Monday, October 15, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming: "Luke, you are my reviewer"

The First Review Is In! Luke is the verdict...

See Review Here From The Oregonian



So,The Homecoming         


is officially open. We had a good first weekend run, and at least two reviewers were there. 

REVIEWS!!!:


What a mindfuck. My auto spell check says mindfuck isn't a word, but I think it should be added to google's lexicon. Afterall, if google is a word, why can't mindfuck be?


Mindfuck. So, yes, as an actor working on the HARDEST PLAY EVER WRITTEN, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, you have to ride the line between broadcasting a metaphor to an audience, laying it all out there for them so that it's easy to digest, showing all the inner turmoil that is the character; and keeping all of it close to the chest so as to leave the decision making up to the viewer. 


Most reviewers have no idea what that process is like. The process of developing a piece of living literature for public presentation. Especially in an age of 10 second soundbites and loud colorful images of breasts and dilated female eyes. This play, upon reading, is so complex, so enigmatic, so specific and vague at the same time, that to choose a path and "show" it would be to spit on the memory of the Nobel Prize winning playwright. He didn't want us to broadcast the bitch. He wanted us to play it close to the chest. 


I said this to my fellow cast mates in email today:




I think, that with theatre moving away from Drama, and toward a visual experience (meaning away from the written word), it is harder for the viewer to accept literary theatre. This is sad, on the one hand, but it is also just the way things go, as generations flow through time and our artistic forms morph and twist. 

Pinter is still of that Dramatic form, the literary form. And we are working with Paul (Angelo) to execute that literature with respect. We're not broadcasting a blunt interpretation of the play to an assumed sense-dulled audience that can only hear the loudest of metaphors. 

This [piece] is a challenge to show to the public, most of whom are looking for ten second visual cues that move the story along. Most "modern" pieces have three times as many events occurring in them as this piece has. And yet, the emotional landscape of this piece is unparalleled.  And I believe that people have the capacity to ignore the cartoonish nature of their culture when they are interested in something deeper. I believe that people are smarter than the ad execs who barrage them with banal simplicity.

If people can't hear our subtext, then we maybe are flat. Another possibility is that there are a few who are themselves emotionally deaf as a result of being assaulted by archetypical scenarios.

We are doing a good job. (PAUSE) I think.


I can't say whether we are flat or sufficient. I'm not the one in that position, the reviewer is in that position. But I know, that as an audience member, the worst insult to me, the biggest proof that I've just wasted my last 2 hours and money on ticket, overpriced bad coffee and a shitty pastry(in other words the professional regional theatre experience), is when a theatre troupe doesn't let me make my own decisions about what just happened on stage. That may be the playwright's fault, or the director's. But it doesn't matter in the end. If the Who is removed from the Whodunit, I'm pissed.

I would rather be flat than to be guilty of answering the Who part of the question. 

ZPR


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Damiian's Message, The Joy of Technology


Three Weeks To Opening!!! I'm very happy. The show will be a great success. Now: This happened to me yesterday:

My wonderful friend, Damiian Mario Lang, left me a voice mail the other day, and GOOOGULL transcribed it into poetry for me. How pleased I was to get a double joy from his call. First, I got to listen to a fantastic, animated message from my performer friend, and then, have a poem loosely related to the message in my inbox!

Thank you GOOOOOGULL. I hope that your engineers never figure out how to translate correctly. It would spoil all the fun. Enjoy!


"You don't have my phone. You advised a big problem doors you maza all is well. My. God. I cannot text and I do not faxed me. I don't know, sex tied in knots tax to do not text of me yet or not, text of God text me or not. Fax stop texting. Yay, bye. Act, back. And yo, yeah I love you guys message all about debating bye love it. Yeah. I love you so much, as one of my favorites of all time messaging. I called not to leave a message. God that much. Your order did talk to you in person. Never mind. Yeah I'm in Arcadia. I'm about to go over to a family house for dinner. I've got the mother, the father in the sun. Yeah, I've not met the dollar cool invited me. Why did the teenage daughter invite the man to dinner. Because she needs an acting instructor for her. Independent Study, program. Yeah, I'm very curious about this program and if you have any money to pay me sir. So I'm gonna grab dinner at the house very shortly. FedEx is me and I am fedEx and it is mutually pleasurable C I'm working 3 days a week and then once people go on vacation. I work for them, as I can work through this week, 5 days a week. I work to do the other day Friday. Yeah, like 7 our you give me, 140 bucks cash. Yeah I say it's working okay sir. My book is come along, getting into writing it. And I'm definitely committed to my goal of finishing it and Yeah, your friend of mine who lives in Portland and Jacob yellow needs a wild man. You might medium sometime. Jake up young wild man Yeah, Hi might come up. There. Yo or thanks giving your own be awesome. And I'm looking to buy a motorcycle inexpensive hundreds of dollars. Hundreds, not. Over 1,000 don't care what it is wrong. Is runs sits my body, is my current desires. I just bought a queen size mattress with Lindsay delivered Leninist each pay $170. Not bad and What else. But. I'm making money. I'm buying things. So if if if he about some shoes online, bye bye bye and food whenever the hell I want it, and feels nice. It's going to have money I like it."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming Gets Into Run-Throughs

Well, today is Friday the 14th of Septembre, and as of tomorrow we are getting into run-throughs of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming".

The director, Paul Angelo, who I trust implicitly after having worked with in three processes now (as co-actor as well as director), gave a great piece of advice at rehearsal on Wednesday: With Pinter, we can have whatever inner landscape we choose. That is great for an actor to hear. Next, with Pinter, we can show NONE of it, explicitly. That's the kicker, right there. WHAT!?

We can show NONE of it (except in the eyes, of course).

How do you do this??

