Monday, September 27, 2010

The Joy of Sewing... and sewing... and sewing...

I rarely costume shows anymore, but I took the opportunity to design and build the women’s costumes for theatre KAPOW's recent production of Hedda Gabler. I did it in part because I love the show, and in part because I love the period. If you are going to build a show only once every few years, why build an easy one, right?

I planned ahead as best I could - sketching designs, finding patterns, shopping for material in June. After I returned from my six weeks in New York at the Atlantic Acting School’s summer intensive, I got down to building the show. Here are some reflections on the five weeks I spent chained to my machine (that’s how it felt).

It is so nice to be able to see and touch the product of time spent on something. This is true not only for the finished product of the whole costume piece, but for all the steps along the way as well. Even 15 minutes pent in front of the machine can have a tangible result. I have always known that I am a task and goal-oriented person, and I was reminded of that often during this process as I compared time spent sewing with time spent doing other things. But while those other things may not have the same tangible result, they do serve a purpose – if nothing else, to provide that contrast and make us appreciate the productive times.

Things always take longer than you think they will. Always. Sometimes a LOT longer. It is hard to plan accordingly. But if something if worth doing, it is worth doing right. And there is no substitution for attention to detail. And trimmings. And accessories. But they all take time.

Sometimes, you have to abandon the pattern or the directions and follow your gut. I’ve frequently fallen to “improvisational scenery” in my times as a designer and builder for companies with larger shoestrings than budgets. But I am much more comfortable there than in the “improvisational dressmaking” stream I found myself fording during this process. It was enormously challenging, but I found that I could apply three important things I spent the summer learning to engage with regard to acting: bravery, will, and common sense.

Again, I am struck by how many areas of my life my training this summer has affected, for the positive.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflections on my summer training

This summer I was blessed to spend six weeks in training at the Atlantic Acting School’s summer intensive. So much happened in those weeks, it seems impossible to reflect on it all and describe it all. I am struck almost daily by how much I learned, how much I grew, and how much I changed over those six weeks, and in the weeks since.

I have always thought of myself as a tenacious and hard-working person. I learned this summer that I did not know the meaning of those words. I have learned that I can be tenacious, and I can be hard-working, but that I have not been previously. It took me almost three weeks into the program to finally embrace the 8 am – 10 pm days in studio, plus time in the morning doing vocal and speech practice, plus hours after 10 back in my room reading plays, learning lines, and trying to keep up with things like laundry. One of our teachers said, “I know you are tired, the fatigue feels unbearable. But let me tell you now: you will never not be tired. The fatigue will always be there – some days more than others, but it will always be there. It is not an excuse.” So true.

Breathe. It sounds so simple when you say it. Just breathe. But there is so much in just a breath. I was amazed to realize how much tension I carried in my body without realizing, and how much that restricted my breathing. Who ever thought letting go of tension could be so much work in and of itself? These are the things that pop into my head on a regular basis now: “Is your mouth open or closed?” “Drop your booty” “Keep that head on top of your spine” “Where are your feet? Under your hips?” And at least twice a day I touch my fingers to my forehead to relax by furrowed brow and stop the “11s” from leaving their mark. There is progress, baby steps. I hardly ever wake up with my jaw locked and sore from clenching and grinding my teeth in my sleep anymore.

There is so much that I don’t know. There are so many wonderful plays that I have not seen, books that I have not read, and music that I have not heard. There is so much in the world that all of us can still learn. We must surround ourselves and fill our lives with good work, good food, and good people.

I have never had the courage, strength or understanding to think of myself as an artist, much less to call myself an artist. I learned that being an actor is hard, hard work, and is not something to belittle or downplay or be ashamed of. I was inspired by teachers and fellow students whose work elicited both laughter and tears. I was driven to work harder than I ever have at anything before to overcome the fear and doubt that have ruled my mind for so many years and to embrace the strength and beauty that work led me to. More than anything else this summer, the moment that means the most to me was when a fellow student said of me “There is an artist.”

I am an artist. It is not easy, and it does not come without sacrifice, but I will continue to work hard at it every day. I wake up an hour or 90 minutes earlier than I did before the summer. I walk 30 minutes almost every day, and six days out of the week I do my vocal practice and my speech practice. I must continue to work to find time to read more, to take a yoga class or a dance class, and also to enjoy my loving husband and my amazing daughter. It is not easy, and it does not come without sacrifice, but I will continue to work hard at it every day.

