WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dispatches from Michigan: Play Payola?

This is something of potentially disturbing news: EncoreMichigan.com, an important online theater publication based in Michigan, is proposing a fee for media coverage on the statewide theater community. Here is the text from an e-mail sent to Michigan producers:

So again I ask: How much is EncoreMichigan.com worth to you?

How about $25 a month for the next 12 months? (Or $125 per season for the summer theaters?) Or $1,000 to become a Seasonal Sponsor (though May 2011)? Or $2,500 to become an annual Gold Sponsor? Or commit to raising $500, $750 or $1,000 through various fundraisers?

Does this seem dangerous to anyone else here? We're not talking about StageSource here. With an organization like StageSource, a fee makes total sense. We pay into the system, we receive benefits and resources as individuals artists and organizations. But these resources and benefits are not valued beyond their individual worth. For example, our fees help pay for community-wide events, a script library, general auditions, etc. None of these benefits are contingent or directly affected by our flat fee.

But imagine if TheaterMirror.com required a fee? Think about the potential problems with this system...

In all cases, financial support of EncoreMichigan.com does not guarantee favorable reviews or news coverage. As always, we'll continue to call 'em as we see 'em! And once again we will not review children's theater productions.

That's nice to hear, but how can a community really ensure that a de facto "Payola" system is prevented from taking form? In the music industry, Payola was outlawed decades ago, and yet the current system works such that kickbacks are still paid by large record companies in order to ensure maximum exposure to large artists and to prevent independent artists from receiving comparable airplay.

You make all the rules you want, but it will not change the fundamental nature of a system that makes reviews contingent on payment, especially when the payment is based on a ranking system. Who can afford the higher tiers of payment? Big theaters? Corporate, commercial theaters? It's hard enough for small and locally owned theater companies (really, small businesses, which we claim to support in America) to compete with outside touring broadway shows. What's to stop a large producer with tons of New York money from blitzing the donation bin?

I'm not saying that there are any malicious motivations behind this proposal. I'm saying there's a naive notion that this "No favorable reviews for money" policy can be enforced. In the beginning, I'm sure players will play nicely. But time equals complacency. I fear the potential for disaster in the Michigan community if this particular business model is adopted.

Something to chew on...


Friday, May 28, 2010

Nothing Earth Shattering, But Still Worth Writing About

Sometimes when I read a new play I want it to be Earth shatteringly different than anything I've ever read before. I want a new situation, certainly one my brain could not have come up with, and I want to be surprised. But sometimes it's nice to read a play that surprises you with it's simplicity. I just finished reading The Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker. (I'm auditioning for it on Tuesday afternoon.) It's a simply written play, with a simple message: even though we "grow up" into adulthood, life comes in stages and you never know where one will end and the next will begin. It wasn't a play that forced me to think, "Now what IS the symbolism in this character's name?" Or, "What what the purpose of the last two scenes in the play?" I read it, enjoyed it, was surprised by it, and now I'm telling you about it. It was refreshing to read a play where I finished thinking, "Yes, those are real people, and yes I understand what this was about, and yes life is about moments that seem insignificant - but nothing that happens in life is insignificant." (I'm aware that's a run-on sentence, but it's how I think! Deal with it!) The point is, not all theatre has to be stereotypically groundbreaking. A play can simply show you a snippet of real life with characters you can relate to and remind you that life never gets "figured out," it can only be added to. It's possible that this thought is my "Earth Shattering Thought of the Day." So maybe the play does more than I originally thought? What do you think? Read it for yourselves OR you can see it at the Huntington this fall as part of their 2010-2011 season.

- E

P.S. Any other plays get you thinking like this? I'm always up for suggestions!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brian Viglione Drums Your Face Off

Hey dudes,

Just a quick update today. For anyone who has ever doubted the importance of passion and grace in performance, I give you:

Brian Viglione recording with HUMANWINE. This is a few years old, but I just discovered it on the youtubes. If you know the song, it's awesome. If you don't know the song, just watch how insane this man is as he smashes the skull out of that drumset. The best part is, since there's no other tracks, you can hear the drums on their own and just appreciate the sheer skill and complexity of percussion.

