I was supposed to spring up blogging yesterday…but…I got up at 4am and the starter gun went off and the world was far ahead of me before I even had my sneakers tied. I finished the last of the last at 12:32am and promptly passed out. Some days are like this. Other days, you couldn’t light a match if you were standing in the middle of a forest fire.
I am deep into preparing for the Mexico City thing, it feels good. It has been a while since I have had the freedom to go into a full rehearsal for something. I am finding mirrors and arranging things and studying, studying, studying. I found a new book that just has loads of information and direction about how actors handled themselves on the stage in the 19th century. The work I did studying Eleonora Duse has stood me well. It never ceases to entertain me when I am told the way in which I perform is so “unique and different.” Once upon a time it wasn’t.
The hard part about it all is trying to understand the words that they are using. The book I am in right now consists of letters and excerpts from memoirs from that time period. Same English, but the meaning of many of the words is subtly different. Like struggling to understand the difference between “imitation” and “copy.” They have more or less come to mean the same thing but in the 1800s their definitions were miles apart.
Its why I tend to stay away from the contemporary books published on actors and writers of that era. I have found that rare is the writer who is willing to suspend their own experience and assumption to learn to speak a new language so they can understand a history. I read a fairly current book on Duse and just would have been laughing if it wasn’t so sad. The writer’s description of how she acted and her techniques was understood through defining her letters and diaries with a modern sense of vocabulary. They completely missed the boat.
But, I find that is common in many areas of life. The great big “Me” generation has all but erased our ability to learn what it means to be able (and skilled) in creating connections with other people. We define everything through our own experiences. Which is natural, but something that used to be emphasized was only a phase one moved from as one gained maturity.
And all the Baumeister is threaded through. I think, the more I understand the way modern man works, the better skilled I am at seeing the masks that people were and then seeing them for who they are beneath the mask – not only do I better see my own and can make changes, but the better I understand the characters that I create.
The funny thing is that all the actors in the 1800s were very upfront about the concept of adopting masks in real life. Something we have “discovered” only recently is what we do. They would say that “you cannot teach acting, but you can teach people to act like they are acting” because acting is natural, we do it in every moment of our lives. Every time we stop to consider “how shall I dress? What shall I say? Should I stand back or engage in a new situation?” We are acting. We are choosing a persona to play to hide our selves. Mostly for protection, sometimes for gain.
It is, a part of functioning in society to be able to act. Acting, after all, is a form of discipline and self control. Taken too far and done too much – it creates the impression of a very skilled but emotionally dead and unimaginative actor on stage. Done too little or not at all and the impression is of extreme self-indulgence that takes its action without regard or respect for the others, the art form or even the life of the person acting.
To copy something, in 19th century parlance, is to create an absolute image of the original. There is no difference. The original and the copy should be indistinguishable on all levels. Copying is considered a craft. A set of skills perfected but executed without imagination.
To imitate something is to understand its importance to you and to re-imagine its presence through one’s skill and imagination. In the end, it will contain elements that make it related to the original, but in and of itself it is original as well.
The concept of by-play is also something I am working on. I have been doing it more or less intuitively as a writer and performer but now…I have a name for it, an explanation for it, and comments on how to make it better. By-play is the non-verbal communication that exists between actors or a solo performer and the audience. It is what gives the words meaning, place and context. In writing, it is the understanding that the poem exists not in what we have written, but in the clues within the writing to what lies unsaid. It is an acknowledgement that all forms of art, even writing, are not complete until they are interacting in the presence of someone else – The viewer of a painting, the reader of a book, the actors on the stage, the audience before the mic. A simple example of it would like in a poem that is the performed. The actor knows that the punctuation in the poem has next to nothing to do with the placement of the punctuation mark. Which is not what we are taught. We are taught that our breaths and stops come with commas and periods, but they do not when one begins to work with by-play.
By-play is also wonderful when you begin to understand it and how it works in relationships. People make grave mistakes when they think that what they said is what they have communicated. And their listeners make even greater errors when they believe that what they heard in words is what they have just been told. Brings you right back to using paleontological speech analysis only with the focus on the tone, the pauses, the subtle underscoring of meaning through omission or framing.
Ack….tee dee vah la la la la la and the rain and spain falls mainly on the plane. Hours of this, I have a solid two weeks ahead of me of nothing but standing in front of a mirror and doing lingual exercises. Damn that English is my native language, it is like having hamstrings that have tightended and shortened for lack of use when it comes to the ability to form sound (even in English).
And on and on and on….
Many thanks, btw, to youtube for extending the length of the videos I am allowed to upload. I have just re-released “The Rest of the World” in its original length, something I had not been able to do before. Next, remastering the Demon and re-releasing it. I am also re-licensing all of my videos (again, many thanks to youtube) into the creative commons with attribution. Enjoy!
Against a background of response tapes from FDNY on 9/11 and quotes concerning the nature of War, the short performance film, “the Rest of the World”, will bring goosebumps to your skin as artist Cassandra Tribe challenges viewers to change the story that will be told.
Using a mix of music, spoken word and effects, “The Rest of the World” sees Tribe’s characters and ideas fully developed and presented. The video opens with a quote from Barbara Bush backed by the response tapes from FDNY on 9/11 that can only lead to a new definition of evil. Tribe then moves into a performance of “Quiet My Soul”, a depiction of the God of War, that displays her formidable stage presence. On the last word from War, a simple “please”, the video rises into the harsh, trance backed performance of the title piece “the Rest of the World”.
911 Emergency Response tapes used under licensed agreement.