Chaos Attraction

Recap Day: October 2017, Yeah, This Is Long

2017-12-24, 10:53 a.m.

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October 16:
What if you could finally find someone to tell you exactly what’s wrong with you?

Uh, actingwise, I mean.

At some point within the last few months I had a talk with my friend Melinda (who used to act/do other things in drama) about what’s wrong with my acting and why I’m not good enough at improv, or acting in general. I’ve had her watch all my videos and she said the issue is that I’m too much in my head, and that while I’ve taken acting classes, none of them actually taught me how to act. Which is totally true. And I was having trouble finding anything else I haven’t taken around here on a non-academic level.

So she suggested that I sign up for a community college class. American River has a good drama program (and costume program, according to our writer group friend Melanie). I found a class that runs for 8 weeks on Mondays and Wednesdays after work (though in Rainy Season for most of it, which sucks), three hours a night. I signed up for it.

But I have to admit that the idea of going back to school after having graduated yonks ago is...extremely weird to say the least. I am not one of those people who ever wanted to go to grad school. Once in a great while I will consider it for about three minutes and then realize (a) I don’t want to go back to school (I am pretty damn sick of school these days), (b) I don’t have the money to pay for it and never will have the money to, (c) I refuse to rack up debt for a pointless advanced degree I don’t need and could never pay off as a permanent clerical worker who will never get out of being one, and (d) I can study whatever the heck I want without having to do official schooling for it.

Not to mention: community college? After having already graduated? I wasn’t a transfer student (I wanted to avoid a CC because I feared I’d never leave home if I was forced to go to the one in my town), so...y’know, weird. Oh yeah, and having homework to do at night after fifteen years or so of fucking off and knitting/reading/whatever every night? Yikes.

But anyway.. I should get around to actually talking about what happens in class.
We did a few theater games and (the professor, Sam) talked about how acting is listening and responding, desires, conflicts and impulses. We live off conflicts, they intensify. Desire is the whole thing of acting--objective. If you don’t give into desire, people won’t pay money to see the show.

He talked about plot analysis--breaking plots apart in order to study them and see how they work. Plot is the telling of the story, the story is not always told in order. He went into GREAT DETAIL about retelling The Wizard of Oz. Seriously, I’m impressed. If I hadn’t seen it twice within the last year I would not have remembered all of that. I also enjoyed the commentary along the lines of “They wrote this play to mess with us” and about Glinda saying Dorothy could have gone home all along, “Don’t you just wanna slap her?”

There’s going to be three quizzes (based off the opening chapters of the textbooks--one book of 2 person scenes and one book of monologues) and a final exam, four scenes, two term papers that you watch plays to write about, there’s opportunities for extra credit if you see other plays, usher or audition for shows. This all seems a wee bit much, but I did go to a college where terms were either six or ten weeks. He wants us to (if possible) go see the two plays that the campus is putting on--Beauty and the Beast and The Seagull. Write one paper on plot analysis and the other on character analysis. He also talked about given circumstances-- the setting for the world of the play/character, that set you up for what you want.

October 18:
Second night of class:

Lecture: objectives equal obstacles. What you want to do and what’s in your way. We relish conflict. Conflict is not having something that you need.
He talked about the GOTE approach to acting:
* goal
* obstacle (the other person, usually)
* tactics
* expectation level (how bad do you want it?)
All we do is react to conflicts and cause them.

Hamlet’s superobjective is to kill the guy who killed his dad, but he has other objectives. Scene objectives work toward superobjectives. You want to win, that’s the idea.

Apparently he picked our textbook, Contemporary Scenes for Student Actors, because it teaches you how to act. I was suddenly a lot more impressed with the book.

It goes into how to approach a scene--what the audience expects, what the actors need to do to give them what they want, and what the director needs to do to help the actor prepare to give them what they want. Desires and conflicts are revealed by actions and utterances. You’re supposed to create fully realized characters by drawing upon your past and fantasy life, and generate experiences for the character.

Interesting tip: don’t even act in a closeup on film--just think through the situation and your face will change. (Oh, speaking of: for fans of The Good Place who’ve seen season 1: check this out.