The film of The Homecoming is flat, although it's cast with brilliant actors including Ian Holm--the priest in The Fifth Element. Why was the film flat, you ask? Well, most likely because these actors were tackling the same problem we're now dealing with 40 years later in our production: Pinter's play is enigmatic, and is designed to be. If you spell it out, it ruins it. If you play it flat, it ruins it.

It is the ultimate acting exercise, designed by an actor himself. You must be brimming with emotion and subtext, while appearing cool and collected on the outside. This is beginning to show itself a THEATRE exercise, and not a film exercise. Film requires such subtlety anyway, that to engage in this exercise can prove it to fall flat.

The BBC radio play was epic! Vocally, the actors were able to express themselves quite clearly.

The answer is not simple. But it is doable I think. I need to be boiling over with subtext that is clear and distilled, while attempting to hide that overflow with a mask of calm stillness. Does that make sense? It's an actor's wet dream/nightmare!

Thanks, Harold, once again. For making the theatre a worthwhile endeavor.

ZPR



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming

I think I've found my solution to the kwon-dairy of how to play Teddy in "The Homecoming".

                                                                

I think, after talking with Paul Angelo and Grace Carter (Ruth) in rehearsal last night, thanks to them for the help, that when Teddy arrives at home, he thinks of his wife, Ruth, as a weapon with which to bludgeon his estranged family to death. Then, as they spend a little time with the family, and she seems to be integrating with the neandertals that are Teddy's dad, uncle and siblings (rather than ruining them), he begins to realize that his weapon has turned against him.

At this point, he scrambles to save face and re-establish control over his wife and the situation, which is all in vain, for Ruth now has a mind of her own and is having none of it. Then, there's another turn for Teddy, when he realizes that, not only are his attempts at regaining control for naught, he doesn't really want what he's been fighting for in the first place. This final turn frees him of any guilt a normal person in the same circumstances would be feeling; his epiphany abdicates him of any moral responsibility he might have with relation to his wife and the circumstances, and he arrives at a place where he can fully embrace the truly macabre and yet inevitable future that he has brought upon himself and his now re-invigorated family.

I have to choose my words carefully so's not to let the cat out of the bag for those of you who will be attending the performance and don't want it laid out for you. Hence the enigmatic explanation. I will say, however, that the play itself is enigmatic. And so attempting to describe such a piece in code gives it an extra level of abstraction that may convolute beyond the point of no return. Sorry if that's the case.

In any event, you can see that the process an actor goes through to decode character, especially in world-class dramatic literature, is mentally grueling to say the least. It's a gnawing that never goes away until it is cracked, and even then there is second guessing and re-analysis all the way through production.

Acting is a mental sport!

ZPR

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Joey Lawrence And Character Dimension

Rehearsals for The Homecoming are going splendidly!

We have now read the script all the way through as a troupe, and picked apart about 1/3 of all the dense matter in the thing; slung around potential variations on the through-line, etc...

A really interesting theme has emerged regarding age. There's a number of moments that discuss age as a central theme of the piece. There's a ticking clock in Lenny's room; the end of the play is a monologue from Max, the father, in which he pleads to anyone who'll listen that he isn't an old man, although he is 70; there's discussion of whether or not Teddy and Ruth's children will be missing them, and I gather from that that Teddy believes himself to be too old to be of interest to them; and Ruth, in her journey, re-finds her youth through this household of aging and desperate men. It just occurred to me that perhaps Teddy, a professor, is contemplating trading his wife in for a newer model (to use the parlance of the piece). This would be another indication of time and age as a central theme.

I can't describe to you how rewarding it is to analyze a script and find connections that help create a whole picture of the world being lived! It's like a drug. With every new discovery there is a little rush of endorphine-like joy at having used the brain and unlocked a piece of someone else's brain puzzle. It makes me feel smart!

I'm still struggling with my character 's (Teddy) most pivotal motivational moment. I won't reveal the nature of the moment, but will say that Teddy has an enigmatic approach to the action's culmination. That is to say, he is ambiguous about the result. He seems completely apathetic to a situation that should be of great emotional import to him. He could be devastated, and there are indications early on that this would be the natural progression for him. However, he seems quite contented at the result when it becomes clear that it is the course that will be taken. He could be delighted at the end result, as well. He exerts two completely different sides of the same issue within the same play. His enigmatic response to the endgame indicates one of three possibilities: Apathy; Cloaked devastation; Or a contentedness with his calculated victory.

As an actor, I have to make a choice. The way it's written prevents a decisive discovery from being possible. In a way, this makes my journey as an actor more my own, which is brilliant of Harold Pinter, who was himself an actor -- and I am now certain that he was stubborn in his efforts to keep the actor self-empowered; for that I thank you, Harold! But which choice is the best one? Which is the best choice for the production and for the rest of the cast? Which is the one that forward's the director's (Paul Angelo) vision the most cleanly?

Let's narrow it down...

TO NEXT POST


ZPR





Joey Lawrence, Harold Pinter, Bill Shakes And The Character Dimension


The most basic parameters for a narrowing would be readily available in an acting 101 class: YOU NEVER PLAY BOREDOM. Boredom is never a motivation, unless your motivation is to bore your audience. You can play someone attempting to appear bored. This demands a second level of intention, or the primary intention. Therefore, direct "apathy" as the main intention is not the right choice. For me to play the moment with that level of flippancy would ruin the piece. It would negate the entire action of the play up to that point, even if it was the playwright's intent for the character, which I highly doubt to be the case.

