What I learned from Richard Perez

June 21, 2009

Richard Perez will be leaving Bloomington 01 August, to the sorrow of everyone who’s worked with him. I have the privilege of calling him a friend, so I’ll leave a personal tribute to a later date (perhaps when I’m good and weepy). But I’ve had Rich as a teacher six times and have learned some fundamental principles that run throughout his excellent instruction. In many ways, they relate not just to acting but how to conduct one’s life.

  • Read the whole play. I would much rather zero in on the scene I’m given and just make something up for the character’s development because I’m fundamentally lazy. 😉 However! Rich’s starting point is always to read the whole play, preferably more than once, even if it’s just for an audition scene. Everything we need to know about the characters is within the script. While plot is also derived from the script, Rich is focused like a laser beam on character, character, character.
  • What are the given circumstances? When developing any character, we often start by affecting mannerisms or accents to define it. But Rich instead leads us to examine the circumstances of that particular moment within the context of the whole play (which, in turn, is the character’s whole life). If the line given is relatively neutral, such as “What did I do?”, the given circumstances tell us whether we should be uttering it in horror or indignation or shame.
  • Make strong choices. This is one of Rich’s favorite things to harp on and it’s one of my favorite pieces of advice. As an actor, you have virtually endless options for interpretation. Many of us opt for easy or mediocre choices that keep things passable. But when we make strong choices, we get heat! That’s where the action is. For instance, when we were working on the monologue Tatiana, Rich asked me for the given circumstances. I decided that it was the afternoon before an important ball. Rich upped the stakes and asked, “What if it’s the day before your wedding?” Yowza! Paydirt! Suddenly the stakes were much higher and my character instantly had more to draw on. In my wimpy choice, Tatiana merely has to endure another uncomfortable ball. In Rich’s scenario, Tatiana is going through a major life change that she is resisting like crazy. It also means all the other characters in the play have much stronger feelings about what’s going on. By amping up the stakes, the text and its interpretation become much richer (no pun intended).
  • Go after what you want. Within the context of the play and the strong choices you’ve made, you still have the option of choosing what your character wants in any scene. Just like in real life, go for it. Choose what you want and go after it. I was in a scene with another actor in Rich’s Intro to Method class and decided (given the circumstances yadda yadda) that my character wanted to be held. She was always the strong one in the marriage, always the dominant one, and usually steered the ship when it came to emotional crises. (No, this can’t possibly be typecasting.) But in this particular case (she’s just learned that her best friends are splitting up over an affair), she doesn’t want to be strong. She feels like her world has just been turned upside down and the last thing she wants to have to do is lead the emotional processing for herself and her husband. But since she has so little experience in being vulnerable, she tries to express her desires in coded messages, hoping that her husband will pick up on her distress signals and simply hold her while she cries. All her actions—all of them—are directed towards this end.
  • Find your trigger. But let’s up the ante, shall we? (Rich loves intensity possibly as much as I do.) Method acting has a bad name because so many people took it way too far, focusing more on “method” than on “acting.”* But the basic principle is useful: In developing character, relate your character’s triggers to circumstances in your own life. For instance, in Tatiana, the line “I see Mama” refers to the point where Tatiana sees her beloved dead mother in a dream. Rather than just stay on the surface and be sort of wistful, Rich had me find a trigger from my own life. I got in touch with my feelings about one of my dead grandfathers and immediately burst into tears. The whole rest of the scene was transformed. Previously coy or wistful lines were suddenly drenched in poignancy and longing—much more dramatically compelling. In another example, in the scene I alluded to in the point above, I decided to change my focus from going after I want to finding my trigger. I sought a memory from a time when my entire world turned upside down in a short period of time. I chose the moment after I shut the door for the last time after my fiancé finally left me. (See, even now I get weepy—insta-trigger!) As soon as I went there, our scene was transformed into a funereal theme. This was perfect, since the last line was, “It’s like a funeral, isn’t it?” It was emotionally difficult to go there, but it definitely created higher drama.
  • No one has to know. The freedom that Rich’s direction gives opens up a number of doors for creative exploration. He emphasizes in all his teaching that no one has to know all this background stuff. What you need as an actor is a way to re-connect with that character in endlessly fresh ways so you can give a powerful performance eight times a week. No one has to know how you do it. Maybe they just think you can cry on cue—who cares? The bottom line is that if you use these basics to develop your craft, you’ll be delivering far more powerful and compelling performances, both for yourself and your audiences.

