Archive for May, 2008

May 20 – New new works.

Posted in Acting, actor, Art, Theatre with tags , , , on May 20, 2008 by actingchick

Last Friday I met my theater-attendance partner up on Capitol Hill, for a lovely dinner at Boom Noodle (I love their beef yakisoba!), and then for a evening of new works at the Broadway Performance Hall. This time the new works were focused on emerging African-American artists. The show, the Creation Project 2008, was put on by the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas.

I went specifically to see my one teacher Gin Hammond, perform the first act of her new play, Returning the Bones, which is the story of Gin’s aunt. A description from the program:

In 1946 a young black medical student from rural Texas wakes up to find she has been chosen to represent Howard University in a war-ravaged Europe, for the Students’ International Clinical Congress. Returning the Bones is the true story of Dr. Caroline Montier, and how her life is altered upon visiting Auschwitz, and oh that trip taken in 1946 will be finally completed at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, 61 years later.

The staging was simple, just a few platforms stacked center stage. Behind was a screen which had photographs that related to the story, most seemed to be family photos and clippings from newspapers. Gin played everyone in the play, doing different voices, accents, and body-language as needed.

It was quite a feat to watch. The amount of material to learn, the lines to memorize, and the characters to differentiate must have been a huge task. I think it would be extremely difficult to play both sides of a conversation, trying to keep the two characters as individuals, when you are using just the one body. I find it is hard enough with another actor to pull off a scene.

There were some technical glitches during the performance, such as the photos projected up on the screen seemed to be out of synch with the storyline. They seemed to be coming in too early, and there were some sound and lighting miscues, but this was a problem that plagued all the performances.

At the end of the first act, which is all Gin performed, you were left wanting to know what was going to happen next, which is great. You’ve done your job as an actor if you leave them wanting more. I look forward to seeing the whole enchilada.

The other two performances were a dance, multimedia, and spoken word piece called Excerpts from the Soul of a Woman by Vania C. Bynum, that “explores the struggles that women face, as well as the triumphs an beauty of being a woman.”

The first part interlaced an Iraq war documentary Female Faces of War played on a rearscreen at the back of the stage, with dancers dressed as soldiers, and also as Iraqis. I liked this part of the piece the best. It was the strongest emotionally. The film set the situation and established the tone, that was then expressed by the dancers. The dancers portrayed the abuse of women soldiers at the hands of their fellow male servicemen, a point brought up in the film, the death of Iraqi civilians and children, and the grief of family members over the loss of a soldier.

The second and third parts seemed very separate from this first part, actually they seemed completely different pieces. The situation was not helped by lighting and sound miscues, which confused the audience into thinking it was intermission, and people started to get up and leave during a transition, because the house lights came on.

In any case for me the second and third sections lacked the punch of the first. There was a spoken word piece that started section two that was cool, but after that it was standard modern dance. For me: yawn.

The second piece was hiz-stare-i-cal! CoochieMagik by Christa Bell. From the program:

“CoochieMagik brings a woman’s gospel to the altar of the stage. Fusing poetic text, stand up comedy with elements of Women’s Transformational Theater and Hip-Hop, Coochie Magik is an ecstatic performance ritual that empower a new context in which women experience their bodies and sexuality is holy…”

Which is a fancy way of sayin’, “Women, love your coochie and all that goes with it.” Christa Bell had the place rolling. Her ability to transform the spoken word into something beyond, speech and into the realm of the physical amazed me. The words became entities, almost physical objects, that were arranged in towering pinnacles and sultry valleys. What does that mean? Who knows, but it was cool to watch.

Christa Bell has won the National Poetry Slam and you can see why. If you have a chance to go see this when she performs it again, do it!

So, another night of good stuff. I look forward to more in the future from the performers.


May 14 – New Works.

Posted in Acting, actor, Art, Theatre with tags , , , , , on May 14, 2008 by actingchick

I went this last Saturday and saw part of the NW New Works Festival at On the Boards. There were four performances the night I went. The one I specifically went to see was Pants by Annette Toutonghi, who is one of my acting teachers, and some other people I don’t I can’t name, because I don’t have the program here with me.