The next choice on the list is "cloaked devastation". This choice, ordinarily, would be my first. First of all, it allows me to play two levels of emotion in a single moment, which is always wonderful fun! As humans, we all have the face we put on for the public eye, and behind that facade is what is really going on. We are intelligent and abstract creatures, with the ability to cloak ourselves in ways that other animals cannot. This abstraction is a fantastic tool for the actor, to create depth and subtlety, and bring true life to a person who never existed except in the mind of the writer. Audiences identify with this

much more readily than they do with a Joey Lawrence (Blossom),  

                                                    

for whom everything is on the surface. It's not believable that there would be a real, two dimensional human. Such a thing is very rare in our species...

However: The way this play is written is leading me to suspect that the answer is actually "a contentedness with his calculated victory". I must tell you that I am not very excited about the prospect of this being the answer. It's less meaty a choice than "cloaked devastation". It shows that Teddy somehow had prior knowledge of the end of events and organized them in some way. Omniscience is akin to boredom or apathy. It indicates a lack of journey for the character. If the playwright intends for the character to be a function in a greater metaphor, rather than a whole person

(David Mamet, "Speed The Plow")

                                                              

Mamet is notorious for writing half-characters that prove nearly impossible to play with any sincerity--for this reason Mamet is proven in my mind to be a megalomaniacal sociopath, albeit a brilliant writer), such as Shakespeare does with many of his characters (CHARACTER DIMENSION article), then the actor playing such a role is hemmed in to a limited mindscape that serves the function of the play. At this moment in the process, I am leaning toward this conclusion due to the clues I have unearthed through analysis. I do expect my interpretation to morph, and I am hoping that it moves toward a more dynamic conclusion.

Wish me luck!

ZPR

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming First Read-Through, Brian Dennehy, and What To Do About Too Many Choices

The first read-through of The Homecoming at Defunkt was wonderful! I am excited to be working with such a talented group of folks!

Even more complicated is the play with actual people involved in the process. What a complicated read; but what a challenge for a group of actors to tackle, each of us with our own individual takes on the piece, our own individual histories and experiences. This is going to be fun.

The director, Paul Angelo, had some great ideas, and plenty of them, to start the process off with a bang! I am really excited to get it on its feet. I think that we will have a great time exploring the nuances, the nooks and crannies, of the piece.

I still haven't decided what Teddy's motivation is. Matthew Kern, one of the Defunkt crew, and the actor playing Lenny, Teddy's pimp younger brother, reminded us all that Harold Pinter himself had at one point said that Teddy is the bastard of the family. This made me really think about Teddy's motivation in bringing his wife of six years, who he had never introduced to the family, back home. Is she a weapon with which to bury the family once and for all? They've not had a female in the house for many years, and she stirs things up quite a bit just by being there; Is Teddy trying to save his marriage by bringing her on vacation back in Europe?; Is Ruth so homesick that Teddy agrees to bring her home to get back in touch with her roots? All these are valid takes on it, and yet I have to choose one main motivator to play clearly. Otherwise, the character can seem muddled and imprecise.

I came across this neat little clip of Jennifer Tarver (director) and Brian Dennehy discussing their Stratford production of Pinter. I love shop talk. It's so inspiring and makes me want to act more.



ZPR






Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming Rehearsals Start Tonight

First rehearsal for Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is tonight. We'll do meet and greet, and then table work. I love table work. It's my favorite part of the process. I'm a very psychologically oriented actor, and delving into why people do what they do in a play, making discoveries in each line, putting two and two together to create an arc, finding the moments where I want to put major shifts in the arc, all of it is fun to me.

Acting is very much an intellectual pursuit. It's also an emotional pursuit. It's also a physical activity, akin to a sport. It's also politics, like the junior high bullshit we watch Mitt Romney and Obama fling at each other.

There's I think a misconception about acting, that it's somehow the "easy" art form. That it's a cakewalk for actors, who really just want to have our egos stroked and be told we're wonderful all the time. That we're just whores for attention. And while I won't deny that just like anyone, an actor has an ego; and just like anyone, when that ego is stroked we glow a little...I will tell you that there is no profession in the world that makes its professionals take more of an ego HIT than acting.

We get rejected more than any other professional on the planet. 80% of all actors are out of work at any given moment. Glamorous! We get injured more than most other professions, because we do monkey tricks like have full-blown sword-fights and wrestling matches on stage. And when we do get work, it pays shit. So, you'd better not have a family or a house payment and be an actor. Easy, it ain't.


OH: But back to yesterday's conversation for a moment.

Q: How much of the director's interpretation of a character is an actor required to heed? Where does the director's job stop and the actor's start?
A: There is no answer! Suckas! But a good place to start is  The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate


And so, continuing from the fire analogy...

The Relationship Between Director and Actor

A: I think the director's job is to look at the overall interpretation of a play. I think it's her duty to look as hard as possible at the piece to discern the playwright's intent, and to faithfully execute that intent in the production. This is not to say that a director might not have his own take on the meaning of the play, and indeed many a playwright has said, "Leave me alone! I have no idea what I meant, I just wrote it!". It's just to say that if there is a clear, definable thesis, it's the director's duty to remain loyal to that, and not to re-write the play in her own image. 

Caveat: Shakespeare and many of the classics. If a play is open-domain, super old, dated but with the potential to be apropos once more, by all means, make it happen. This is how we get new forms, new genres, is by mixing the old with the current.

I had a teacher in college who would re-write the plays he directed, through style. The play would already be very interesting, that's why he chose to do it. And then he would put German Expressionism onto it. Didn't matter what play it was, it could be a victorian play about feminism. He'd make it German Expressionist. It could be a 1980's kitchen sink sitcom play. German Expressionist. There's something wrong with that, I think. Where's the respect for those who've come before you in the art? 

A2: I think it's the actor's job to look at the whole play first. Figure out what the director is using as her thesis, or through-line, and understand that fully. Next, the actor's job is to interpret his character in a way that corresponds to that interpretation. For instance, if the character is gay, you're not going to make her a closeted straight person afraid to admit she loves penis just to entertain yourself. The character is who they are. There is plenty of room to play within that, and actors have much room to make it our own. 