[*One of my favorite acting stories: Sir Laurence Olivier (Shakespearian trained) and Dustin Hoffman (Method) were in Marathon Man together. One morning, Hoffman showed up on set with bloodshot eyes, scruffy beard, and exhausted demeanor. When Olivier inquired, Hoffman said, “My character’s been up for 3 days so I’ve been prepping for the role.” Olivier waited a beat and then said icily, “Next time, try acting.” I have no idea if this story is true but it’s such a perfect snapshot that it might as well be!]

I will miss Rich terribly as a friend though I’m very excited about the creative opportunities he’ll be pursuing in Chicago. I’ll also miss him as coach and teacher. He’s been phenomenal to work with. Rather than tell you what to do, he asks you questions based on the concepts above. You’re left to draw your own conclusions and try it out. He keeps pushing until you crack the code of character and take your performance to the next level. Many thanks, Rich!

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Garage Band 001

June 20, 2009

Yesterday I began learning the most basic Garage Band features with Kevin, mighty Teacher of All. We worked on Redbird and I learned how to chop off unwanted parts of each track and how to do fade-ins and fade-outs.

Garage Band has all the ease of use that Apple is famed for. Especially once you get into any Mac program, you begin to pick up the inner logic, and one task follows sensibly to the next.

Kevin has mentioned previously that, at a conference he attended, an Industry Bigwig noted that most of the music we hear today as incidental music in commercials and such is made in personal recording studios and mixed in programs like Garage Band. Like Photoshop and Dreamweaver, Garage Band democratizes the creative process. It still doesn’t mean you’ll create great music; it just means your great music is easier to create on a low budget!

Our next challenge will be adding reverb to a bleed-through track. I was right on top of the Zoom H2 and Kevin was standing back a bit when we recorded, so my vocals are on both the “vocals” and “instrumental” tracks. We wanted to add reverb just to the instrumental but the bleed-through makes it impossible. We’ll find a happy medium. Kevin’s also going to teach me how to record directly into Garage Band.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about the tools of the craft—now if only I were writing songs to record!


Redbird flies!

June 13, 2009

Thursday night Kevin and I debuted Redbird on Carolyn VandeWiele’s Womenspace show on WFHB. It was a fantastic experience.

Due to other commitments, I arrived after the show had begun, but in time to hear Curtis Cantwell Jackson backed by Janiece Jaffe and possibly Bobbie Lancaster. Curtis is tremendously talented and has a great voice.

Kevin arrived with his hollow-body electric guitar and we nipped into a back room to run the piece and get used to the different sound. We then went into the studio to set up while Arbutus Cunningham had everyone in stitches. Krista Detor was in before us, prepping to play, so she was the only one with headphones. We couldn’t hear Arbutus but heard everyone in the sound booth and Krista bursting out laughing.

Krista dedicated her delightful Teeter-Totter on a Star to Arbutus. I could only listen with half an ear because I was keeping my nerves under control and staying “in character” for Redbird. In the midst of my stage fright, I suddenly got clear. I looked around the room and realized this was part of my dream come true—to be in the midst of truly talented musicians, performing music I’ve written the way I want to sing it, rising up in the hopes I could be anywhere near as good as they were, and having the scary-yet-exhilarating thrill of singing live. This is what I want to be doing with my life. It was a wonderful realization.

We had no time to run the piece, so I could only hear the mix on the fly. And I couldn’t hear much at that! I pulled one headphone off an ear so I could hear myself and kept the other in place to get a sense of the mix. Kevin played beautifully and I—well, I tried my best! 🙂

Everyone was very gracious afterwards, complimenting the piece and our performance of it. It’s been terrific to get the feedback and support of the family and friends who listened to it. I loved having my friend Bry in the lobby—it was wonderful to know I had a groupie no matter what I did! 😉

Since I couldn’t hear very well, I don’t know how well the piece worked, but Kevin thought it was our best effort yet, which is pretty damn good. And lots of people seemed to like it. I am very satisfied at having more of my creative path affirmed! It was a great night.