You can bullshit guitar. You can't bullshit drums

Be well,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It Pays to be Unique

This weekend, I will be seeing two shows for free. I never win anything, but for some reason this week I seem to have had the angel of Facebook looming over my shoulder.

First, I won Tickets to Actors' Shakespeare Project's production of Timon of Athens, which I desperately wanted to see. No good story here, I just spend way too much time on the internet and happened to be the first person to answer the trivia question:

Which 6 Shakespeare plays have only one word in their name?

(Any guesses?)

I was pumped! But it doesn't end there. Just yesterday, the A.R.T.'s Donkey Show account had a facebook status promotion:

"Want to win tickets for this weekend? Tell us your favorite disco move!"

All of the entries were of real disco moves. Now, I don't know any of the dance moves of disco. But I do like getting funky, and I've been to the donkey show enough to know how to get funky. But I lack the terminology. I figured, oh well, guess this isn't my day. But I did have a funny thought pop into my head...and without thinking twice, I typed it up and hit the enter button:

"The Line of Blow in the Bathroom."

Awkward? Offensive? Irrelevant? All fair charges. But geuss who gets two free tickets to The Donkey Show this weekend?

That's right. We gun' git funky!


Das Funkster

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CoLab teaches through criticism - Arts

Thanks to Brandeis for their interest in us and their commitment to their alums!
CoLab teaches through criticism - Arts


New Copies of Headshots: $100
Gym Membership: $67/month
Haircut: $45 (plus a tip!)
Hours Spent Waitressing: $ Exposure to germs and obnoxious people minus weekends
Getting the Part: Priceless

It's not easy being an actress. I'm sure it's not easy being a financial consultant either but this isn't a blog about financial consulting. (Side note: Remember Mad Minutes? Teachers gave them in elementary school - you had 60 seconds to do 60 math problems? I used to "lose them" because I would get so nervous I couldn't fill them enough of them in. So I guess financial consulting was never really in the cards to begin with but that's besides the point. Plus I'm yawing just writing financial consultant title four times in as many sentences. Blech. Moving on.)

The point is, it would be one thing if holding the title "actress" only meant bearing your soul and dealing with rejection and waitressing to make ends meet. BUT it actually means NOT having a steady, fabulously salaried job while ALSO paying rent and dishing out money for a career that doesn't pay. I get asked at least once a week, "If you're so serious about acting, why haven't you moved to New York?" It's not just that I have friends and a life I enjoy here in a city I'm not ready to leave - it's also because New York is a billion times more expensive that Boston! (Also, the Yankees suck.)

So what should we do? At 23, it seems pretty reasonable to work at the restaurant 40 hours/week, attend rehearsals, spend months of savings to jet off across the country, pay for headshots and gym memberships and acting classes, and continue to do what we love, but where does it end? When I'm 33, will I want a family? How am I supposed to help support my family on my actress's salary? It's a little scary to think about. This hasn't been on my mind because I'm responsible enough to consider what will happen ten years down the road. I'm pondering my financial state because of what's going to happen in August. You're going to read an audition announcement soon for Play., our inaugural production. We're financing this out of own pockets, something I am happy to do because I believe in The CoLab, but it's another expense to add to my list. I'm not asking for a pity party, these are all choices I've made but it still drives me crazy that I'm part of an industry that is expensive to live in and painful to live out of. What would you do? I guess choosing acting compromises my financial quality of life, but what are the costs of compromising my emotional quality of life? For this proud actress, that's not a cost I'm willing to incur. And you know what? I'm still scared of trying to do 60 math problems in 60 seconds. But I'd be more afraid if I was considering quitting something I love just because I don't see the benefits from it on my bank statement. Stay tuned, sports fans, with a summer filled with my new show and plenty of CoLabness this girl is back in the game.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Feliz Quincenera

This evening The CoLab celebrates the natal day of Kenny Steven Fuentes our fearless, freakish, and well-loved founder! We are celebrating with a modern Quincenera* - well except perhaps minus the poufy pink dress and traditional shoe ceremony. I love Kenny, but his hobbit feet make it hard to look at that as an appealing right of passage.

If you want to get down with us we will be having a raucous good time at the soon to be defunct Razzy's in Somerville. Come one, come all to celebrate with us - because I for one am so glad KSF was born.

