Symphonic Acting?

Directing actors is much more like conducting an orchestra than it is like producing a painting.
I have considered before the idea that actors are like paintbrushes: They must absorb the right color and work in concert with with one another to produce harmonious color schemes.They must be placed on the right locations on the canvas and with just the right technique to create the lines and shapes that compose the work.
But actors are not like paintbrushes, because while an artist holds a paintbrush in his hand and controls his instrument's every movement, a director does not. A puppeteer might, but a good director does not.
An orchestra conductor has before him a recipe for action--the score, just as a director has the script.
But many of the similarities end here. A conductor has a set number of musical instruments and understands the demands and limitations of each, the variation is controlled and well-defined according to the specifications of, for example, a concert violin.
A director must work with a very different set of instruments: Living, breathing, singularly unique, human Actors.
The seemingly infinite and limitless variety of human physicality and personality creates an entirely new set of challenges and potential for complexity.
While any performance of an orchestral piece will be unique and somewhat variable in execution, it is usually immediately clear as to whether or not the piece was performed as intended. Substituting electric guitars for the violin section would be a clear departure from most classical pieces.
And here's where things get interesting in term of looking at this metaphor of actors as instruments. Sometimes you find that the violins don't always want to be violins. The violins decide that they'd rather be trombones, and insist on trying to play the trombone parts. Or they decide that violins best know how loud the violins should play a section and proceed to ignore the conductor's direction by taking things up an octave and increasing the volume by 50 decibels. And sometimes the members of an orchestra show up with an instrument that's out of tune and expect you to ignore the fact that it's out of tune. Or worse, it might be missing strings and the conductor is expected to re-arrange the piece to accommodate for the limited range.
Would this EVER happen in a real orchestra? No, of course not.
But does it happen in the theatre? Yes. All the time. Especially as actors and directors are training and developing an understanding of this complex system.
But is there beauty and potential in that? Absolutely. An instrumental solo can be played with varying level of proficiency, and in the hands of a master, will also include some degree of nuanced interpretation and variation, but when it comes down to it, you only have a set number of variable to work with--tone, dynamics, tempo.
But how many ways are there to play Hamlet? The possibilities are endless.
When dealing with living, feeling, sensitive actors as instruments in the creation and exhibition of a work of art, things become much more interesting.

More Worth than Many Sparrows

It was autumn.
The sun sparkled across the tumbling current in the overflow canal behind the factory.
He had been told never to go near the treacherous waters, and up until today, had never been tempted. That changed as soon as he saw the break in the fence. The opening snipped in the chainlink was just big enough for a young boy with a sense of adventure to weasel through, his cotton jacket only snagging a little as pulled his scrawny frame through the gap . The raft was harder to coax through the fence. He was careful not to let the jutting wire ends scar the half-inflated rubber skin of the bulging inner-tube.
Now he stood on the edge of the concrete river, surprised at how quick the dark water was, and yet so quiet. It's black snake body hardly made a sound as it squirmed through the deep white trough.
He would be fine once he got down into the water. It would be fun. He would ride his little makeshift raft all the way to the lake. It was getting down to the water that would be the scary part. The sides of the canal were steep and it was a good six or seven feet down to the water's surface.
He sat down on the edge and let his feet over the side first. There was barely enough of a slope to stand on, and he began scooting down towards the water while pulling the edge of his small raft behind him in one hand, and using the other to keep his balance on the steep incline.
He tried to move the raft down in front of him and made it nearly three feet from the water's edge before slipping and plunging hands-out face first into the deep current. The splash was louder and colder than he could have imagined, and then everything was instantly muted again as sank and tumbled. He gasped and struggled against the swift flow of the dark water pulling him down and pushing him along. Air, and more splashing, and flailing. His head slipped under as he lost his grip on the tube--it felt slippery in his hands and flipped over every time he tried to get his weight on top of it. It wasn't long before his clothes felt heavy and his limbs began to shake in the cold water. His fingertips were white and trembling as he clenched his hands into the rubber of the raft. The canal made a series of bends and he scrambled to grab onto the steep banks as he passed, but the concrete sides denied any holds and the water pushed him along faster and faster and threatened to tear him from the raft. It was in these moments that he thought not of his mother and her warnings, or of his father and the trouble he would be in, or even of how much he had wanted to impress his brother by proving to him that he was big enough not to be left out of all the fun. It was in these moments, as he approached the culvert pipe, that he thought of the little yellow birds that had built a nest outside his window. He remembered the chick that had fallen from the tree and how his featherless frame had scuttled and spasmed in the grass before the night came and he grew silent in the cold.
Again, the rushing current sucked him under and into the maw of the pipe; his raft popping from his hands as the water pulled him deeper.
In the darkness, he saw the yellow bird with the black wingtips and scruff of orange on it's forehead flitting back and forth from the treetops to the bushes near the ground. It landed on his window sill to share a mouthful of carefully gathered seeds.
What was it's name?
Do birds have names?
Does God, who knows when every sparrow falls, give them each a name because they are his own?
In slow motion he saw every wingbeat as the little yellow-orange bird bent his knees to launch from the sill, the outline of his black tipped wings forming perfect v's as he raised and lowered them above his back. The bird pulled his legs in close to his body floated into the open air.
He watched the bird fly slowly away from his window, and suddenly night was falling. Everything dimming into dusky blue until he could just barely make out a faintly bobbing yellow beacon against the night horizon. And then there was no horizon, and no bird, and everything was quiet.