I ran into some people I know from acting school, which is fun. It makes me feel like I’m a cool hip person when I run into people at performances. See… I know people, I’m an actor, how cool am I? Much better than the feeling of going to a party and not knowing anyone there, and being a big dork, which is how I go through most of my life.

I always try and go see a teacher in action if I can. I saw Annette in The Women which played at ACT the end of last year. This was the second time I have seen her, but this time it is in a piece that she had written and directed collaboratively with some other artists.

I have to say I really liked it. Especially the opening image of Annette scooting off stage followed by a pair of disembodied pants. Delightfully creepy. It was a non-linear performance, with dance, video projection, music, and theatre blended together.

What was it about? Hard to say specifically, but I don’t think that was the point. The image/sense I was left with was about navigating the world and the anxieties that it brings up. If I was more intellectual I could analyze it, but I will just say that it was cool, and I liked it. I hope to see it again in some form, and perhaps a longer piece. I was left wanting more, which is the best thing you can give your audience, right?

The other performances were good as well. There were two other dance pieces. One was a lesbian feminist extravaganza called Eden Between the Lines, Chapter 1 by Shaneeka Harrell and Catherine Cabeen. The two dancers were good, sexy, the choreography was erotic and dynamic. I loved how they worked these long red ribbons in as symbolic ties-that-bind/red tape.

However the spoken word part did less for me, mostly because the message was being sung to the choir. Being gay and all, I’m all for loving whoever you want to love, equality, and gay marriage. But the message was one I’ve heard many times before, and I wanted a surprise, but that’s just me. My friend (also lesbian) who went with me, who has danced in the past and so understands these things much better than me, really liked it.

The other dance piece was OK too. This was a group piece called Junknation by the Northwest Dance Syndrome, a group of six or seven women. I like the group dancing part and I liked the music. They had these cool canisters that looked like scuba tanks hanging from wires that they swung around a bit. I wanted them to do more with that, but they didn’t.

The part I didn’t like as much was these sort of interludes, where one woman was in an “egg” like wire structure. The first time is was full of trash, and we watched as she threw the trash out of the egg. Another time a woman writhed inside the egg for a bit. These parts went on too long for my taste. Boring. I always feel like I am supposed to “get” these bits, but I don’t. Call me simple, but I like it when the dancers just leap around on stage to good music.

The fourth piece was a music and multimedia performance by Holcombe Waller called Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest, which I thought was really cool. It’s apparently part of a larger piece, so if that comes around I am definitely going to check it out, and I suggest you do too.

Anyway, there is another weekend of new works performances coming up, so check it out. Also this weekend I am going to see another of my teachers, Gin Hammond, at the Creation Project another new works festival.

Go check one of these great things out.

May 7 – Swords and Scenery

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre with tags , , , , on May 7, 2008 by actingchick

This last weekend in our Stage Combat class, we spent the first part of class watching the certification tests of the Cornish College of the Arts students.  We have the same teacher, in Geof Alm.  They also have another fight teacher, whose name I can’t remember.

There were a lot more Cornish students, about 30 or so, than our puny class of six, which probably explains why they have two teachers and split the students between them.  It was interesting to see the differences in the two groups of students.  Each group had their own choreography for the three fights.

Geof’s students did the same fight choreography that we are doing, so it was interesting to see how they did.  Part of the choreography of the fight is acting while fighting.  This is the part we are just getting to in our class.  We have to pick scenes from plays for our fights.  Talking and fighting at the same time.

For the test the students would introduce themselves and then begin their scene/fight.  Some pairs were really good, not just at fighting, but at acting too.  The majority were either good at acting, or good at fighting, but not necessarily together.

It was interesting to see what worked in the choreography and what didn’t.  Sometimes there was too much talking.  Sometimes the talking got all mushed from the fighting and became unintelligible.  Some groups worked in short bursts of fighting with short bursts of talking, which I think worked the best in my opinion, and created a syncopated rhythm that was more interesting.