Feliz Quincenera and Happy Happy Birthday Kenny!
- Love Mary-Liz

* A QuinceaƱera is the Hispanic tradition of celebrating a young girl's coming of age - her 15th birthday.

Today's celebrations embrace religious customs, and the virtues of family and social responsibility. The Quinceanera tradition celebrates the young girl (la Quinceanera), and recognizes her journey from childhood to maturity. The customs highlight God, family, friends, music, food, and dance.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

As We Go On We Remember...

Okay, so maybe this classic Vitamin C song is tacky but as I look back on my last year I'm starting to realize what the term graduation really means. So I graduated college one year ago this past Sunday - what does that mean?! I had to find a job, a place to live, and give up the safety of college. I had to stop relying on the bank of Mom and Dad (even though the help they still give me is much appreciated). I had to find new niches - thanks to the Boston Theatre Community for letting me into yours. I have to say, it's helped my transition A LOT. It's easy to have friends and a social life in college, all you have to do is walk down the hall but on the first season of The Real World: Allston, keeping in touch with your friends is hard work. First you have to actually FIND A TIME THAT WORKS for both of you (heaven help you if you're looking to catch up with more than one person at once), then you have to pick a location convenient for both of you, and then you finally have to figure out which crazy form of transportation you'll use to get there. But, I digress.

I met the majority of my current closest friends on my FRESHMAN HALL - crazy I know but we got lucky. Many of them stayed in the Boston area post-graduation (two of them even moved in with me) but I had to get used to the fact that I wouldn't be seeing most of them every day anymore. It was last May that I learned graduation meant I had to learn how to say, "Good--." Wait. No. I DON'T HAVE TO USE THAT WORD. In fact, I'm not saying that word. I refuse. Because graduating into the real world is about keeping in touch with the people who are important to you. You don't get to live on the same hall with all of your best friends for the rest of your life. People move away, eventually they get married, etc. So what do you do? You work at your friendships. In this world of texting and cell phones and Facebook there are links all over the place. You send postcards and funny notes in the mail. You fly to Alaska to visit a college friend! You schedule reunions and you hang pictures on your wall and you reminisce of days gone by. I am so lucky to have people in my life that are important enough to me to stay in contact with. I've realized that graduation into adulthood is about realizing how luck you are to have people in your life and remind yourself to keep them there. Tonight, I'm thankful for all of you who have touched my life in some way in the last 23 years and I encourage you to reach out to someone you may have lost contact with in the past few years, months, whatever. Trust me, dropping a quick note will make them remember you don't have to make the word "good***" part of your vocabulary. You only have to say, "I'll see you later." Life is about making the effort. That's what I've learned in the past year and I can't wait to see what I'll learn in the next one.

With friends January 2006 (Freshman Year of College)

Graduation Day, May 17, 2009

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mary-Liz vs. Her Brain

I think alot. Too much many people would say. I've always said, I wished I could turn my brain off. I usually feel like it's working at about 400 miles per minute. About lots of things: work, theatre, freinds, food, things I'm supposed to do, time-lines, goals, clothes, television, facebook, planning, shoes, parties, the weekend, my calendar, my next rehearsal, auditions, new material...ok everyone has the picture right?

This was the chief criticism I got in Acting school. "Stop thinking so much! Just do." I mean I really have the ability to get in my own way with all the carrying on in my head. Trying to please everyone. To get it right. It was stifling as a performer. It still can be some times. I spent a lot of time in school learning to turn my "actor brain" off so that I could just act. One of the most influencial things ever said to me on the subject was "Stop thinking, stop trying to interest us. You Mary-Elizabeth are one of the most interesting people I've ever met in real life. So just stop trying." It was flattering. And it did help. It gave me permission to just be myself. To just talk to other actors. To be simple and real. To create something that is truly my own. But it didn't actually solve the problem. It just reframed it in a way I could work with.

But it never really settled on me how unproductive the thinking can get until this weekend. That not only did it stifle my performing but also my being. A friend said to me this weekend (on a totally non-theatre related matter)"Think about it. But not too much, it's not productive" And for the first time something in my brain clicked off. OFF! It was amazing. Almost like I could feel it shutting down. And how liberating that felt! Everything felt very quiet. Emotions and visceral reactions began to check in calmly and take over. I have been able to spend a couple of days just "doing". No questions for myself, no pro-con list, no double thinking, or reconsideration.

