I found a fascinating interview with Robert Wilson at The American Theatre Wing a few days ago, recorded all the way back in 1997.  If you’re not familiar with him, Wilson is a director of spectacular plays, operas, and experimental stage performances, and one of the pioneers of visual theatre.  He’s been considered avant-guarde for the last forty years or so, which gives you some idea of just how extra-ordinary his work is.  He’s famous for his bold use of light; simplicity of gesture, movement and design; and surreal dream-like productions.   He’s also famously difficult. :)  The following are some of my favorite bits from the interview, and some comments.

Einstein on the Beach 1976

"Einstein on the Beach" 1976

Martha Graham said, “There’s no such thing as no movement.”  And John Cage said, “There’s no such thing as silence.” … I think that when we’re very still we’re more aware of movement than when we make a lot of movement.  My works deal with a concentration on maintaining a continuous line.  And this continuous line is maintained by a sense of always being aware of the movement that’s always there.  And by listening with the entire body to the sound that’s always there.  And with this awareness one can always maintain a continuous line. …  [I am interested in] the sounds in silence and the movement in stillness.

… I go to the theatre and so often I see the same problem.  The actor walks over, and he stops. And he walks over again and he stops.  He makes a gesture, and he stops.  And he makes another gesture and he stops.  No no no no no no no no!  When you walk and you stop walking, the movement’s still there.  It never stops. … Whether you’re moving or not moving, it’s one thing. [Emphasis mine]

I think this is an absolutely fascinating idea, and matches up with a lot of my experience and training as an actor.  In trying to make sense of the world we tend to divide it up into sections, delineating one thing from another to organize it all.  That’s useful because it makes reality manageable; otherwise the complexity of our experience can be overwhelming.  But we shouldn’t segment the world so much that we lose sense of the connections between things, the “continuous line”, as Wilson calls it.  Sound waves continue to vibrate the world around us long after our ears cannot pick them up. The effects of our actions extend long past their doing. Wilson is suggesting a different kind of awareness, a softer focus that lets more in, a continuous momentum the extends through stillness. [keep reading…]

Listen

February 20, 2009

[I know it’s cheap to put up posts written by other people, but I read a wonderful passage by Frederick Buechner today, which I couldn’t resist posting up in its entirety.   I think once you read it you’ll understand why.]

“An old silent pond. / Into the pond a frog jumps. / Splash! Silence again.” It is perhaps the best known of all Japanese haiku.  No subject could be more humdrum.  No language could be more pedestrian.  Basho, the poet, makes no comment on what he is describing.  He implies no meaning, message or metaphor.  He simply invites our attention to more and no less than just this; the old pond in its water stillness, the kerplunk of the frog, the gradual return of stillness.

In effect he is putting a frame around the moment, and what the frame does is enable us to see not just something about the moment but the moment itself in all its ineffable ordinariness and particularity.  The chances are that if we had been passing by when the frog jumped, we wouldn’t have noticed a thing or, noticing it, wouldn’t have given it a second thought.  But the frame sets it off from everything else that distracts us.  It makes possible a second thought.  That is the nature and purpose of frames.  The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment. It makes us NOTICE the moment, ant that is what Basho wants above all else.  It is what literature in general wants above all else too.

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention.  Pay attention to the frog.  Pay attention to the west wind.  Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train.  In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein. [keep reading…]

Patience

February 19, 2009

I’ve been waiting for this day for years.  The quintessential question of youth is “What are you going to be when you grow up?”  And by that, of course, we mean “What job will you have?” Well, now I’m here; I’m out of school, and by virtue of the fact that I have a job, I guess that means I’m grown up.  But what I wanted to “be” is lacking.  It seems I’m still waiting around for that magical moment when I’ll have the life I dream of.  Where is that magical career in theatre that will fulfill all the wild dreams I’ve had for so long?

The answer, which I have learned and am learning, is two-fold.  The first and simplest is that I’m going to have to wait for it.  God is not the business of giving us things exactly when and how we want them (usually).  If David spent his entire childhood as a shepherd boy and then had to spend  years hiding out in the wilderness waiting for Saul to die before he became king,  and Jesus spent thirty years working as a carpenter before people had any idea who he was, then I can wait a few years for my life to get more exciting.  But in both these cases, what might seem like a pointless waiting period was actually a vital time of preparation and testing that readied them for them for the difficult “careers” that lay in front of them. [keep reading…]

Mornings

February 11, 2009

Mornings begin with a cup of tea.

Actually, they begin with me stumbling into the bathroom and then sort of standing in there, lost, until my brain kicks into gear.  And then I do whatever it was that I came in there to do, and then walk past my peacefully sleeping wife (she works from home, and gets to sleep in) into the other room of our apartment.  There, I set the water to boil, and do my morning exercises.

Then I have my tea, which is when the morning really gets going.  I’ll sip it with a few pieces of toast or some cereal (I can never stomach much for breakfast) while reading first a morning meditation by Frederick Buechner (who is wonderful, by the way), and then afterward my daily dose of webcomics.  Then I’ll reluctantly get up, and pack my lunch, stuff my work clothes into my bag, brush my teeth, and then walk back into the bedroom to say goodbye to my wife.  After a few kisses and promises “be safe on my bike”, I grab my helmet, pick up my bike, and I’m out the door into the shock of the cold morning air.