And it's the actor's duty to be real. That is, not to interpret the character, not to project character, not to indicate character, but to be a person on stage. If you're a very good actor, it's your duty to give the character life on stage. To experience real emotion in performance. To breathe. To behave and react to others as if it was you in your real life. 

If you're a piss-poor actor, your very best course of action to get yourself as comfortable on stage in front of others as you possibly can. This will allow you to have the appearance of being a good actor by making you more natural on stage. That is your only hope. And many successful actors take this tack; it makes them millionaires with longevity in Hollywood. Tom Cruise, Bill Pullman, Bruce Willis, Diane Keaton, these are all BAD ACTORS. They're not theatre actors, but they illustrate my point. They have figured out how to be comfortable in their own skin in front of audiences. Their own egos are strong enough to carry them through whole movies without too much trouble. They simply are themselves on screen and stage. 


For the bad actors, directors are needed in a dire way. Andie McDowell tanked Four Weddings and a Funeral because Mike Newell (director) evidently had more pressing fires that needed put out than Andie McDowell's HORRIBLENESS. Mr. Newell could have been extremely instructive to McDowell (who knows? Maybe he really tried his best to make her into a princess; but alas, the frog remained). In scenarios such as these, the director has every right to take an actor line by line and interpret for her who she is, why she is doing what she's doing, and how she goes about it. 

For more adept actors, all a director needs to do is say, "GO!". Michael Caine, Alfie and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, is a perfect example of this. Frank Oz knows he knows how to be another person, naturally, on stage and screen, and should be left alone by the director to do this work.

For the rest of us, who are somewhere in the middle, it's a balancing act. We work together, with the common goal of finding the director's interpretation. It's the director's job to keep the actors consistent in style, and moving toward the thesis that he has found to be the right interpretation for the production.

With "The Homecoming", there are many possible interpretations, and angles from which to take the piece. It is, as I said before, specifically written to be open to a director's vision, which is a wet dream for a strong director. And this process will tell how the actors and our very strong director, Paul Angelo, work together to find the line where actor and director meet.
ZPR


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming", Cats Eating Mice: Apropos

Ok.

So, before I begin, I must say that I just watched this tiny kitten eat a mouse. Bone, tail, everything. Then she licked up the floor afterward. Amazing thing to watch. She's less than two pounds. I didn't get any pics, I was too stunned to grab the camera 'till it was too late...but I did get this one, mid-digestion--she looks a little weighed down:



Right. Now, on to the business at hand...Theatre

I've been getting off-book on Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, and it is a challenge. I fancy myself a bit of a genius when it comes to line memorization. I have tourette syndrome, and it has caused me a lot of difficulty in some areas of learning. Memorization of facts for regurgitation on tests is the biggest challenge it's given me. Another is reading comprehension, in the context of dry text and novels. I almost never remember a novel I've read, or even the previous 55555555555m...Kitty! Clumsy little asshole...paragraph for that matter. But memorizing a conversation between two people as written by a playwright? Two reads and I'm usually memorized. Cold. I know others' lines too. Other actors call line on stage and I have to refrain from feeding it to them, thereby seeming like that annoying "actor" who fancies himself better than everyone else for knowing the script better than the writer.

But this has been tougher. Maybe it's because I'm getting older and my prowess is waning. Or maybe it's that I'm detoxing from meat and dairy and bread these last two weeks and it's made my brain fuzzy. Whatever the case, the conversations of this play have a very studied, yet in context seemingly spontaneous, construction. This esoterica is something that Pinter is famous for, and must be gotten down COLD, before an actor can hope to begin the real work of character development and motivational definition.

So I continue to plug away at it, line by line. Teddy, the philosophy prof, only has one monologue in the piece. I find that interesting. He is actually one of the least verbal characters in the play. Here's the film version if you are averse to reading an actual play. It includes a wonderful performance by Ian Holm as Lenny, Teddy's Pimp younger brother:

                                                              

And the nature of this one monologue is to cut down the rest of his family for not being able to comprehend any of his critical works, which none of them have seen. He tells them he's never sent them his critical works because they would not have the faintest idea what they were about. Furthermore, that he has the ability to operate "on things, and not IN them", that he has the omniscience to observe others in their systems and not be caught up in them himself.

This self-assessment may actually end up proving itself correct upon completion of the play's action, which I will refrain from spoiling for you (FACTOID NUMBER ONE: The act of spoiling a piece of entertainment serves, as documented in a recent study publicized by NPR, to heighten interest in the piece, and to enhance rather than detract from the "spoiled" person's enjoyment of it).

We shall see how the director, Paul Angelo, interprets the piece, and I will of course formulate my treatment on that.

This brings up a very important topic for theatre makers:

Q: How much of the director's interpretation of a character is an actor required to heed? Where does the director's job stop and the actor's start?
A: There is no answer! Suckas! But a good place to start is  The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate

For me, having been raised in the traditional theatre in the sense that I got a fairly classical education in acting at an accredited university in the United States, the director is GOD. But there was a self-contradiction in that ethos, and that is that many of the directors I've worked with didn't want to get too far into my realm as an actor. They stayed their distance, I think for one of three reasons:

A. They wanted to focus more on the big picture and didn't feel like it was a valuable use of their time to get into the minutia of moment-to-moment character motivation development (something that any experienced actor is a straight-up whore for)
B. They were very aware of the protocolic boundaries--Yes, that's a new word--and didn't want to overstep their bounds
C. They respected their actors and wanted to let us do the work we were there to do

Although I would like to believe that it's "C", I think much more likely is "A". The director (and I have directed plays as well as acted in them and therefor have a first-hand understanding of this) has many fires to put out. Some are small and some have acreage. It all depends on which fire is calling to you at the moment. If an actor is ablaze and going down, you focus all your attention on that actor and ignore the others. If it's a technical fire, you work on that.