I do have an appreciation for my capacity to think. It does come in handy. And there are times where I enjoy nothing more than planning, or debating, or brainstorming...all of which REQUIRE my super-sonic brain to be fully operational. But on a day to day basis and ESPECIALLY on stage, I think exploring this newly found off switch will bring about good changes. The hardest part will be to find the balance. And not being afraid to flip that off switch when I have to. But if I can utilize this newly found switch in the right way I feel like it has the potential to make me so much more open. More at ease. Less drama.

I know I won't be able to keep my brain "off" forever. Nor would I want to. But I am enjoying the time I have now, to learn how to operate with the quiet in my head. To simplify my thoughts and actions. To stay honest. To not worry so much about "have to" and "supposed to" and trying to please everyone. To just be me.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Discussion: New Venues

Last week, I asked you for your ideas, desires and demands for a new space in Boston. Before I go into my thoughts, here are some of the responses we recieved:

Lindsay Eagle, Artistic Director of The Independant Drama Society writes:

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a small, affordable theater space in the
theater district downtown? Tucked onto a side street somewhere, a couple blocks
off of Tremont. A basement space that must be discovered; you think that
nothing's there, then... voila! There's a theater back here! High ceilings and
black walls; a flexible space... you can cram 70 audience members in there at
the most, depending on how you set the room up—and even that many feels like an

John J. King, playwright/director/artist of J-Rex Plays muses:

I would like to see a club-type space where you can get some food and drinks
before/after/at intermission. Like the Burren, but with a separate/more
practical stage space (perhaps separate/in a back room from the eating area). Or
like Oberon but on a smaller, simpler, cozier scale.

So it seems the general mood gravitates towards small, affordable and relaxed venues. I've discussed this with friends and collegues in the past: The future of theatre lies in the reestablishment of "The Event". The current status quo calls for a very passive audience response. Clear fourth wall, silent listening and traditional elevated playing space.

But is this really where the future of theatre lies? Non-traditional spaces are nothing new. But up to this point in history, the mainstream view of theatre points to two camps: 1) Traditional, linear theatre and 2) Abstract avant-garde theatre.

Both of these styles have their place, but the future beckons for a third way: We can take the lessons we've learned from the experiments of the avant-garde and find a practical application for traditional linear theatre.

I am working on a play called "Perfect Pitch: A Post-Punk Play with Music". In my vision, the music of this show is just as an important factor as the story itself. This is no musical, however, and thus the music cannot be approached as a seperate entity from the event. They write music, play music and listen to music, in the same manner that we do in everyday life. This show will ideally transform the space into a dive bar/rock club. The audience will be engulfed in the music, along with the characters. The characters aren't singing the songs to tell a story. Rather, the characters and the audience learn and experience from the music together. The music isn't a representation of their journey. We will watch actors struggle to write music, find their life answers in music and eventually make their decisions based on the emotional reaction they have to the music. In essence, we will be watching characters respond to the music in the same way we hope they respond to us.

I cannot concieve of doing this show in a traditional space. The smaller, the better. If we can create these new venues, I hope we can inspire future playwrights to begin writing plays for the future, rather than writing plays for the past.

What kind of plays should we be writing? What do you think the future of the theatre is?


Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Slump

So, as of right now, I have no summer projects lined up.

I have other plans. Exciting plans. Travel, and concerts, and baseball games, and theatre outings. I mean plenty to do.

But no acting gig.

The hardest part of this prospect is the fact that I have been auditioning for summer work for the last 6 weeks. And have had at least 10 auditions. Not a staggering number, but enough that at this point I can't help but feel frustrated. And I'm not one to say I had a really great audition, but some of these have been some of my best. Others, not so much...but so it goes in the world of auditioning right?

After spending 8 months (voluntarily) away from acting over the fall it became crystal clear to me that that turn of events simply can not happen again. And the key here is to just keep auditioning of course. Something will come my way, right?

