Monday, June 04, 2012

What A Scene Is About.

As I sat in Andy Gale's acting class, yesterday, I thought about a graphic on Facebook about beloved "Desperate Housewives" actress Kathryn Joost, who just passed away at age 72.


There was a time in this world's history when even LIVING to 42 was considered an accomplishment. That she began her career at that age is truly an example of Living in the Bonus Round. When most people have already set their life's course and have more or less planned the rest of their existence, she decided to begin hers.

I got up to do my "scene." I mentioned it before. It's the last speech in the play "As Is." By a hospice worker. The first time I read it out loud, I bawled like a baby and knew that it was a powerful "read." Half the other actors were also bawling their eyes out! And it more or less gave me hope that I wasn't going to make a fool of myself, starting my acting training at age 58.

But, then, after memorizing it, I stood up to deliver it and it felt pallid. Lifeless. Weak. Small. I still cried a bit, but perhaps because I wasn't reading it and discovering it for the first time, the emotions were gone. I could feel myself say the words, but I didn't feel present. Like a ghost was talking. And I felt physically awkward.

So, Andy had Jake stand up and punch at me while delivering the speech. He said the point of this was to get me to use my whole body when I talk. When I punched back at Jake, while saying the words, they stopped coming from my throat, in a wandering way, and became little missiles fired from my gut.

That exercise was very illuminating but I knew there was more to figure out.

Yesterday, when I got up, I still felt lost. He asked me, "What are you trying to accomplish in this scene? Who are you speaking to?"

Who? What? Well, um, it's the last scene in the play and I'm standing on a stage directly addressing the audience. I guess I'm talking to the audience.

"Sit down."

 So, we, the six or seven of us are sitting around a table.

This is Andy's advanced class. Watching these actors perform their scenes.. No. Watching what the actors do with their scenes after Andy's given them a little focus, a little direction, is magical. Each of them have skills that I know I have inside me, but have never really given much thought to. It's like the old saying, it's not what you don't know; it's what you don't know you don't know -- that's the most illusive thing.

"What action are you trying in this scene?"

I didn't really understand the question. My response was, "To make them understand what it feels like to be a hospice worker?"

"No. Trying to make someone understand something is the point of every scene. That's not an action."

I was confused. I couldn't think of anything.

One of the other actors said, "Well, for instance, an action would be -- not that would work in this situation -- that you're trying to seduce someone. So, the words in the speech are all aimed at getting the person in the scene to go home with you."

Andy's eyes went bright. "Try that!"

I must have looked absolutely lost.

Use a description of a hospice patient to seduce someone?

He designated one of the other actors to be my scene partner and I was to seduce him.

It's hard to know what I felt at that moment. I was thrilled with the idea of trying something. Anything new! It didn't hurt that my scene partner, Emanuel Abruzzo, is unbelievably talented and attractive. I feel like I was awkward doing it, but I started to get the point.

In the scene, the hospice worker expresses a great deal of pain and anger. People who experience pain and anger need comfort. My scene partner, Emanuel Abruzzo, who recently danced in the Jack Cole Project, was great helping me with the scene and trying to respond to my tentative line readings. Still, I felt like I had only skimmed the surface of what was supposed to happen.

But I saw it in action when a girl, Christine Bruno, who I hadn't met previously, did the same type of exercise with a scene she had chosen for that week. Again, with Emanuel. The writing was very poetic, and when she read it, as Andy finally remarked, it felt like we were at a poetry reading. (It was about time, and how time feels different to different people, depending on their life circumstance.)

So, Andy had her do the scene again, but this time, as a person who's on the verge of committing suicide, and who is reaching out to someone at that moment. And, suddenly, not only did the words about the meaning of time come alive, but the actress came alive. It was stunning. Absolutely mesmerizing.

Yeah, she wanted to be "understood." But why? In order to find a reason to live.

I love the Bonus Round.
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