The non-Geof students, the students of Teacher X, got to do scenes from movies and TV shows.  There were three scenes from the TV show Firefly, and related movie Serenity, and one scene from Return of the Jedi.  This confirms my belief that people who like to play with swords are geeks.

Now this isn’t an insult, I consider myself a geek as well, and I love sci-fi and fantasy shows, movies, and books.  Now if you asked people who take stage combat why they are doing it, most would say to increase the skill list on their resume, and make them a more marketable actor, but I say, deep down underneath, it’s because they think swords are cool.  And if you perused their bookshelves you would no doubt find incriminating evidence, such as the Lord of the Rings books, or the Starwars Trilogy on DVD.

There are plenty of actors who don’t seek out stage combat until they have to learn it for a part.  Those that do, well they are geeks. Especially the ones that own their own swords.  The other day, I listened to two sword-owning guys discussing swords and sword makers and sounding so much like Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie discussing which shoes to buy. “Ferragamo?  Gucci? It’s so hard to choose, so I had to get them both! (giggle).”

May 1 – Speak normally.

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre with tags , , , on May 1, 2008 by actingchick

School is chugging along. I am continuing Stage Combat. The test fast approaches. I believe the date is June 15th, but I am still waiting for final confirmation. This coming Saturday, we are going to Cornish College of the Arts and watch the theater students there take their tests. This way we will know what the process is like and what is expected of us. I look forward to seeing it.

I have had two Voice Over classes now. The class is taught by Gin Hammond, who taught the Voice class that I took last quarter. She is a fun teacher, and I was looking forward to this class. There are two other people from the Voice class, so I know some people which is always nice.

In the first class we all had to read some random text while everyone else closed their eyes and listened. The reader’s job was to read the text in their “normal” voice. The listeners’ job was to determine what type of voice the person had, i.e. what kinds of characters they could be, what type of products they could sell, or just overall qualities of voice.

The first woman read aloud as we all closed our eyes. I’m not quite sure that she was using her “normal” voice, as it sounded pretty radio-like and overly enthusiastic to me, but maybe that’s just me. She got feedback saying she could be a sassy best-friend, confidant, or a business executive.

The second woman read, and she had a deeper, more smoky, husky voice. She could be the best-friend too, but not so sassy, more of the “I’m concerned about you, let’s take a yoga class together” best friend. Her tones also resonated “buy a Lexus”, and I could imagine without much difficulty a surly, chain smoking waitress.

The next woman was interesting in that her voice could sound both young and old. If she got a little higher pitched and excited she sounded like a teenage girl, which was interesting since she is probably late forties. If she spoke slower and a little lower, she sounded more her age and mom-like, or perhaps also a business person.

Then it was my turn. I read my text, which I might add we didn’t see until moments before we had to read it, so I literally didn’t know what the next word was going to be until I read it. I tried to read it pretty normally, not putting a radio tone, since the point was to see what our “natural” voice was. I got done, and there was pause before feedback was given, as if people were having trouble coming up with something to say.

Then one guy said, “You voice sounds just really, really normal.” People nodded in agreement. The teacher said I would be good at narration. I tried not to read into this feedback, gee, your voice is kind of boring, but it was hard not to think that, since I didn’t get a character type. No best-friend, no business executive, no “you could sell luxury products”. I did get the quality of “trustworthy”, which is nice, I suppose, though not exciting. And I did get a last minute “you could probably do a mom” from the instructor. But I think that was thrown in to appease what I assume was a look of disappointment on my face, that I didn’t get something more interesting.

Other people seemed to have more interesting voices, and more character types. Maybe that’s why they came to this class, people have been telling them you should do voice overs, you have _______ voice, you should be in radio, you could do cartoons, etc.

Still I suppose their is a place for normal and trustworthy narration. Perhaps insurance commercials and audio-books are in my future. I won’t complain as long as it pays.