To Be Condinued...

ZPR


Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Dad's Passing One Year Ago Tomorrow

My father, Paul S. Rouse, died one year ago tomorrow. I remembered this today, and a rush of sadness and remembrance came over me.




He was a brilliant man in many ways. His talents were far reaching, and ultimately un-realized were his dreams.

He was a photographer of great ability. My grandfather, Paul Rouse,




was a professional photographer for Indiana University Bloomington, and an actor in Hollywood westerns in the 40's. And my dad inherited his amazing ability to capture the spirit of a person in a photograph. He also had an innate artistic sense which allowed him to take abstract photos and create interesting and beautiful images. I remember a photograph he took from my mom's and my apartment in 1977 or so. He laid down on the balcony, which had a vaguely roman looking railing, and took a picture of the clouds moving overhead the railing. The image is somewhere in my mother's photo albums. None of these have been digitized yet, so they can't be put into blog format. But when I can, I will include these wonderful pictures in the blog.

Steve was also a writer. He was less disciplined with the writing than he was with other things, like his love of technology, and most of his works remain unfinished. When he died, I inherited his hard drives and a lot of that material is on those drives. I will get to them when I can, and begin sifting through the annals to find projects that I might be able to complete for him, a duty I feel toward my father's work and legacy. He has somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 nearly complete screenplays, and numerous essays and commentaries on life and reflections on the world.

My dad was a brilliantly talented musician as well. He started with violin as a child, and evidently was something of a prodigy. As he got older, he moved to keyboards and piano, and never took it to a professional level, although he was clearly capable of going all the way if he had focused on it as a career. My grandmother, Vera,


was a pianist, and my grandparents always had an organ in the house, as long as I can remember. My dad would sit down and tool around the blues for hours when I would visit; and when I was a baby, there is a photo somewhere of me in my diapers, perched on the bench, banging away at the keyboard. I'd love to get ahold of that pic. Again, not yet digitized.

He was, more than a musician, a listener. His need to listen to music was so great, that it became a career in and of itself to him. He was an archivist and audiophile. His stereos were always the biggest and baddest, he had stereo headphones for each of us when I'd come visit, so that we could watch Raiders of the Lost Arc with the best sound possible. These are wonderful memories for me.

His chosen career was in TV news. He directed the news in Pueblo, CO for the NBC affiliate in the tiny dusty high desert town where I was born, for a number of years. He and my mother worked together at the station. She was the anchor, and he was the director. He was a fantastic video editor. For his whole life he enjoyed delving into footage and creating a story by clipping pieces of tape together. I too love music and video editing and photography.

My dad was born in Los Angeles in 1947, and my grandmother, an avid gardener and Irish farm stock, felt it was important to raise the family in the country. Paul agreed. So they returned to Indiana, and that's where my father and aunt were raised. The things that I always remember hearing about my dad's upbringing was the abundance of laughter in the house. Things were always kept fun. I'm sure there were difficulties, as there are in any household. But overall, I think that it was an incredibly nurturing and artistically inclined home.

My dad was afflicted, you can say. He had clinical depression in an era when it was just being discovered that people had hormonal imbalances in their bodies. He always kind of wandered around in a fog and never had the gumption or wherewithal to complete the most mundane of tasks. I can understand this, having been diagnosed with tourette syndrome myself. I'm more highly functioning that he was, but still have some challenges to success in my areas of study.

This was hard for the people who loved him to watch. It was so hard to watch someone with endless talent and ability sit on the couch for years smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and watching movies (albeit he had a great collection!). But he was also afflicted with a stubbornness that prevented him from letting people help him get things moving in his life.

His diet didn't help, either. He never ate much, and when he did, it was usually a Marie Calendar's t.v. dinner, full of enough sodium to kill a horse. Or chocolate candies to snack on while he watched a flick. I think that when you have depression, the very first thing you need to do is fix your diet and exercise regimen and then you can see what truly ails you. If you then still have problems, seek medical or herbal help. But he was either never interested in taking that step, or just couldn't find the momentum to start a change for himself. Add that to 40 years of smoking cigarettes, and you have a losing combination.

I would say his crowning achievement was his bluegrass radio show in Bloomington, IN, in his final years. He was a great knowledge base on bluegrass music and its history. He hosted a great show on WFHB in Bloomington, IN. I will post his shows as I get ahold of them. He affected so many listeners, turned people onto bluegrass who had never known the music before or had an affinity, and he charmed people with his personality, which was witty, intelligent, and whip-smart funny.

So, last year, at 64, when he finally began to succumb to the beast that a poor diet and a cigarette addiction will create in your body, I was extremely sad, but not surprised. I had been telling him for years to change his habits. I gave him Oscar-worthy motivational speeches every time we spoke on the phone. I was never too present in his life, from the time he and my mom separated, but we were much like brothers. So similar in so many ways, with similar passions, parallel interests, a love of film, writing, photography, all the visual arts are in our blood, and not going away. My life was just getting started and his was already winding down. This saddens me greatly, that humans and animals often are relegated to passing genes on to the next generation, and that's about all the contact they can have with each other.

He only met his granddaughter once, and I know that was a source of sadness for him. I think he felt like he'd failed me in some ways, as a father who couldn't even parent himself.



But he did the very best he could with the tools he was given in this life, and I love him with all of my heart. I am very blessed to have such a great family, with all of their talents, and their endless heart. 

For me, success in life is less about what tasks you accomplish, or how much money you acquire or blow through, and more about the impact you make on those around you: your loved ones, friends, enemies, your audiences...And did you make a positive impact on the world, or a negative one. That's why I can't call business people successful humans on the merits of their ability to produce money. What are you doing for our world? 