But it sometimes gets harder and harder to want to go out and go through the whole audition process when you keep missing the mark. I am trying hard not to fall into what I like to call "the slump". "The slump" is that place you get to when you've auditioned for all kinds of things all over the place, packed your schedule, driven yourself minorly insane to audition for everything you can, and you still find yourself gigless.

Self doubt and that part of your brain that says "what the fuck are you doing?" starts to kick in. I find myself comparing myself to all the other actresses at the audition. My mind races through my material to make sure I know what I'm doing. I get really disappointed with every callback/role I don't get. I always try my best to let the rejection roll off. Just keep moving on. I will be exactly what someone is looking for somewhere along the line. And I have a lot to offer. I know this. But when "the slump" gets a hold of me, it all heads out the window. It is not a productive place. It is low energy, low motivation, low self-esteem. Things I do not take to well.

So how do I combat this? Do I embrace it in order to let it go? Do I focus on the other things I do have to do? Do I find other outlets? Some combination of these? I'm not really sure. So far I haven't been able to find any better remedy than finally getting cast in something. Which is validating, but I feel like there must be a way to use the slump it self to help dig my self out. I just haven't worked out the how quite yet. So for now, I will keep auditioning (mostly for fall gigs at this point), give it the best I can give it, and enjoy my summer with time for the beach.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Art as a Commodity: The CoLab v. Illiterate Corporate Incompetence

I've been thinking about consumerism and the effect it has on the arts. Originally, I had been pondering nuanced thoughts, with a dash of civil intellectual discourse. However, a few days ago, we here at The CoLab recieved an unexpected e-mail message:

Editor's Note: E-mail edited for satirical purposes. I replaced the actual queries with red stuff. As if you needed to know that, but they seem awfully trigger happy with the legal talk...

I've lost interest in civl discourse. These guys are idiots.

For those of you just joining us, last week Mary-Liz posted a less than stellar review of a new Threepenny translation. Nowhere do we ever so much as imply that we produced anything. Moreover, the first line of the post reads:

"Last weekend I went to see The Threepenny Opera at Boston College."

She goes on with phrases such as "Brecht is rolling over." and "Weill is rolling over."

I would have to agree, but on a different topic. Now, clearly this is a misunderstanding. Someone over this large publishing corporation misinterpreted our post and mistakenly believed that we were producing an unauthorized production. That's, fair right? You respond, you let them know the details, they realize their mistake, go on their merry way.

If only it were that simple. For I pose this question: Did anyone actually read our post? Initially, the prospect of legal action was exciting, as Mary-Liz and I put it:

"Holy Crap. I think the Kurt Weill Estate is reading our blog! Awesome!"

But upon further inspection...all you have to do is read the first sentence to realize we weren't producing anything. Moreover, nowhere in that post even suggests that we lifted any fingers beyond typing a critical review (with concern for the wishes of the departed Brecht and Weill, mind you.) This begs the question: Did anyone even bother reading our post before greenlighting that e-mail? Who exactly is running these corporations and what intellectual power do they actuall possess? Don't you have to be literate to hold these positions?

The fact of the matter is, they don't care about us. They don't care about you as an individual and they don't care about the artists. They are looking to protect their investement and secure their monopoly on intellectual property. For all their billions of dollars in revenue, they feel threatened by a small, grassroots theatre company's blog so much that they feel the need to shove legal speak into our faces to get the point across. Don't mess with us. We're bigger than you and have more money than you. And we will not have our profits cut into. But we won't read what you have to say, because we don't even care to use our energy on anything that doesn't make us more money.

A few weeks back, I attended the Quiet Desperation WBCN Rock n'Roll Rumble. This event was organized in commemoration of the now defunct rock and roll institution that was overrun with corruption, legalized payola and corporate control during it's final ten years. Rob Potylo, as well as countless other DJs, witnessed the decline of the once glorious WBCN from the inside:

The people who run BCN beyond the DJs are businessmen. They look
at Nirvana and Pearl Jam no different than they look at oil and gold, they are commodities. They do not know you, they will not be at these shows...

Know that when you’re listening to these f***** stations, there is no such thing as a request. A computer picks it out at the beginning of the day, I’ve seen it. When you call up for a request, if doesn’t f*****' exist. If we happen to be playing Nine Inch Nails, we will play your phone call and
make it look like [we took your request]...