Tonight he assigned ten line scenes. He picked out two of the scenes from the book--one from uh, Dracula (seriously, Dracula and Renfield) and the other from a play called The Gingham Dog by Lanford Wilson. I probably don’t need to explain Dracula, but The Gingham Dog takes place in 1968 and features a divorcing interracial couple. The scene in class is between Gloria and her teenage future ex-sister-in-law Barbara, who are starting to fight. (I got the play and read it, and hoo boy, does it get uglier from there. Kinda glad I wasn’t going further.) He asked who wanted to do what scene and about 75% of the class wanted to do Dracula. The class is mostly dudes, though a few ladies wanted in on that too. However, I wanted to do The Gingham Dog. I haven’t the faintest idea how I’d portray anyone in Dracula, and the character of Barbara had a Southern accent and I like that sort of thing. Three women wanted to do that one and I was the only one who wanted to do Barbara, so he said I could do the scene twice. As a hammy sort of person, I was down with that.

We were supposed to do only ten lines from the play. Here they are. For the record, Gloria is moving out of the apartment she shares with Vince, Barbara is supposedly over there to help.

Gloria: Barbara, Barbara, Barbara, before you get all snug and cuddly there--I’ve got a lot to do and I don’t want to be rude, but I just don’t feel like a chat. To be perfectly frank I’ve never liked you and I can’t pretend to--
Barbara: Oh, I don’t blame you, actually. I’ve known you didn’t like me really. But I’ve always liked you. A lot. I didn’t want to chat or anything. I just--
Gloria: I just don’t care to talk about my private life with you.
Barbara: I’m not interested in your and Vincent’s sex life--
Gloria: --Oh, my god--
Barbara: --Anyway, I’m sure that it was probably just as normal as anyone. I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry you and Vincent are divorcing like this. (Gloria looks up sharply) I still feel that if you had talked about it, you wouldn’t have to be, is all.
Gloria: Vince and I have spent the whole day avoiding talking about it and I think that’s best. The thought of a girl-to-girl chat nauseates me.
Barbara: (exiting to the bathroom, quite cool) I know why you don’t like me--and I don’t think it’s fair, really.
Gloria: (to herself in the second she is gone:) Phony white tramp.
Barbara: (reentering, a few articles in her hand) You feel that I’m Southern. Because I speak the way I do, you feel I’m just a typical Southerner.

The book has a loooooooooong number of questions you’re supposed to answer about your character--the homework for this scene is to answer the first half of them, 1 sentence apiece. I ended up asking Melinda for help on doing these, she was great about it.

For the record, these were the first half of the questions:
1a. Where am I and what is my relationship to this place?
1b. What time of day is it?
1c. What aspects of the physical environment (weather, odors, etc.) affect me?
1d. What actions or reactions are elicited?

2a. What has my past contact with this place been?
2b. What objects are significant or of interest to me?
2c. Are they pleasing or displeasing?
2d. Do I take any action with respect to an object (use it, explore it, etc.)?

3a. Who is here or expected?
3b. What is my relationship to them and what past contacts have we had?
3c. What do I know or suspect about them, either from personal contact or reputation?
3d. How do I act, think, or feel differently with the various people?
3e. What do I expect them to do?

4a. What do I believe the others think or expect of me?
4b. What do I think they want from me?
4c. Do they know what I want from them and the degree to which I want it?

5a. Am I aware of my impact on others?
5b. Does this awareness affect my behavior?
5c. Do I exploit or try to minimize my impact?

6. What just preceded this event and how did it affect me both physically and mentally?

7a. What do I want?
7b. What are my objectives?
7c. What are the obstacles to be overcome?
7d. Are they within myself, from the environment, or from other persons?

8a. Do my objectives or obstacles change (“beat” changes) as the scene or play progresses?
8b. Do my expectations about getting what I want change?
8c. What discoveries do I make?
8d. How am I changed by what I learn?