My father, Steve Rouse, left a positive mark on this world. And his ripple will continue to be felt for decades. And for me, that is as successful as a human can ever hope to be. I am proud of my Daddy Steve and I celebrate who he IS.

ZPR

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Homecoming Rehearsals Begin This Week!

So, in a very nice turn of events, I've been cast in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, at Defunkt Theatre (http://defunktheatre.com/home.html) here in Portland, OR. We will perform October 12 through November 17 if you are in town and want to come to the production. Get your tickets early, though, because it is a very small house and is likely to sell out.

The role I am so lucky to play is Teddy, the only brother of 3 to leave home. For those of you who haven't had the delight/disgust of reading any of Pinter's works, I highly recommend it. You can pick up a copy of the play on amazon for only 3 dollars. Definitely a must-have for your theatre library.




Now, to be very clear: This play is a black comedy. It is absolutely hilarious. It feels like a highly dysfunctional sitcom at times. Like "All In The Family" All in the Family: Complete First Season meets "Seinfeld" Seinfeld - The Complete Series.

There is a lot of debate and scholarly discourse surrounding this play, and almost every dissertation on the piece goes psychological, which is understandable for a Nobel Prize winning playwright such as Pinter. But while taken at face value the play seems macabre and heavy, with Pinter's patent pauses, it really is a wonderful comedy.

So it will be my goal to let these analyses color my treatment, while not letting them define it. This is a challenge when you are researching a role and there is so much material to peruse regarding a piece that has 47 years of theatre companies producing it, reviews being written about it, students analyzing it, scholars pontificating about it, etc...

And I am to perform this piece in the shadow of some of the most brilliant performers of the 20th Century, including Ian Holm as a young man: The Homecoming- a seminal performance; Vivien Merchant, of such greats as Alfie (1966); and the famous English actor Terence Rigby. Not to mention Brian Dennehy, Best Seller, and Ian McShane Deadwood: The Complete Series.

Without giving too much of the plot away, here's a little synopsis:
Teddy and Ruth, his wife of 6 years, arrive at Teddy's family home for the first time. Teddy has been away from his 2 brothers, his uncle, and father for this long. His family has remained in their London home and survive without their matriarchal figure, Jessie, since she died many years ago. Max, Teddy's father, immediately calls Ruth a "Filthy Scrubber", in other words a whore, and demands they leave at once. But, as fate would have it, all the men in the house immediately fall for Ruth, and Teddy is left out in the cold.

I will say that it seems to me to be specifically written in a way that allows for a number of different interpretations of the story. In my opinion, this solidifies the play, and Pinter's place in history, by keeping the play salient and without the dread condition of outdatedness. It allows for directors to define the story anew with every production. I think it's a reflection of Pinter's ego, that he can keep himself current long after his death, but also a testament to his brilliance, in that he can write a vehicle for actors and directors that is timeless and organic. For this trait I see the play as a truly brilliant exercise in scholarly playwriting while keeping the animalistic nature of the human experience intact.

I will continue to blog about my experience working on this play, and the journey that I undergo unravelling this complex and unique piece of living literature. So stay tuned!

ZPR

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Happy Family

The Happy Family is going very well, for producing a full-length, tech-heavy production on a shoestring and eight tacks. The tacks are used to hold the actors together. It seems to be working, even though they're bleeding all the time.

Producing theatre in a cafe space in a dilapidated, 100 year old building is not the most ideal scenario, and at the same time it makes me reflect on what theatre is supposed to be about in the first place. Is it supposed to entertain a crowd of blue-hairs in comfortable, cushy seats with their $5 coffee and scone? Is it supposed to address issues that middle aged and older folks, well settled into the routines of aging and creature comfort, are concerned with? After-all, they're the ones with the money these days, from selling stock and houses and inventing the internet and everything. They're really living in a different world than the rest of us, aren't they. The baby boomer generation... They're really who buy tickets to shows. So that's who we make the work for, generally.

Their parents were depression babies, who did everything in their power to make sure they left their children a better situation than their Mams and Paps left them, isn't that how the story goes? And so these depression era babies built industry, and an America that was unbeatable on the world market. They bought houses without loans (ummmm....what?!). They ate cherry pies twice a week and went to the water on weekends, and the women even started to work, which tripped everyone out, but they did it anyway, and by God they wore pants while they did it. They were some serious trendsetters, these depression era babies. 

Come down a generation to the baby-boomers. It's not that they didn't protest the Vietnam war, or the corporate takeover of the culture that was set into motion unwittingly by our grandparents. It's just that the situation that was set up for them was just so comfy...it lulled them into irreverence, and it was just natural for them to set their sights on the flash-in-the- pan "AMERICAN DREAM". These unfortunate circumstances prepared the baby-boomer generation for the smallest breadth of human experience. Humanimals don't live comfortable lives. The universe itself is tumultuous and hard for the little things. We live by the gas-spewing giant, and we die by it. The luck of the draw that was the White American 20th Century is less than a flash in the pan. It's un-relatable to the human condition. But one thing they had was this seemingly endless supply of cheap energy.

Well you and I both know there is no American Dream anymore. There are rich people, poor people, and the Delusional Middle. The Delusional Middle are the most tragic to me because they have grandeur in their minds, and lack of resources in their lives. If they let themselves be poor, they'd be free to hang out on the lawn with a 40 and a guitar. But their delusions make them take jobs in cubicles and try to eek forward into a better Mercedes and a better WWII shitbox, one with granite countertops, vaguely reminiscent of the ancients, who just went out and mined the shit, it was hard as hell and a lot of people died getting the stuff. But they at least understood what it took to get it. 