But most of the time, what we are authorized to tell you, because I worked there for three years: “Sure dude, it’s coming up!” So if we f****’ picked up the phone and you were like:

“Hey dude, can I hear a little Darkbuster?”

“Sure dude, it’s coming up!”

But of course, it never did.

So what am I advocating exactly? I'm not entirely sure. I do my part by producing independently, and working with non-profit and start up theatrical ventures. I support my local artists, I go to Broadway to see Broadway, and Boston to see Boston. I try to create new venues for Boston theatrical risk taking.

But that's just me. There's no one path. Go ahead and see Young Frankenstein and other touring Broadway shows. That's your perogative, and I probably will at some point choose to invest my money in those shows. It's all up to you how to make your impact and stand up to these leeches who would take the legacy of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and transform them into commodities.

I refuse to look at Kurt Weill with the same eyes as I look at oil.

I leave you with Rob's words:

The problem with this generation is you guys are cynics and they
want you to be cynics . It’s taken over past comedians. They will tell you that
it can’t be done!

But the fact of it is, if you want support the bands you see
tonight ,the people you see here then f*****’ do it!

Because we give a s*** about you, we come from the same neck of
the woods, we’re not doing country clubs and cuttin’ up this country a little bit smaller for each other.

Be well,


Rob's Speech at the Quiet Desperation Rumble can be found at:


Monday, May 10, 2010

The Home Stretch

This week I am coming into the home stretch of the run of The Little Mermaid. It has been such a blast and I've learned a lot about performance stamina and more extended runs. This is the longest run of a show I've ever done (when all is said and done I will have clocked 22 performances over 5 weeks). The longest run I'd ever been a part of until now was 10 performances over 12 days. Not that impressive really. And at that length, when the show closes I am just starting to feel like I have a handle on things. With this show I've had a chance to really settle in, feel the highs and the lows, and work to keep each performance fresh and exciting (well at least for my audience). Getting to work with the same people and getting into a routine is really comforting, a sense of stability in such an unstable kind of work. I'll be sad to let it go. But also ready to take on new projects and challenges. Closing a show is almost always a bittersweet feeling.

So after a few weeks of posting about non-Little Mermaid related business, I am plugging the show for a final weekend rush! It has been a tremendous experience. Come see me swim my final laps, Friday @ 7pm, Saturday @ 3pm, and Sunday @ 3pm.

Dreaming of a New Space

You are a small, early stage theatre company with a small to midsize budget. You can only afford the cheapest spaces or on occasion you splurge at the BCA, but generally have to rent within your means.

There aren't many options out there, are they? Over the past few months, I've heard a number of individuals discuss the need for a new space for fringe and small companies. A few people have mentioned the desire to take on this project, but so far these ideas are at the imagination stage.

I have question for you guys. What kind of spaces would you like to see in Boston? What neighborhood would you like to see it? How big? How many seats? What kind of architecture? What demand is not yet being met, as far as the needs of the small and fringe companies in Boston?

What do YOU want to see?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lost in Translation

Last weekend I went to see The Threepenny Opera at Boston College. I was in the show my senior year at UConn. The most well known song from the show is "Mack the Knife" famously recorded and made popular by Louis Armstrong and then Bobby Darin. It's a classic. And there are many theatre (and opera) people who consider the show to be a classic. It's a musical satire about societal norms concerning the middle class and their morals and sense of justice written by Brecht and Kurt Weill. It's dark, gritty, and a little twisted, but watchable, although it can also be considered an acquired taste. It was written in German and there are numerous translations in English. The most popular and produced is the translation I was in (which was first produced at Brandeis in the 1950's under the direction of Leonard Bernstein) by Marc Blitzstein.

This is NOT the translation I saw at BC.

Before I continue, let me say the cast did a solid job presenting what they had to work with. I give them kudos for energy, effort, and not giving up on the show. Which I'm sure took a lot of focus and dedication.

That said, in my opinion this modern British translation by someone who is uncredited in the program is one of the worst adaptive hack jobs I have ever seen. The script was filled with very modern Bristish colloquialisms and the way in which the translation was worded and arranged changed the focus of the show from the original satirical theme about hypocrisy of the middle class to the originally very secondary inane love triangle created by the main character Macheath and his lovers.

