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.


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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

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


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...


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.


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 ( 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!