9a. What actions do I attempt in pursuing my objective?
9b. What actions do I consider taking but reject?
9c. What observations do I make to determine if my actions are succeeding?
9d. How do my actions affect me or my self-esteem?
9e. Are there moral considerations?
9f. Am I pleased or displeased with myself?

10a. What do I feel toward, and what do I need from, the other person(s)?
10b. What do I want them to feel about me?
10c. In what ways am I vulnerable to them?
10d. What do I feel as I do toward them?
10e. What specific aspects of them or me or our past together have generated these feelings and needs?

11a. Do I consciously know what I want?
11b. If not, what do I believe I want?
11c. In what way do the actions arising from the real and believed wants interact or alternate?

October 20:
As per my class assignment, I went to go see Beauty and the Beast at my community college. Considering that I’ve already seen the play last year (Broadway touring version) and this summer (outdoor theater version) and the live-action movie twice within the last year, I hadn’t had plans on seeing a third version*, but it was heavily pressed that we go see plays at our school if possible, and I wasn’t doing much that weekend, so okay, fine.
It was done really well, I gotta say. THE COSTUMES WERE AMAZING. Now, I know someone who’s been taking costume design classes over there and raving about it, but seriously, these people were in freaking brocades. And fancy bodies. And patterned fabrics. And I wish I could show you a photo of Mrs. Potts’s costume because the whole “teapot” shape was made from really fancy large round pleats. I couldn’t even! It was amazing! About the only thing that wasn’t so amazing was the Beast’s head--he kinda looked like a walking hairball--but I think they did it as they did so you could see his face. Ah well. Also, bonus points for casting a buff ex-jock with actual giant arms as Gaston. Damn, those guns, boy! Yes, the acting and singing were well done too.

* (heck, I think a fourth version is playing in another town now, but I ain’t schlepping)

October 23:
Class #3. Today we were talking about scoring scripts, or writing up all the instructions and things you’re going to do on them. In addition to stuff like your blocking and drawing a floor plan, you’re also supposed to divide your scene into beats (topic changes, basically), identify the climax, and write out the tactics that you’re going to play. The interesting thing on the tactics? There’s a new tactic, according to him, per punctuation. Not even per sentence, per punctuation. Daaaaaaaang. (My scene partners were trying to figure out what to do with “Barbara, Barbara, Barbara”--we eventually elected to have me doing something or other on the couch and they had to yell to get my attention. I knit in one scene and put lipstick on in another.)

* Beats = any time you have a new objective/obstacle
* French scenes--when anyone enters/exits--energy changes and makes you feel different
* Superobjective: whole play
* Scene objective
* Your objective changes a lot
* The most important acting elements are the objectives or obstacles change as the scene/play progresses?
* Be 100% into what you are doing, take whatever the director gives and take it further.

This is all the stuff you’re supposed to do when scoring a script:
* write down all the beats and the climax
* write in your blocking
* write in your tactics-what you’re going to play on every bit of punctuation. Follow your punctuation--it clarifies/separates thoughts. He hopes you improvise tactics onstage every night. Tactics are something like “to announce,” “to hurry,” “to soothe,” “to recoil.” Write them down so you know your options and can practice.
** Two types of tactics--reward and punishing.
* action cues--do you do what you do next based on a previous action or line?
** Two types of cues--line cue and previous line, external (like looking at a clock) or internal (I feel sick).

October 25:
Class #4: we had a quiz. Turns out he writes out quizzes with sentences and fill-in-the-blanks.
He made us do a lot of having to stare at a partner (like 4 minutes of it, probably, like the infamous 36 Questions), look at stuff like their feet or whatever for a long time, doing mirroring actions with each other, and having to imagine our partner basically from infancy to death. For some disturbing reason I started crying during this--out of one eye--which was really freaky and I can’t even explain it. SO EMBARRASSING.
Oh yeah, he also likes to make people talk in gibberish. I’m still not sure what that’s all about.

Lecture notes:
* Actor is judged by choices
* Objective is what the characters want
* Your thinking - inner monologue, onstage thinking, talking to yourself
* You want anything that will stimulate you onstage.

After that, I rehearsed with my scene partners, which felt pretty short. I wish we had more time to actually work on these things.

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