Sunday, July 14, 2013

Anything can be good, if you let it.

"Intentions and goals were always difficult or shaky--always. I don't know what happened, but more and more people are looking in the wrong directions. Maybe everything got so expensive and temporary and tenuous and competitive, so everyone thought about the immediate impact of things, the big kill. You know, Can we move this to a bigger house? Can I win awards? The other day a student asked if the play he was doing might bring him traction. I didn't know what to say, but he was utterly alien to me. He has talent, but he cheapens and degrades it by utilizing it to get a pilot or bigger applause or some coverage. Or traction! 

We have to get back to doing good work that will matter to people, to the community, to our hearts. This is how we used to work, and we kept working, and we got the attention we deserved." --Uta Hagen/Interview with James Grissom

I think many times we get caught up in ourselves and what would work most in our favor when it comes to life paths and jobs...especially in the arts. Since we are our own 'product' we are trained to market ourselves and play the game of hiring/casting. But when rejection comes, projects fall through, or we are trying to figure out the next step...all we are left with is ourselves.
...and maybe a question: 

Why. Why am I doing this?

Right now, I am facing a lot of question marks...and it is a scary, but exhilarating feeling. I often find myself asking that exact question: WHY. Why am I doing this?  Here are just a few Pearls of Wisdom from my teachers here at BSA, they have helped me whenever I start to feel too scattered...they have  put things into perspective and help me focus on what is really important.  

So, for all of you as confused as I am, scared, scattered and stretched...this one is for you! 
Golden Nuggets of Wisdom from a lot of wise Brits! 

  • Our job is to give voice to those who cannot speak their unconscious mind; society's unconscious.

  • Have faith in the journey you are on.

  • Acting is a service and the one thing you are not serving is yourself. You are never important. Serve the audience, the text, the story, the character, the space, and your scene partner. 

  • Have an awareness of the audience: have a relationship with them. 

  • Be a citizen of the world: prepared at any turn to put yourself on the line and be vulnerable. Let it matter. Meet everything with complete openness. 

  • Control the Controllable. Communicate. 

  • Become a channel for the words/author. It becomes about the work, focus your energy there. 


  • You can't work on being less self-conscious or critical by focussing more on your self - work on the voice and movement, then forget about it and play. 

  • To tell a good story: serve your function, rather than just your character. 

  • Anything can be good if you let it.

Lastly! I leave you with this. Neil Gaiman's Speech. It has become a mantra, a life source for me. 
I hope it helps, it certainly has helped me! 

"And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.
And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.
Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.
Make good art.
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
Make it on the good days too.
And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art."

Friday, March 1, 2013

It is My Name...My Reputation

American in the UK

Recent events have made me think long and hard about the differences between the American and English cultures. Specifically about the differences between British plays and American plays. My flatmate who is English was reading me one of his monologues and all I could think was: man, this is terribly British. I then sent him some monologues that I thought would fit him, he told me they sounded funny to British ears. What is it that perks our ears to the difference between the two?  What exactly IS the difference between the two styles? We are both English speaking countries with similar points of views. Americans, for the most part, were Europeans what happened? 

I have had several discussions with different English tutors and classmates about this subject. At the risk of being too general...below is what I have gathered from these conversations and my own observations. ALSO please bear in mind, while I have talked to my English tutors about this, I am still writing from a female-Midwestern-Japanese-American perspective.  

SO! I have found that a lot of the differences stem from the reasons America was founded and who founded it....and what they left behind. Early Americans voiced their opinion about various issues and fought for change. We have always been able to speak our minds without the risk of getting beheaded or hanged or what have you. The Freedom of Speech is in our Bill of Rights. Expansion, exploration, change, becoming the melting pot for other cultures, the rags to riches 'American Dream'...
(FOR EXAMPLE! Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President, grew up in a log cabin. He was raised by his father who had no education and was illiterate. Lincoln received a total of only 18 months of formal education, otherwise he we completely self-taught...and became one of the most influential Presidents) oh! and we were also founded by Puritans...each of these aspects of our very young history have engrained certain qualities in each one of us...and have given us different hurdles to jump over. America became powerful very fast and didn't have its first big international failure until the 70's while, as explained by my professor, Europe has experienced many international failures throughout its thousands of years of history. Each country has seen it's heyday and decline, ALL of Americas' being within the last couple hundred years. 

From the discussions I've had, it seems big change like this is not in the English recent memory. Their culture and race have been established for a long time. They know who they are.  What has developed in its theatre is a darker more cynical edge in modern writing. Americans tend to lean towards resolution at the end of the play, while many British plays work nonlinear and  seem to just end.
 Americans tend to lean towards a journey within a story; to end up in a different place from where they started at the beginning of the play. Modern and contemporary British plays tend to end unresolved or resolved in a potentially unsatisfying way (check out the playwright Simon Stephens). This throws the responsibility back on the audience to work out the story OR the playwright was just unable to solve the problem of the play...because the problem is itself unsolvable. Of course, there are exceptions to this on both sides of the ocean. There are American playwrights who have a darker, cynical edge to them: Mamet, Miller, Williams, LaBute, name a few. 