Redbird lyrics

June 10, 2009

Redbird (AKA Deadbird)

Cairril Adaire

© 2008

 

Redbird, redbird

Settin’ in my tree

Redbird, redbird

Bring my love to me

 

Won’t you fly free now,

Give my heart ease

Come back to me, oh

Melt the soul of me

 

Bluebird, bluebird

Singin’ your sweet song

You bring happiness

But you don’ stay long

 

You’ll go flyin’ free, oh

And tethered here I’ll be

Won’ you come back to me, oh

And sing your joy to me

 

{guitar interlude}

 

White bird, white bird

Settle in my trees

You bear no scars

You know only peace

 

You once stayed with me, oh

But now you’re flyin’ free

Crimson stains my leaves, oh

It’s all that I can see

 

Blackbird, blackbird

With your broken wings

Blackbird, blackbird

You don’ ever sing

 

Your heart cries to me, oh

And I’m ready

Soar into this dark night

Take the soul of me

 

{Redbird / bluebird / white bird / blackbird}


WFHB update

June 10, 2009

Kevin MacDowell and I will be debuting my original song Redbird on WFHB on Thursday night (11 June) between 9:30 & 10pm.

The show is Womenspace and it runs from 9 – 11. The show will feature live, in-studio performances from:

Krista Detor
Bobbie Lancaster
Curtis Cantwell Jackson
Jaime Sweaney
…and more 

You can tune in at 91.3 or 98.1 FM or listen online through the magic of the Internet. You’ll definitely want to stick around and hear the other talent!

Way excited!! Thank you, Carolyn VandeWiele for the promo! The show is to help promote the upcoming Rock the Shops event on 26 June at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Sponsored in part by the City of Bloomington, Rock the Shops encourages residents to shop downtown and support local business. Kaia will be performing at Wandering Turtle along with a boatload of others to help support the cause!

Please have a listen tomorrow night and then come out on the 26th! (For more info on the gig on the 26th, see Kaia’s site.)


Deadbird debuts!

June 7, 2009

Hey, Kevin and I will be debuting Deadbird this Thursday (11 June) on WFHB’s Womenspace. We’ll be joining a bunch of other artists in the studio, including Krista Detor and others you’ve heard of but I have no confirmed list yet.

The show starts at 9. We’ll be on sometime between 9:30 and 10 and just do the one tune. You can tune in at 91.3 or 98.1 FM or listen online through the magic of the Internet. You’ll definitely want to stick around and hear the other talent!

Way excited!! Thank you, Carolyn VandeWiele for the promo!


Drilling lines…

June 7, 2009

We had our first read-through for Vintage Scenes on Thursday. We’re supposed to be off-book by Monday. Eek!! 

I’m not used to working this way. In all the theatre I’ve done, we stay on-book until the blocking is more or less set. Then we take everything to the next level. It’s very similar to learning a new song, where we stay with the printed music until we’ve got it solid.

Jim, our director, has a different philosophy. For him, the work can’t begin until lines are memorized. I disagree but I’m open to working the way he asks us to. He’s got some great ideas and I’m looking forward to digging into my roles a little more.

The first is “C” in a 30th-floor-ledge comedy called Nicotine High. I basically play a hyped-up über-cop who’s more interested in code violations than in the fact that “A” is about to jump off the ledge.

The second is “Tanqueray” in the comedy Sheep in Men’s Clothing. I play a Southern lush who delights in leading religious fundamentalists astray. It’s a fun role. I do love comedies.

Altogether my parts make up about 2 minutes of onstage time but oh, what a fun two minutes! We start tomorrow with blocking and characterization, though Tanqueray is pretty much in her liquid groove. 

I’ve made recordings of the other actors’ lines and am frantically running mine until my brain is mush. Is this helpful? Perhaps not. I’m also trying the “move around while drilling” trick, which helps—until my brain is mush. It doesn’t help that one of our actors, Bethany, is one of those folks who can simply glance at a script and have it memorized immediately. A regular Jimmy Cagney. I hate her. (KIDDING.)

Actually, that’s one thing I keep thinking about—in all the great actors’ biographies I’ve read over the years (a thousand? a million?) the two things that are always mentioned are “they knew their lines and they hit their marks.” Utter professionals. Didn’t waste anyone’s time on-set. 

Is there a way to channel Katharine Hepburn?? Okay, maybe I should just bite the bullet and drill the bloody things. Mush, here I come!