Good Friends around the Fire

My brother Andrew brought his guitar to the park for our rehearsal, even though he feels self-conscious about playing for strangers--because he's my brother and we do those sorts of things for each other.
Jordan came to the park even though it was really cold to support the show. 
We all decided to go visit Daniel while he was tending Rocklyn.
As soon as we got to Daniel's house, Becca turned right around to go pick Liz up at the theatre even though we had just come from there.
Daniel watched the baby while Liz was at rehearsal. The baby threw up on him three times and he still loves her and he still loves Liz.
Matt and Amy and Jess and Nick and Dan and Kyle and Andrew and Becca and I all sat around the firepit in Dan's backyard until it was after midnight and the marshmallows were gone and our eyes were teary from smoke and laughing and after the chocolate on Becca's dress was found by taste-test to be less hershey, more bat, and after Kyle lamented reaching the ripe antiquity of twenty-two, and Andrew had played all the songs that needed to be played, we piled in the truck and drove home before the full moon had risen too high in the early summer sky.
And meanwhile, Robbie, Erin, and Eric drove all night long so they could be back with us by morning to finish the show.
These are the people I am glad to know.


If anything is beautiful in the world, it is the sound of crickets strumming the songs of summer.


"That man who does not live in awe of something outside himself is dead. The experience of drama is one of those moments in which a human being sits in awe, wonder, and admiration of something outside of self."

--William Ball, A Sense of Direction


Brain is fried.
Today was way too long. One of those "day late and a dollar short" days.
Everything worked out in the end--and writing that I realize that it does in fact almost always work out. (when has it not!?) 
Three of our actors in Grassroots are stranded in California. Things will work out though. The show always goes on.
Finally have a stage manager for Secret Life.
Can't wait to get cracking on Rappaccini. Can't wait to get to London.
Bill Ball quote floating around my head the past several days: "A thing becomes beautiful because of the possibility of it's absence." Or something along those lines. I love that concept. I think it's true and beautiful.
But does that mean, conversely, that a thing can become less beautiful because of the possibility of it's presence?

The Snowbank Shakespeare Co.

