and the people said

“but there is nowhere on the island for more people. what are we to do?  we are too many, we cannot feed ourselves, we cannot house ourselves.  Cannot we head out onto the water?”

and the elders said

“the waters we do not know. We know the island, we know the people.  Surely there is a solution in our infinite knowledge of this place.  we do not need to go into the water.  that way lies only death.”

and the people said

“then what shall we do?”

and then the eldest of all the elders spoke

“bring the boatmen to the fire.”

and the people obeyed, trembling.

“place the boatman on the fire as we would the water, for they have gone to the water, they are now the water.”

and the people obeyed, crying.

and they roasted the body of the boatman.

and after a time, the eldest elder spoke

“remove the body from the fire. leave the husk on display.  we shall never again venture into the water.”

and the people obeyed in silence.

And the people starved and grew so numerous they knew not who was kin, and they knew not each other as people no longer, but as various animals upon a small place.  And the tribe shattered, and war erupted, and no man trusted even his brother.  And the elders vanished, retreating into their clans.

And after a time, the various tribes came to a peace, for they had slain each other time and again.

They said “we have seen that making too much life has led to war or starvation.  We must again use our knowledge to guide us.”

And so the people stopped making children.  They used their sciences to remove their organs from themselves and alter their forms and they stopped producing children.   And over time, they grew fewer and fewer in number and had to rely more on their own personal talents for survival rather than working in groups.  And the various clans convened, and spoke.  They said:

” We are dying.  We need to make children again.”

“But if we do so, we shall starve.  We have been through both peace and war and both have led to pain.”

And the tribes all became silent with thought.  After a time, the grandest grandson of the eldest elder, who had first had the boatman roasted, spoke.

“Why did we not eat the roasted boatman?”

And all the tribes in all their thoughts looked with shock at the grandest grandson of the eldest elder.  And again he spoke,

“We have seen war and we have seen peace; and both life and death, left to their own devices, have left us bereft of our people.  We control all parts of this island, we have even controlled life itself.  Why not also control death?”

And the tribes all cried

“The waves are death.  The sea is death.  We have no control on that.”

And the grandest grandson cried back

“The waves are the unknown.  Death may lie in their wake, but it also resides here, on this island.  And it is our island.  And we know all its secrets, so surely as we know life, surely as we know this island, we also know death.  And so, in knowing, we can control it, and in so doing, we can control life.”

And the tribes people all spoke all once, in a fury.  Finally, one voice from the crowd rang out.

“Then what shall we do now?”

And the grandest grandson replied

“We shall create life again as we have in days of old, yet we shall take it also.  He who cannot survive on his own shall be consumed by those who can, and in so doing, we shall rid ourselves of the weak and create life without starvation.”

And the people again spoke in a thousand voices, rumbling.

And again, silence fell, and a voice rang out:

“We shall abide by your law, for in nothing else have we found solace.”

And the grandest grandson nodded.  Then he looked with horror as the crowd descended on him.

At the place of the great fire, where once the elders had gathered, the many tribes reunited, and they took the grandest grandson, and made him the first of his tradition, and roasted him, and ate of him.

And this is when they began to change.

The people, one by one, became afraid if each other, and of the fire, and of being seen.  They took to consuming each other, and over time, became recluses, hiding in all the secret places of the island.  They turned inward over time, as they grewer fewer and fewer, and they began to change in form.  They changed bodily.  They grew extra arms and legs, becoming able to do many things at once. They grew extra eyes to see all around themselves, even in the darkness.  They no longer knew each other, male nor female, but as one entity with all life inclusive, producing children whenever it consumed enough to do so.  These creatures bore children more rapidly and in greater number than people, only to have their infants consume each other in the same competitive way as the rest of the people, leaving only the strongest to survive.  They no longer fed on the plants of the island, devouring only animals and each other.  They became deadly masters of their terrain, knowing it intimately and always for their own personal gain.  And so it came to pass that the various tribes dissolved and never again knew peace nor war, but only a constant reproduction and consumption, a never ending tension of hunters and trap-layers.

And time passed. And the seas grew calmer. And one day, a fleet of boats returned, with white sails and great cargo holds of food.

And the grandest grandsons of the first boatmen returned to the Island.

They thought the place abandoned, for they saw no signs of life.  They resettled the island, colonizing it in the names of alien places.

It was when their people began to dwindle and disappear that the grandest grandsons of the boatmen began to worry about the ghosts of their dead ancestors.  Taking up arms from alien worlds, they worked together, scouring the island.  After a time, they found a hiding place of one of the recluses.  Its traps caught one of their band, and the rest stayed to save him.

With its superior knowledge of the island, the recluse ensnared all of the boatmen save one, who freed his fellows and carefully gathered them all together.  But they were weak and needed rest, and the recluse lingered closer and closer.

Just when all seemed lost for the wayward band, the recluse was consumed by an even greater recluse, and the two locked in battle, attempting to slay each other.  The band of boatmen trudged on, struggling toward their boat.

The smell of fresh, untainted meat tantalized the recluses all around the island, and the various monsters scuttled and battled their way to the group.  As a seething horde of self-consuming monsters encroached on the boatmen, the small team used the last of their strength to board a boat, pull up anchor, and flee from the cursed isle.

In later years, the boatmen would write of their ancestral homeland, calling it ‘Spider Island,’ a land of cannibal monsters, and warned all other boatmen never to return there.

And that is the tale of Spider Island.

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.

Mission Statement

Plans

So after a few posts that have been generally infrequent and rather all-over- -the-place, I’ve decided that I need to figure out what my blog’s going to be about.

I don’t like blogging for its own sake, so I figure I’ll use this thing as a means of furthering my interests and myself.

I won’t be any Perez Hilton, but…

Let’s figure this out:

goals for the year:

– daily posting: shorter posts, link to twitter, link to facebook, yada yada

– ads!  I should get some of those…

– themes: what are my focus areas?  I think, as I mentioned, they’re my interests: theatre, art, architecture, design, the green movement, and space travel/exploration/colonization, philosophy.  Now, all of those tie in pretty well except… theatre. Yeah, I know.  Funny, it’s my major.

– get a scanner: upload comics!  yay webcomic!  I think I’ll do one on Superheroes…  I can upload commission-able art samples in watercolor, pastel, pencil, and pen.

– get a tablet PC: simply draw and edit images on da computah.

– figure out what my real job will be while I get this started up…

– network: have a whole mess of buddies who advertise me while I advertise them.

okay, I think that should do it for goals.  Of course, these will get more specific.  But for today, it’s a good laundry list (grocery list?)

for now, my basic q: this website will be about using art and philosophy to help further mankind, and to make the idea of space exploration and efficient living ‘hip.’