This level of comfort is a mistake to embrace, I say! And yet, here I am, nearly middle-aged in a new century (one of dwindling natural resources and dwindling breathable air, one of aging people and aging cars, the back side of this un-documentably tiny moment in history during which 60 or 70 million people wore leisure suits and rode big ass buffets around the Pacific Rim)-yes, all that fit within the parentheses-and of course, I want that too! 

So, to tie this back into my little thesis here, it makes me think about my comfortable parents in their comfy chairs looking at comfy theatre that keeps their minds comfy and their hair quaffed and I say, well, maybe the human race achieved nirvana in that moment, maybe we got there, the only moment as close to the Platonic perfection that our minds can create, in between deep caverns of time during which we flail and squirm like fish on a deck. Our grandparents were delusional. Our parents were delusional. And now we are delusional. 

Do we, then, make theatre that reflects the Platonic perfection, the ideal situation for humanimals to experience? Or do we make theatre that reflects our struggles back upon ourselves, torturing our yearning inner yuppies while trying to glean some greater meaning from the vast majority of experience? 

The Happy Family does both of these things, in a Grand Guignol play, a horror/comedy in two acts. I'm not only proud of the work, I'm impressed with our ability as a species to have delusions at all. The simple game of self-delusion has become the sole focus of our lives. And we may just evolve to manifest immortality by keeping our delusions in tact. 

We'll see.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Bill Maher, The Jesus Narrative, Theatre, The Inverse Darwinism

Bill Maher is my new favorite social commentator! Jon Stewart hates conflict, as evidenced by nervous laughs at himself after every remark, as my wife so astutely noted. Not Bill, boy. He is ON IT. Just says the truth direct, funny-as-hell, pull no punches.

I don't know if you know this, but "The Jesus Narrative" is based on our tracking of the SUN over the course of a SOLAR YEAR. Giving the change of the seasons a NARRATIVE structure (which means a story line), makes it easier to remember and understand, I can only assume for the education of our children about how our world works. That's why the ancient Egyptians developed it. What smarty-pants!, those Egyptians back in the day, with their ways of making the scientific cycle of nature on our little planet easy to teach to children. But it's not just for children anymore.

Thus, watching many millions of seemingly confused Americans taking this easily transferred and understood metaphor literally, at first I scratch my head, and wonder, "Does everyone not know about the sun?" It makes me feel, at first glance, like we need a new "Nature Jesus", who goes around in an effort to educate the good people of the land about how the sun waxes and wanes over time, creating a year, and how that's why the solstice is on December 21st, and then the sun begins to move more prominently into the sky again after 3 days; and that that doesn't mean a long-haired blond guy got nailed up on the cross in a gruesome-ass way with blood and stigmata (some very imaginative shit that, reminds me of some Japornimation I watched the other day), just that that iconic picture actually refers to the Southern Crux constellation at the time of year when the sun is at its most waned in the northern hemisphere!

How is this confusing for ANYONE?!, I ask myself. How is belief in an idiot preacher's ego theatrics stronger than the simple animalistic awareness of our environment, an environment we've always known, the only environment we've ever known? Are we so abstracted from our own natural state that we can't recognize it, but can only look at this ridiculously simple metaphor as a literal representation of how shit went down one day at the beginning of the world, 2,000 years ago?

The answer is: NO! We're not stupid. We love our theatre! Well, some of us are dumb as rocks. But for the most part, we know what's going on. It happens to us every frigging year, after all. We would just rather believe this wack-ass story that's a metaphor for nature than to just worship nature itself! That's why theatre will always survive and be vital. Humans love a good, dramatic, violent, emotional, inspirational story, and we are always looking for an excuse to suspend our disbelief. We are beautiful!

So in a way, the video below is weak sauce. Because it ruins our play! Sure, it may save some lives someday when the method actors in the story remember they're just acting. But maybe it misses the real point: Maybe we should jump head-first into our stories and say "fuck it" to reality. Maybe that's the way we create a new, more interesting and inventive universe. We climb into our imaginations, and out of nature.

We just need to write a new play, cause this one is boring us to death.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-17BNU7L6g

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hey, all you blog readers! Check out our new Kickstarter campaign to save Lents Commons and the performing arts in the deep southeast of Portland, OR. Any and all contributions will be greatly appreciated!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tightropetheatre/save-lents-commons

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The LC Experience Wrap-Up

So, fair blog reader. Thanks for coming back.

NOW:

I hope it has been clear since the beginning of my blogging about my experiences in building, abandoning, and returning to with gusto the LC, that I do not consider myself infallible.

I specifically have written my story about the Commons in a way that keeps you from thinking too highly of me. I did this as a sort of caveat to my gonzo telling of it; a way for you to hear my side of the story without thinking you necessarily have to be on my side in it. (You don't get the other side, and so I'll act like a jerk so you can be mad at me too.) Intention quote.

And someone reflected that back to me today. Either an intimate of the parties in question, or perhaps just a moral compass, passing by on the turbulent seas of the blogosphere, I don't know which, graciously reminded me of something that I ignored in order to get the story out. This person, who remains anonymous, not because I want to keep him anonymous necessarily, but because he keeps himself so on the interweb, I assume to remain infallible, said that he was disgusted by my tone.

And I realized, that I too was disgusted by my tone. I was disgusted by so much over the last two years, and I purposefully let that disgust come through in my tone on my blog about said disgusting events. I make no apology for my feelings and statements regarding Army and Army Jr. Everything I said was true. But I started thinking about myself, and what standard I hold for myself. Do I consider the story more important than my own sense of ease and self-respect? Do I want to wallow in the failures of myself and others? Do I want to explore negative themes and seek catharsis and freedom from my memories by airing the laundry?

