Fish Out of Water

__A friend of mine (let’s call him Jimmy) wrote a play which is in rehearsal now. He’s an actor and I was reminded of when we met, when we were both in a play nearly ten years ago. This story concerns music-theatre, which is going to be a focus of mine for a while, and one example of the audition process and of crossing disciplines.
__Jimmy had auditioned for R. Murray Schafer, the composer, for a music-theatre show, probably one of his large-scale outdoor promenade operas. When he finished his monologue, some text from straight-up dramatic theatre, the panel asked him to make some weird sounds and to use his body and voice in a grotesque, expressionistic manner.
__Jimmy dug deeply into his soul and his psyche, to root up those experiences that haunt him when he’s not consciously keeping his demons locked in the cellar of his mind. He uttered forth some expectorant, toxic, gurgling, half-strangled scream that ripped through his shuddering body and spewed into the theatre, leaving him panting and nearly sweating with the effort.
__“That’s fine,” said someone, unseen. “But could you please do that again, only this time louder and longer, and maybe go from some low notes to high, then back again?”
__Jimmy was flummoxed. He had just given everything; he had nothing more, not really.
__The situation was that of an actor auditioning for a musician. To make the strange sounds the actor had to find motivation and emotional impetus to allow them to come forth. An actor doesn’t just make weird sounds for no reason, at least not when he’s ‘in character.’ A musician, on the other hand, makes sounds first and later may shade them with emotionally inspired ideas. Technicality is primary, to have excellent physical control of an object in one’s hands, or of the voice in one’s throat.
__To a musician “louder and longer, from low to high and back again” is child’s play. With weird, cacophonous dissonance too? No problem! The musician doesn’t need to ask ‘Why?’ with regard to the composer’s passage. An oboist doesn’t ask herself, “What does my oboe want? Is that smelly bassoon gonna try to stop me? How can I get around it? Can I depend on the trombone to help me this time? (Even though his brother’s a drunk. Not his fault—he didn’t mean to crash their dad’s Chevy last November into the bowling alley.)”
__These are the questions that an actor asks himself, where a great amount of intuition, thought and inventiveness takes place. Especially so for conventional Western theatre (and film) with a traditional basis in Stanislavsky’s method or Russian formalism—virtually all theatres for the last 100 years. For the actor searches why he or she says or does everything, to find a deep reason, the impetus, that informs how something is said or done.
__Otherwise, at least in modern professional theatre, simply spreading an instructional layer of ‘Say it angry & quick with a pinched voice’ is superficial, like decorating a cake. The director does not say, “Do it like this” and expect to be mimicked. The director says, “Do it because of this” and expects the gesture to be genuine.
__(But then there is the old joke: a director tells his actor “After you say your line, walk to the window behind the couch.”
__“Why?” the actor asks. “What’s my motivation?”
__“Your paycheque,” says the director.”)
__In a similar situation I suspect an actor could feel like a fish out of water at a dance audition. Sometimes actors do take movement classes and workshops, OK. But the same problem could arise when, after an actor has just summoned forth all the necessary emotional pain that would compel his body to convulse and shudder and flail about spasmodically in writhing agony, the choreographer then says, “Yeah that was fine, thanks, but could you do it again going round in circles, slow to fast, with some jumping up and down, then repeat it all from the other side?”


About th

musician, thespian
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