Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Silver Lining #2

As we sit around in that halfway state of not-a-pandemic/still-a-pandemic, I still have about a zillion negatives, and they clearly outweigh the positives for both the world and the sufferers, BUT I can stretch myself to actually put a word to one more silver lining.


Did I actually write that? Did I actually put the death of live theater in a positive column?

Yes, because theater didn’t die. It transformed. Which is not saying that I don’t miss live theater – I do! – but I discovered a new way to enjoy it: Livestreamed or On Demand or Archived or however else theaters figured out how to get it to audiences.

Right away, by April 2020, I was watching London theater at home with National Theatre at Home and PBS Great Performances. By July, everyone was watching Hamilton on their TVs. And by October, I was watching theater from Los Angeles, from Oregon, and even from Isabella Rossellini’s farm on Long Island. Sometimes at crazy hours to catch a London livestream.

But I missed other people. Other people as in “let’s go see a play, let’s go out afterwards.” As in spontaneous applause, ovations, reactions. Now I know that I was missing “collective effervescence” (by the same guy who taught us about “languishing”).

So, in a rare Covid moment of energy and initiative, I emailed a few friends to watch theater with me. We’d be no more than seven – to save us from Zoom overlaps and interruptions – and talk for no more than an hour – to save us from Zoom fatigue. We’d watch a play in our own living rooms, but we’d talk about it afterwards on Zoom (with my sister hosting).

We started with Phyllida Lloyd’s The Tempest, and it blew our minds: all women – in prison! – even filmed with GoPros so we were there, on stage! From St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn – how had I missed them during my months in New York?

In the beginning, theaters were focusing on one-actor plays: easier to film, less Covid issues. So we saw some terrific one-person shows. Mary was so enthralled with Sara Porkalob’s Dragon Mama that she wants to search her out in Seattle.  And all of us think Anne O’Riordan’s performance in Irish Rep’s Ghosting topped the charts. We’re still talking about it.

We didn’t forget Shakespeare either. We saw two Julius Caesars: one all-women (from Phyllida Lloyd again) and one with standard casts. Marla thought a play about the ravages of testosterone needed men, I thought having all women emphasized the relationships, and we discovered Riki had taken courses in Shakespeare.
Fat Ham was Hamlet with a Black cast at a backyard BBQ; the play-within-a-play was a game of charades! But then the PBS Romeo and Juliet left me thinking: I hadn’t remembered Juliet’s mother being so caustic. When I checked the actual play – and Mimi is usually the one with those on hand – I discovered that by giving Lord Capulet’s lines to Lady Capulet, it really brought forth a whole new mother/daughter tension.

Sherri took notes … and changed the way I watched theater. I used to watch, enjoy, wonder about, talk about for a bit, and that was it. But once I started really watching, knowing I’d have to discuss, knowing I’d have to remember who was who and who did what, my appreciation grew. Chris says the whole experience opened her eyes to theater. We all loved The Approach, but we all had to watch it twice because it was so … meaty. And the three women, in discussing their play afterwards, said the intimacy of their conversations was actually more profound with a camera instead of having to project to a 500-person audience. How interesting!
So many different approaches to audiences, too! Every Brilliant Thing gave his audience parts, had them participating with his lists. And The Last 5 Years was a love affair in song: he started with meeting her and she started with their break-up, and their scenes moved chronologically either backwards or forwards. How creative; how heartbreaking!

The big question: What’s the difference between theater and a movie if the theater is filmed? Is it confinement to a stage, a set? We’re not sure – still debating – so I guess we have to keep watching. So far, we’ve seen 22 performances together, and I’ve watched another 34 on my own. Theater did not die during Covid!

We’re now meeting in person – all vaccinated – for our discussions. Not everyone knew each other beforehand, but now we do, and our connection helped me through darker months. Yes, we’re eager for the return of live theater; but I’m so grateful to the actors, the companies, the playwrights, and the techs who tackled a whole new medium and kept their art alive. Some days, they kept me alive, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

I Got To Be in Pictures!

I’m in a movie! A real movie with a director and cameraman and “action” and “rolling.” And a line person and locations and extras and multiple takes. This is my newest New Thing in a while!

It’s called Next to North, and it’s the brainchild of Rebecca Casselman. It’s the story of an Alaska woman returning to Alaska to heal from a Lower 48 divorce. I play GAT (Great Aunt Tonka):

Late 60s Woman

She is called Tonka because she gave Tori a Tonka truck when she was little. Gat is fun-spirited, always bringing wonder and laughter to the family. She lives out in the bush with her man Joe, only coming into town for supplies every few weeks. She is visiting to lend support to Tori and love on her great-great nieces. She likes to crack jokes and forgets to have a filter when in ‘society.’
Boy, that’s a real character stretch!

It all started because I ran into my friend Jane while hiking, and she mentioned being in some indie films. Jane and I both worked at the library, but we also did theater acting. Next thing I knew, Jane told me to call Rebecca, with whom I Zoom-auditioned, and I got the part!

Jane, Linda, and I know each other from the theater world – acting on stage. Acting where you learn your lines in the script and your character develops from one scene to another. Where your lines go in order.

“In order” is just not what movie making is about.

So sometimes, I’d be in a T-shirt for a summer scene, but afterwards I’d be in long sleeves for a prior fall scene. But that’s not the big adjustment.

Let’s say I’m saying two sentences to the two adorable great-great nieces: “I don’t live here, remember? I live out in the Bush with Joe.” So, theater actor that I am, I think I’m going to say them and hug the girls and work my emotions for leave-taking and the rest of my lines.

But someone yells cut and Darius the cameraman moves over my shoulder or over the girls’ shoulders or from the kitchen. And we do it again. And someone coughs and we do it again. And the director and cameraman confer and we do it again. Forget that I have three more sentences that are supposed to come right after with emotional content.

In theater, you have to remember that every audience is seeing the play for their first time, so you have to be fresh with every repeat performance. Here, you have to be fresh with every repeat line. And recover where you are for the next line.

So what you think they’re getting is a chopped-up, fragmented mess of lines and script. Except Darius tells me that the average shot is only seven seconds long, that I should check on my next TV show.

Oh, wow, he’s right! A man running: two seconds on his shoes, one second on a passing window, two seconds on his sweating face, one second on his looking over his shoulder, two seconds on what’s behind him, two seconds on him long-distance, etc. etc. But somehow our brain puts it all together seamlessly.

I have new respect for the editor of movies.

And for what they call the Continuity Person.

One day, Linda and I are in an autumn card-playing scene. Then, for a few days, we’re in the summer. Then we’re back to the night of the card-playing, but I think Linda is in the wrong shirt. After grappling with our Third Third memory capacities, Linda goes home to her laundry pile and returns to the set with the right shirt. We’re pretty sure.

Never mind where the tea cups were placed!

It had been quite a while since I’d acted. And suddenly, there I was with a group of actors again. You share a stage and a script and a schedule in a collaborative work of art. Everyone wishes everyone well because you share this production and you want it to succeed and you need everyone to succeed.

Movieland gives you a chance to inhabit a different world, to take a break from this one. You share lots of waiting around time – as yourself – in between the role you’re adopting. There’s something about putting on a role deliberately: because then it’s clear when you take it off. In Real Life, that’s not always clear. But for a time, with acting, you take a break from yourself, too. What a relief.

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