And upon careful thought: YES! I do want the story to be more powerful than its characters' egos! Goddamned right I do. Because we don't grow as individuals by holding onto our courtesy. It's easy to be courteous and diplomatic. We're always sweeping the dust under the rug; and the rug grows a mound, and then we trip over our own dead skin under a heavily worn comfort blanky. What really happened, really happened. And it's a great story! It's a story that deserves being told. Not for my ego to feel like I am right, I fuck up daily, just ask my parents, my friends, my kid and my wife. I have no illusions that there's a perfection to be attained. My ego is battered and bruised as a lifestyle. It's a letting. And yet, I only have my side of the story to tell.

Nevertheless: I did take the posts down.

Why did I do this if I stand behind my telling of these events? Because it feels ssso durdy to tell durdy little sssecretsss... It's a Christian problem. I'm not a Christian by faith, and yet its dogma pervades my cultural identity. EEEK! Maybe some day I'll get past that one.

Everyone who knows the parties in question knows the story, and understands what went down. They don't need a retelling. And as for the momentary joy of a laugh at mine and Army's expense for having created this scenario, it's a shallow win for me because in order to get the great story out, I have to relive it again and again. And I want to focus on the positive now.

So on to bigger and better things. I won't be brought down by a Redwood tree.

Summary:

I get the shop back from Army, and start digging myself out of a literal and psychic hole I dug for myself 2 years ago. And as the story continues to unfold, there will be unsavory characters involved, including myself at times, and I'll talk about it here, probably in an uncouth way that'll ruffle someone's feathers and strike a chord at their Christian sensibilities. The story is bigger than I am, or any of the characters in it. The story is the oral tradition of how we made our world what it is. And the story will always be too big to be constricted by our comfort zone.


To Be Continued...

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Theatre Arts In America

Hello, Theatre Arts Blog Reader. I've started this blog to talk about the theatre in America in general, from my perspective as an actor, writer, musician and venue owner in Portland, Oregon.

SHORT RESUME TIME: I've worked at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in the Bay Area, and at Seattle Public Theatre; in Humboldt County, CA at about all the community theatres, and here in Portland for Staged! Musical Theatre and others. I've lived west coast theatre, and experienced east coast theatre as audience member primarily. I've performed in over 50 productions, played music professionally, and directed/produced 5 or 6 independent theatre shows. I've been in the theatre since I was 11 years old.

Because of this experience, and my natural alignment toward the communicating arts, I'm worthy of shouting my strong opinions on the subject of live performance; but more accurately, I'm a ball of opinion because this is my passion. It is who I am. When everything else has distracted me for too long, the theatre is home, where I'll always have a room, and my posters haven't been taken down.

As part of my goal in establishing a web presence for my theatre discourse, I am also working on seeing more shows, not being so insulated, and haughty. My general sense is that theatre in America sucks ball sacks. Dry, with no sauce or anything to make it any tastier. I'm really trying to take the perspective that all theatre has something to offer me, even if I know that's bullshit, that theatre arts never got traction in our culture, and that that's fucked up.

When I see shit that's inappropriate on stage in front of me, I am offended. It's like when I'm having dinner with my little Norwegian mother and I forget to keep my elbows off the table...She gets this look of disgust on her face that would level a pope. Then quietly, she says, "Zachary. Is that proper etiquette for the dinner table?" This is how I feel when I see tool-bags spewing drivel on a proper proscenium. I spill my rancid, cool enough not to cause a lawsuit starbucks in my lap, and leave at the act cursing the Artistic Director for preventing him/herself from ever taking a risk since 1987 when they finished their thesis.

With this caveat, let me begin:
The last good show I saw was in 2008 at a little upstart theatre in Portland called the Portland Playhouse, which, appropriately, has since lost its space because the artists inhabiting the old church forgot, or didn't care, to get permitted to perform in the space. A shame because it was a great little space for theatre artists to abscond with. The play was called "Bingo With The Indians". It was an actor's allegory about commitment to a role and the death of theatre due to the LACK of commitment on the part of the creators of the work. It had a well-articulated thesis and an actual metaphor that required involvement from the audience. It also had a cocaine-driven monologue in the end that raised the roof--the only place left for the actor to go was to heaven after such a performance. Now this is the shit I want to see. It had its problems, but over all it was rather epic, and it wasn't self-referential to the point of gaggature like some film awards show.

Before that, the last great show I saw was in 2001 in Seattle at another defunct theatre, the Empty Space, called "Texarkana Waltz". That show was fucking brilliant. It had a prisoner in a huge cage who got rolled onto the tiny stage in this massive cage for his scenes, and it had a retarded cowboy who was a soothsayer--of course--and it was all about finding a form of theatre that actually appeals to you and I! It was modern, new theatre! What a fucking novelty. The setting sun was a little light-box up center. Just a small, innovative show. I looked for the script a couple of years later and couldn't find it anywhere. if anyone knows the writer or where to find a working copy, please email me!

The point is: These are the two shows I remember. I've seen probably 40 shows between 2001 and now. Last year I saw Long Days Journey with Billy The Hurt at ART in Portland. William Hurt was great! But what an albatross, that show! Who is picking this shit to produce? Half the cast didn't even know what they were saying! The other half was so busy reading lines that they forgot to breathe. Oh the fuck Christ.

Is there a vital theatre in America? If so, where the fuck Christ is it? Is it in the dirty alley behind the Mark Taper Forum, hemorrhaging due to a lack of adequate medical treatment? Is it in a dive bar in Lents in SE Portland playing to an audience of ten SSI ex-loggers a la "Tombstone"? How does this theatre happen? Where does it grow? Is it necessarily relegated to non-profit status? How does it realize itself in a country that calls Asstown Kutcher an actor?

These are just questions. They are the musings of a man in need of a proper theatre in the only country he's ever called home.