In American culture there is a stress on what someone DOES. This may be because of the 'American Dream': being able to come from nothing and make yourself into somebody. In American history, who you fundamentally are and what you Do is so important. However, in England, there was a more rigid class system and it is harder to move around. What developed was a focus on a person's reputation (The country is also a lot smaller...word got around MUCH faster).  In English history, how you dealt with others and how others viewed you was important. You can see this contrast in Proctor's iconic line from Arthur Miller's The Crucible "It is my name" and   Cassio's line from William Shakespeare's Othello, "My reputation, my reputation".

The development and use of language is rich in the History of England. The English cultivated better rhetorical skills, constructing beautiful sentences and imagery to describe situations and feelings. They are also known for their 'reserved' attitude towards showing emotions. To be honest, it is something I have had to really adjust to. Americans are seen as very loud and direct. Emotions are not always hidden...there is no 'stiff upper lip', and whether good or bad and there is not as much of a focus on the use of language...AND OF COURSE, there are always exceptions to these generalizations. 

In trying to break my American accent and learn how to speak in an English accent I can see how these 'personality' traits bleed into how our mouths move to communicate.  The English accent is clipped, placed at the front of the mouth, you talk through your teeth more, the front of the mouth works more, MOST IMPORTANTLY there is no rhotic 'R', and the 'T's are hit...overall, the accent is lighter. Keep a stiff upper lip. The American accent is open, placed further back in your mouth (which makes us sound nasally and loud), words are chewed, the middle of the mouth including the soft pallet works the most and the accent is heavier.

The contrast with the use of language in England and America is very clear through the developments of the American Musical vs. (Musicals in England). SIDENOTE the Musical as we know it today is a truly an American construction. Prior the advent of the American Musical and it's journey overseas, theatres were producing operettas, Music Hall (the English version of Vaudeville), and variety shows and some forms of opera (German, to stray away, used singing and text). In American Musicals, characters sing because the emotions are so big that there is no other option BUT to sing. In England, the emotions are so big...that you start to use heightened way of speaking. The English, (Gilbert and Sullivan, for example)  have the words to describe how they are feeling and beautiful music to underscore these descriptions. For this same reason, America and Europe embraced physical theatre and other physical vehicles such as clowning. Perhaps clown and physical theatre never took off in England in the same way because it wasn't viewed as witty or clever enough. When used, it was used in a more controlled way. 

I do not think I have quite boiled everything down to completely understand the minute differences between the two writing styles and tones. I have been here for about six months and still have so much to learn and reflect on. But, for now, this is what I have. 

I love discussions and learning new perspectives on culture and art. Feel free to message me! 

P.S. Thank you Nick and Ben! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Broad Abroad

Moving to a new country away from my family, friends, community and my infant theatre company has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Heck, moving anywhere new and starting afresh is disorientating. I am always missing someone...and feel slightly unable to lay down roots here.  It is a constant state of uneasiness....but mostly an ADVENTURE.

I have revisited this quote from my good friend, Drew several times since being over here:
When waging war on the battlefield of creation vs. destruction, the warrior often finds that there are those in his or her company whose patience falters in the face of a seemingly indefatigable foe. But for every hundred of those fallen disgraced soldiers, there are one or two true brothers and sisters who will fight at our side until the end of time; and it is them that we must honor and adore...the darkest shadow follow those who carry the brightest light. Be buoyant, sister-clown, eyes open, mouth wide, eyebrows up!
I have become close with some of the loveliest souls and continually feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have such amazing friends and family back home. There have been some dark hours, but I have never been alone. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I have fallen in love with England. I have fallen in love with finding my way through different cultures. I have fallen in love with the wonderful people I have met and worked with. Most of all, I have fallen in love all over again with my own country. I never thought about how much I like America. Yes, it is flawed...what country isn't? It is such an infant country...and massive. We are still figuring things out.  We are still figuring out who we are. But it is the American Dream and the preamble from the Declaration of Independence that runs through my veins and has helped make me who I am today.

Random thoughts: 

The grass is greener EXACTLY where you water it. Fight to be cheerful in whatever situation you find yourself in. Most of the time, our happiness or misery depends on our perspective of the situation rather than the situation itself.

There is too much in this world that wants to bring us down, fight with one another, hate, feel lonely, insecure, helpless, worthless, unhappy, entitled, angry, bitter...and you know isn't worth it. It is exhausting and it wastes time. Beauty is so much more wonderful to look at. Happiness is so much more fun to feel...perhaps because it is hard to attain at times.

Acting/Theatre is Service. The one thing you are not serving, is yourself. You are never important. You are here to serve the story, audience, community, fellow actors and the space. Be a citizen of the world.