Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When in doubt, cute

Busy week, no time to write a proper blog post. (And when I do, I owe Travis a guest blog about Raymond Did It.)

But I get antsy if I go more than a week (OH NOES THEY WILL THINK I AM DED!!!11!!), so in lieu of a proper post, I give you forty-eight seconds of a snoring duckling. I am not even kidding. We are talking lethal levels of cute here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind

In which our Diva takes on one of her dream roles

That audition I was all cagey about the other day? Turned out very well indeed, and I shall be playing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the inaugural production of Storefront Shakespeare.

I'm excited about this for a number of reasons, not least because I've wanted to play Titania for ages. Fourth... possibly fifth? Time's the charm. The first opportunity was for Actors' Theatre of Columbus way back in 1995, and though I was ultimately not cast in that production, it was in reading the "forgeries of jealousy" speech at the callbacks that I fell in love with the role. It was just after I had done a weekend workshop with Shakespeare & Company, at which I learned more in three days than I would ever have thought possible, and I was all afire with the possibilities in the language. I also got a lovely handwritten notecard from the director thanking me for coming out, which is pretty darn cool as consolation prizes go.

There are all kinds of reasons I love that speech, which for me is the heart of the character, but one absolutely critical one is also the easiest to explain. It starts out as a bitter complaint about how everything is All Oberon's Fault, that no sooner does she light somewhere with her court,

But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport.
The catalog of nature gone awry that follows is some of the most vivid imagery in the canon, but somewhere along the way she reaches the conclusion that

this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

"It's your fault, your fault, your fault... our fault." From childish petulance to mature responsibility in under two minutes.

Of course, this is a fairy we're talking about, so the latter doesn't necessarily stick. But I love that she's capable of it if she chooses, and the message that we share both power and responsibility for this world of ours. Even if we're not supernatural royalty whose mood swings literally affect the climate.

I've had quite a long Shakespeare drought. Except for understudying the Widow in The Taming of the Shrew a couple summers ago (when my attention was far more on designing the production's costumes), it's been almost eight years, since... Hey, what do you know? Another Midsummer at Actors'. In which I was really hoping for Titania, of course, but Mustardseed was fun, and I had a great time hanging out with a great company while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

I'm also thrilled by the energy and vision behind Storefront's genesis, as described on their website:

We live in a fast-paced, mobile society, accustomed to interactive media, in which our phones are computers and through our computers we can interact with people in real time on the other side of the world, and in which children grow up playing interactive video games. To truly engage a modern audience, theater can no longer be a completely passive experience. Our plays are staged with the audience right in the middle of the action so the people will feel that the play is happening to them. No longer passive observers, they are now eye witnesses to the story.
I've been friends with artistic director Nora Manca for a couple years now. I first met her at a cast party for a show I was in with her now-husband, and several months later we were cast as sisters in an ill-fated project I refer to as the slowest-motion train wreck in theatre history. It doesn't matter what the show was, because it never happened, but I met some terrific people through it. Nora's one of those people you can tell, after about five minutes of conversation, is going to do something really special. I'm delighted and honored to be part of its beginning.

And the timing is also great for pointing out that this Friday, Shakespeare's 446th birthday, is once again Talk Like Shakespeare Day, as declared by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and Mayor Daley. Toss in a "forsooth" or two for me!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stages and stages

In which our Diva is all along the continuum

This weekend is like a microcosm of the various stages (in the first sense) of what I do. Yesterday during the day was all about shooting another student film, which was a lot of fun because this one was all improvised within a relatively loose structure. I thought it was going to be mostly nonverbal, which as you may have read before I'm kind of ambivalent about these days. On the one hand, I love that aspect of the work, whether doing it myself or watching it in others, and I'm actually kind of proud that I'm developing something of a reputation for specializing in it. On the other hand, though, there's a lot of it on my reel, and the industry and audiences at large still put a high premium on how you deliver dialogue. So I'd kind of like to do more of that, please! (With some cool nonverbal mixed in. That'd be awesome.)