Brecht is rolling over.

The songs were redistributed to different characters, re-ordered within the show, and re-translated into a kind of modern overly thought out kind of pop musical, rendering the original cabaret style of the music useless and making the lyrics almost indiscernible. I mean they changed "Mack the Knife" to "The Flip-Knife Song"...who does that?

Weill is rolling over.

This begs the question: how much of any play/musical or novel for that matter is lost in translation? When you don't speak the original language, how can you know what is the true intention behind something and what has been altered to fit the translator's vision? I read up on Threepenny when I was in it, and feel that the research gave me a good handle on Brecht & Weill's original intentions, but how do I know? How do I know this horrendously overproduced version isn't closer to the original? What makes a good translation, and what makes one that doesn't work so well?

I clearly don't have the answers to these questions. And I hope that what I saw last weekend was just as simple as a really uninformed and poor translation. But it's a question I hadn't considered before in watching and more importantly performing translated work. It's an added layer and challenge to approaching the text. To take into consideration the different nuances and connotations and syntaxes of the language and to consider that it once was something different. Ultimately I believe it's the director's job to find the intention of the play (which the director for BC's show clearly completely missed) but as an actor the words come out of my mouth, so I should be doing lip-service to the person who wrote it.

Happy ending, nice and tidy
It's a rule I learned in school
Get your money every Friday,
Happy endings are the rule.

So divide up those in darkness
From the ones who walk in light
Light 'em up boys, there's your picture
Drop the shadows out of sight.

- "Ballad of Mack the Knife, Reprise"
by: Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill as Translated by Marc Blitzstein

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Building a Manbeast of a Character!

This summer, I will be playing "Caliban" in Gurnet Theatre Project's production of The Tempest. I've decided to take advantage of this opportunity and perform an experiment in character development.

In Chekhov's "To The Actor", he describes an approach to character development unlike many others. Often times, our approach to acting is focused on finding ourselves in our character, or finding pyschological links/similarities between ourselves and the character. Not to invalidate this approach, but how does one use this method when approaching a character like Caliban? I'm not so sure I can give a succesful personality based performance of a character described as a wild beast, insatiable and bombastic.

(Hey! I know what you're thinking... Don't you dare say it!)

Anywho, Chekhov has a very different approach. One of his most valuable innovations is an approach towards character building where you first visualize him or her, giving the image commands and tasks for perform in your head. You build this character up as a third party, but since it springs from your imagination and not your intellectualism, you're eventually able to step into the character and adopt physical traits and control you never would have otherwise been able to embody.

I've done this work before with a former teacher of mine, Janet Morrison. Many moons ago, I was studying the character of Menelaus from The Trojan Women. I'm not particularly warlike. I'm not a great epic, legendary hero. Practically speaking, I have very little in common pyschologically with Menelaus. Or so I thought.

Janet suggested that I use imagery to help me build a phsyical character for the purpose of establishing a stage atmosphere worthy of Menelaus. She gave me the image of a Judge. This image inspired and disciplined me to give, at that point, what I consider to have been my most radiating, powerful performance.

I don't consider myself a great actor. But that was the moment when I realized I could someday be a good one.

She once gave me great advice: She suggested that whenever I accepted a new role, to create my own image, repeat the process as needed, and to start a diary of these images. She even suggested I sketch them, if so inclined.

I have followed her general approach since. I don't always use Chekhov on my parts. Though I tend to feel the most strongly when I've found a strong image and/or gesture. But for Caliban, which might possibly be one of the most physically and pychologically exciting parts I've recieved in ages, I think I might take this all the way.

Therefore, my experiment will be to document my character building. With sketches, exercises and gesture. Needless to say, you'll be reading up on my findings as the summer approaches.

Alternatively, I could try drinking the water in Boston. They say it's safe again, but I'm kind of hoping the toxic waste might actually transform me into a horribly grotesque, saytr-like ManBeast!

And besides... drinking boiling water really hurts...