The year I graduated from high school, May was warm and gorgeous.
I remember nights under the stars when we'd sit out in the park until after midnight talking about the future and all the plans we did or didn't have. After our all-night graduation party we watched the sunrise and then went for a morning swim in Brandon's pool. That's how warm it was.
It is once again that same time of May, but yesterday morning, everyone in the valley woke to a white slushy blanket of snow.
My first thoughts on looking out the window: 'How are we going to rehearse in this?'
This time last year, the Grassroots Shakespeare Company was just beginning it's brief but intensive rehearsal process--just eight days of evening rehearsals to stage an entire show.
This year we've gotten a head start and are nearly finished with an equally intensive process. But one that has been much, much colder as well.
We've rehearsed and performed in rain, wind, and some fairly chilly evenings, but never in the snow.
By the time evening rolled around, most of the snow had melted in an equally bizarre afternoon of shifting clouds and sunlight. We arrived at the park to find another bizarre scene. Most of the leafy, well-manicured trees in the park looked as though they'd been harrassed by Godzilla. Big chunks of elm and oak and maple were strewn in every direction, giant limbs ripped from their trunks by the weight of the late, heavy snow.
After we'd been rehearsing in the chilly night air, all of us freezing, I looked up, shivering, and said: 'Why aren't we burning the trees?!'
And there was no good answer. We collected a small pile of downed branches, stripped off their wet leaves, and then fed them slowly into a small fire we made in one of the barbecue units near the pavillion. It smoked and smoldered at first, but after serving the infant fire an appetizer of past term papers and last semester's handouts, it grew more hungry and able to consume the meaty twigs we gave it.
Our hands now warmed, we went back to our make-shift stage and finished blocking the epilogue of Romeo and Juliet.

Lunch with Clyde and Helen

The four of us, sitting down to lunch. My brother, my grandparents, myself.
Helen is blind now:
'Everything is blacker than black' she says. 'Except when there's some light. I can still see where the lights are'.
Clyde is more radically liberal than most of the twenty-somethings I know. He explains to us the history of racial oppression and then progress he's seen in his lifetime.
Helen talks about our microscopic size in the cosmos, and how beautiful our little sphere is.
Andrew responds: 'And wouldn't it be a shame, knowing that we are so rare in the universe, that this might be the only place in the vast expanses of space where such creatures speak to one another, and connect, and can even contemplate the fragility of their existence, if we were to destroy each other?

Praise whatever is there. Whatever is there is praiseworthy.

"The artist is a person whose business in life is to praise. Artists discover the wonders of nature and we call attention to those wonders. The theatre artist gathers people into a dark room and says to them, 'Look what we've discovered. Isn't this admirable? Isn't this wonderful? Isn't this awesome? Isn't this amazing?' An artist is someone who draws attention to what is praiseworthy in the Universe."     

--William Ball, A Sense of Direction

The 6 O'Clock News

I've made a decision and set a goal.
There are a lot of good things in the world that are worth talking about, and I'd like to make it my business to talk about them. There's this quote from William Ball in his book "A Sense of Direction" where he talks about the artist's whole purpose being to seek out the best things in life and champion them. He says the artist must find out what is good and worthwhile and share those things with the world. He goes on to say that this is especially the job of the director to attach himself to works that he can be passionate about, to share with actors the beauty and fragility of everything, and convey to the audience those wordless mysteries that can only be known through the catharsis of shared experience.
So if I am going to be an effective and passionate director, then I had better become pretty good at communicating beauty.
And so, I have set a goal: Every day at 6pm I will post about something in the world that I find interesting, thought-provoking, beautiful or otherwise worth sharing.
So I'll make a deal with you: you be my audience, and I'll do my best to make checking back here everyday worth your while. Deal? Alright.
Now go away and come back tomorrow.


I'm back! After four months of hopping state lines and living in roadside hotels, I'm finally home again.
I've actually been home for nearly a month now, but I'm only just beginning to feel like I'm back. Like I'm rooted and making connections again.
Touring was good for me. It taught me a lot about myself and what I'm capable of. It made me desperately anxious to finish college. Having an actual, honest-to-goodness, legitimate paying job in theatre put to rest a lot of fears and reservations I've had about going into the arts. Sure, it's a risk. Sure, not many people can make a living from it. But spending four months with nine other people that are actually making it work was really eye opening. And empowering. It's actually possible. You can actually make a living doing what you love. I don't know if I've ever believed that before because I know very few people that make it happen. Now that I've seen it, I can believe it. I feel I can move forward with confidence in the direction of my choosing. I will no longer wonder: "What am I going to do with a theatre degree?" Because the answer is simple: Theatre. I will use my theatre degree for what it was intended: working in theatre.