Thank you to everyone who was a part of my summer at the Atlantic.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ah, the classics...

Yesterday's read was The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney. I had not read the Philoctetes before, which includes fascinatingly negative portrayal of Odysseus. Which of course, I rather like. Heaney's language is pointed and really hits on the question of what is the right thing to do.

I love about classical plays that everyone is guilty of something, no one is ever completely right or good. It is all about the shades of gray. Philoctetes is at once both sympathetic and detestable. And I love a good chorus. I am a HUGE han of the choral voice and love that this script is written with that as a suggestion.

Some quotes that stuck with me:

"Philoctetes. Hercules. Odysseus.
Heroes. Victims. Gods and human beings.
All throwing shapes, every one of them
Convinced he's in the right, all of them glad
To repeat themselves and their every last mistake,
No matter what." - Chorus

"Scruples are self-indulgence at this stage." - Odysseus

"Whose side are the gods on?
What are human beings to make of them?
How am I to keep on praising gods
If they keep disappointing me, and never
Match the good of my side with their good?" - Philoctetes

Friday, December 25, 2009

Burlesque and Carnage

Ah, with Christmas break comes some welcome quiet time to read. I finally finished the Gypsy memoir today. A truly fascinating read, really very interesting and sooooooo helpful in preparing to direct the show. Some of my favorite quotes:

  • "Start thinkin' about what your goin' to be tomorrow - not what you were yesterday."
  • I wanted to say good-by to someone, just once, who was sorry to see us leave.
  • "God will protect us. But to make sure, carry a heavy club."

After I finished that, I read God of Carnage - Yasmina Reza's latest hit. Funny, funny stuff. A show I'd love to do in eight or ten years. I love the rapid disintegration from proper and polite to way-too-personal mud-slinging and fit-pitching. I guess vomiting on the coffee table will do that to an evening.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Lover and The Problem

My next acting project with theatre KAPOW: I'll be playing Sarah in The Lover and the Wife in The Problem.

theatre KAPOW opens their second season with the titillating pairing of The Lover by Harold Pinter and The Problem by A.R. Gurney Jr. at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, NH. The shows are directed by Matthew Cahoon and I play opposite Brian Kennedy.

Pinter’s The Lover is about a middle class couple who live a secluded life in a respectable English town. The play, written in 1962, explores the repercussions when dull domesticity and sexual fantasy collide. A.R. Gurney’s The Problem is a quite funny American take on a similar theme and written just a few years later in 1969. A husband and wife are caught in a complicated and perverse spiral of sexual fantasies that enable them to keep their marriage alive.

It is an interesting pairing of scripts and will make for a truly "tKAPOW" evening.

Performances are Friday, September 11 at 7:30 pm and Saturday September 12 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, NH. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Stockbridge Theatre Box Office at (603) 437-5210, or online at

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I love doing theatre for young audiences. It has been while since I did it, and this week I had the chance to return to the put-the-show-together-in-a-week process I cut my teeth on several years ago. I directed Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for the summer series at the Stockbridge Theatre. I was reminded of several lessons.

It is not easy to put together a show in a week, but it is possible. Keep it simple and come prepared- that's the key.

Young audiences are great audiences. They challenge you to hold their attention. Keep things clean and clear and active.

Ensemble is so very important. You have to enjoy one another and help one another. Like I said, it is not easy to put together a show in a week, but it is possible. Creativity from the first rehearsal is essential - because by the second rehearsal you have to be solidifying things!

The simplest stories are often the best. Take Alexander and the THNGVBD, based on the wonderful book by Judith Viorst. Everyone in the audience - parents and grandparents and children alike can relate to Alexander and his day. Sincerity is most important ingredient to the book, and to a successful production.

It was refreshing to go through a quick-and-dirty process like this again, and relive some great memories of my past experiences.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Anna and the King of Siam

I finally finished reading it! It did get better in the second half.

What makes it a compelling story is the last chapter: the long-term results of the influence Anna had over the Prince, and ultimately the culture of Siam. I find it interesting that the musical adaptation focuses much more on her relationship with the King, how it changes eventually to a friendship, even hinting at more.

I wanted to read it because I was hoping for some really wonderful descriptive passage about the Palace and the city to inspire me for the design of the show. They were few and far between, since the book is really centered on Anna’s relationships and the social circumstances of the people she meets.

I watched the movie again a few days after finishing the book, and was reminded what a really breathtaking number “Small House of Uncle Thomas” is, and how incredibly amazing Jerome Robbins work is.