In for a rude awakening...
Some relevant links
(I've mentioned and plugged Scott before, but it's worth noting that Janet has studied with him and was the one who personally recommend him to me when he arrived in town. If you want to explore Chekhov and/or a Chekhov/Meisner approach, check him out!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Postcard from the Road

Hey Cats,

Hope all is well back in The Lower 48 or Down South as we like to call the continental US up here in Alaska. I'm having an incredible time. I've been gone for a week now and I've done so much it feels like I've been gone for longer (which is a good thing!). Time is flying by so fast but I've enjoyed every minute of it. Last Tuesday Lauren and I explored Seattle - went to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, ate some seafood, found out that driving in Seattle is just as irritating as Boston as everything is one way! The weather out here is funny - rain passes in and out. It doesn't really downpour like Boston but the showers are much more frequent. Wednesday we drove to Vancouver and spent the night - the city is absolutely gorgeous. Modern glass columned buildings emerge on the waterfront in front of snowcapped mountains creating a very surreal effect. It's like someone mixed up the sets of Gotham city with the town from The Sound of Music. The next two days were spent driving threw Canada. Now, I've never been to Canada before but I'm pretty okay with staying out of that place for awhile. We saw some cool stuff - moose on the side of the road, some gorgeous scenery, and of course, the world's largest fly rod. However all in all, I'm pretty okay with being back in the US. Early Saturday morning we drove our car onto a ferry in Prince Rupert, BC and took the ferry for over 24 hours to Sitka, AK, where Lauren is from. It's insanely gorgeous here - unlike anything I've ever seen. I went out to the front porch to test the temperature of the day and I saw a lovely view of the ocean backed by mountain peaks. Gorgeous. Yesterday we hiked (and saw two bears - eek!) and Lauren's mom hosted a potluck dinner in honor of her return to town. It was really neat to witness the closeknit community here. I'm going to run as we've got a jampacked day today - totem poles and kayaking included - but I wanted to give you all a shout out from the trip! Pictures will be posted upon my return. I know you're all dying to see that fly rod. :)

Much AK Love,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Place to Be

Dressing room discussion is always an interesting thing. It's funny, a little raunchy, sometimes serious, often focused on professional topics: who had auditions that day, do people have their next gig lined up, etc. etc. It's a part of the job that keeps me centered and present. The camaraderie of people doing a job they love.

In the last few days the chat in the Little Mermaid dressing rooms has been particularly focused on auditions and who is doing what with which companies next season. Or what they're hoping to do. And why. The most interesting things to me always come from the more seasoned of our crew. The actors who've been in the game for years and are still playing. Still learning. Still wanting more. And still choosing Boston. Some have made their whole careers mostly here and some have traveled far and wide. Men and Women. They've performed with Actor's Shakespeare Project, The Lyric, The Huntington, Speakeasy, to name a few. Everyone has other jobs (some pick-up work and some regular jobs) Sounds familiar right?

These actors are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and this is still the life they lead. And this is still the town they choose. And not only do they choose it, but they see it's future. They want to stay involved, help us continue to grow. To reference one of Kenny's posts from a few months ago, most of the companies in this city are less than 30 years old, with many many being 10 years young or less. The exponential growth of solid professional work in Boston is being noted by the actors who work here. And they are staying. Could they work elsewhere? Sure. Do some of them go to New York to audition? Yes. Do they have criticisms of how the community operates? Of course.

And they sill choose us. Boston. The Hub. To quote the mighty JLD (who performed with Kevin Bacon & Kyra Sedgewick in The Lysistrata at the Brooklyn Acadamey of Music...making my dream of being one degree from Kevin Bacon finally come true) from a dressing room conversation yesterday "This is THE place to be."

This was so encouraging to me. And such a vote for the mission of The CoLab. To cultivate artists here in Boston and contribute to the new work being made here. It is hard to choose Boston as an actor, or artist of any kind really. It is small. It is poorly paid work (even for the union folks, our scale is small). It can feel clicky. It is competitive. It is undervalued nationally. It is poorly attended, and underwhelmingly reviewed.

But it is brave. And isn't so much of what we do as artists and performers taking risks? Don't we put ourselves out there with every audition, rehearsal, performance, waitering, retail, and temp job? Don't we choose this life and it is hard and misunderstood, but we are in love with it and happy? These actors say YES to those questions every day and lead by that example. And they choose THIS city. And I am proud to say that I do too.

Do you?

Be brave. Choose Boston. It's the Place to Be.