So it was a nice surprise to get on set and find that the director actually wanted me and another actor to talk to one another much more than either of us had expected. The conversation evolved from one thing at the beginning of the day to something really quite different by the time we wrapped, with various takes and angles. I'm looking forward to seeing how it ends up cut together. So much of how your character comes off in a film is almost as much about the editing as about your acting -- just a completely different way to go about telling a story!

Speaking of editing, I went from that shoot to a low-key cast & crew screening of Tasting the End, which looks fantastic. It's a story that certainly could be told in a straight line, and still be effective. But that's not the way Ken chose, and the results are dynamic but still flow and make sense. It's a terrific example of what a filmmaker can do these days with next to no money, and I'm crossing my fingers that it'll get some festival play. It definitely deserves to be seen.

Today I'm delving into my theatre past on various stages (in the second sense), converting some old videos with an eye toward maybe uploading a clip or three to my YouTube account, just for fun. Stay tuned.

And looking toward my theatre future: I've been itching a bit to get back onstage, and have an audition today for one of my dream roles. Won't say any more until I know whether I get it -- not superstitious, that's my story and I'm sticking to it, but there are so many auditions I'd never get anything done if I posted in detail about the stuff I won't get to do! So again, stay tuned.

Song for Today: "The Mummers' Dance" by Loreena McKennitt, just because I was listening to it in the car last night and it's running through my head. It's associated in my head with all sorts of amazing images, mostly because it was used for the theatrical trailer for Ever After. I'll never forget being halfway up the aisle to see a movie that spring, hearing a few bars of the song, and turning around to stand and stare openmouthed at all the gorgeous on the screen. The movie did not disappoint, and is still one of my all-time faves.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Extra, Extra!

In which our Diva has finally posted a new video diary

I've been saying for years I should write up an "extra's survival guide," assuming someone hasn't beaten me to it. In the meantime, here are some top tips from my fellow background players during a recent four-day stint on the ABC pilot Matadors.

Friday, April 2, 2010

In the pattern of the grand design

In which our Diva spins a whole post out of her Song for Today

This time of year, you see The Ten Commandments on a lot of TV stations' schedules. For about a decade now, my tradition has been to bypass Charlton Heston in favor of The Prince of Egypt. It didn't make the money Dreamworks wanted, but it's a gorgeous and heartfelt movie that deserved far better attention than it got. If it had gotten its due... nah, they probably still would have abandoned hand-drawn animation. But the couple of flicks they turned out its wake might have been less forgettable.

The art -- hand-drawn, digital, and groundbreaking sequences blending the two -- is stunning. The voice cast is jaw-dropping, with dialogue spoken by Val Kilmer, Patrick Stewart, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Danny Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Ralph Fiennes, etc. etc., and singing duties entrusted to the likes of Broadway powerhouse Brian Stokes Mitchell (who created the role of Coalhouse Walker in Ragtime and currently serves as president of The Actors Fund) and the late Israeli superstar Ofra Haza. And the whole is held together by Stephen Schwartz' songs, Hans Zimmer's orchestral score, and a humanity of storytelling that is by turns heartrending and incredibly inspiring.

One of the most memorable sequences -- the portrayal of the final plague, the death of the firstborn -- is nearly silent, and simultaneously terrifying and tearjerking. But what I always go back to is the musical number "Through Heaven's Eyes," sung by Brian Stokes Mitchell as Jethro. The high priest of Midian, who takes in a fugitive Egyptian prince, welcomes him as husband to his eldest daughter, and sees them both away with his blessing to fulfill a mission from the Hebrew God.

In my book? That's a guy with his head screwed on straight.

For some, this is the midpoint of Passover. For others, Good Friday. For still others, it's sacred in the way that any day is that sees warmer winds blowing through and tiny, tender bits of green beginning to unfurl on the trees and bushes. For some, it's just another day.

Whatever it means to you, any day is a good day for what this one has to say.