It always freezing that first minute or so, pumping away on the bike with the wind burning past my knuckles, until my blood gets flowing.  And then I’m peacefully on my way.  Past the old wooden fence, which on particularly cold mornings releases these incredible clouds of steam as the sun hits it.  Past the little patches of frost on the grass, proof that it does get below freezing in Santa Barbara.  Past the old Asian couple, always out this early in the morning getting pulled along by their fuzzy Shi-Tzu.  Over the old wooden bridge, its thin layer of frost already scarred this early by so many bikes.  Getting passed by far too many Lycra-clad road bikers on their zippy toothpicks of gleaming aluminum.  Past the little marsh, with its “Protected Wildlife Area” sign.  Over the first little hill, onto Goleta Beach, and suddenly the gasp of the wide Pacific is in front of me, clear and blue and deep, and the Channel Islands, crouching on the horizon like ancient sleeping giants.  And then, finally, up the ridiculously steep hill onto campus, gasping, then on the UCSB bike highway, deserted this early, and up to the library.

Where I will stride in, say a cheery good morning to those already there, and go to the bathroom and change.

It’s a good morning to be alive in Goleta, CA.

“The Rabbit Hole”

February 9, 2009

RabbitHoleI read a really interesting play the other day.  I don’t tend to really get into realistic dramas; they’re interesting plays, and often very good, but they don’t tend to inspire me very much.  David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, was different.

The main thing I dislike about modernist-realistic tragedies is how limited they are in scope.  In the vast majority of cases they limit themselves to a single family, usually in a single room.  But more broadly, they tend to present stunted views on the possibilities of human life.  Such plays seem bound to the inevitable tragic explosion at their end, where we experience the “revelation” of just how messed-up this family/couple/person is, and are usually treated to lots of yelling and (eventually) despair.

It’s not that these plays aren’t ever good.  And it’s not that they aren’t true; many (maybe even most) families are pretty messed up, and people do yell at each other in real life.  It’s really just that at this point in my life, I just find such plays boring.  I’ve seen and read enough of them that by the initial exposition I can predict exactly where this train is headed, and know that I don’t want to be there when it arrives.  And ultimately they are all just so limited.  There is so much more to life than what occurs inside white Americans’ homes and heads.

But, as I said, Rabbit Hole was different.  It is, in fact, about white people; and it does, in fact, occur entirely inside their house.  But what made this play different is that it did not take the obvious course.  The story is essentially about a couple who has lost their young son in a tragic car accident.   In the initial pages of play, I thought I recognized the same old locomotive I seen so many times before.  I thought I could see exactly the factors that would cause the couple’s marriage to head off a cliff.  But Lindsay-Abaire is a better playwright than that.

Instead of making a play in which the character’s conflicts and past are so inexorably awful they will inevitably end in tragedy, he make a play in which the characters somehow soldier through, despite their deep wounds, and hold onto their relationships and families like tattered garments in a storm.  The play is genuinely sad — as any play about the death of a young child must be — yet ultimately hopeful.  It does not cheapen the story by making it seem any easier to get through than it actually is, but it does not make tragedy the inevitable victor.

And in accomplishing that feat, David Lindsay-Abaire has made a play that is both more complex, and more true than any other play like it I have read.

Good times

February 9, 2009

Had a wonderful little dinner party this weekend. Lots of great food, great conversation, great wine. It was so nice to just sit around the table and talk for hours and hours, and catch up on the lives of so many friends that I don’t get to see nearly enough.

Even in this technologically-driven era, I can’t think of a more satisfying way to spend an evening than a long conversation with friends. (Especially if it’s followed by a rousing round of Cranium.)

So, all of you that came, thank you so much.  And all of you that couldn’t make it, hope you’re there next time.

Many of you know that Lara lost her job a couple of months ago.  I’m not sure how many of you know that she found a new one.  But the process of going from job to joblessness and back was an interesting and fruitful one for us, and I wanted to take some space here to talk about it.

Losing her job was initially traumatic, of course. Lara called me at work with tears in her voice and told me how her entire paper had been shut down, and they had all been forced out by security guards, with barely any time to get their things together.  It was a huge shock for a young married couple, just settling in to financial and domestic responsibility.  It was especially disappointing because just a few days earlier we had sat down and come up with a savings plan that would set aside the money we needed to move (something we were very ready to do) in just eight months.  Those plans were all out the window now. [keep reading…]

I read a lot of The Simple Dollar, which is a wonderful blog about living life frugally and simply, and getting a better handle on your money and how it relates to your life.  Trent (the author) is a great writer (and a Christian, incidentally) who never fails to come up with some amazing insight on life and simple living.  He posted this entry a few days ago, and it really struck home for me.  Hope it does for you.

It Can’t Love You Back

A few nights ago, my wife had to work late, so I was charged with an evening at home alone with my three year old and one year old.

We did the usual things. We ate dinner together (spaghetti – my son’s favorite food). We played with his train set. I read several books, mostly selections based on my daughter’s whims since she’s just discovered the fun of having books read to her.

Eventually, we decided to watch a nature show. The three of us cuddled up on the couch. All three of us were tired – I could have easily nodded off right there. My son leaned in close to me on the right, and my daughter nodded off in the crook of my left arm.

It was easily the best evening I’ve spent in a very long time.

Before my children were born, I used to obsess a lot over the things I could accumulate. I’d buy video games and DVDs and gadgets. I surrounded myself by tons of things – and they were a source of personal pride to me.

At some point, though, I realized something about all of that stuff I had accumulated: I loved it, but it didn’t love me back. It never can and it never will. I can’t build a healthy, happy, mutual relationship with the things I had purchased. All it could really do is rub a bit of salve on an emotional or psychological wound, but at the end of the day, I was left empty. [keep reading…]

I’ve been meeting with Heather Bancroft and Kate Paulsen a few times a week now for three weeks, basically doing a sort of book club for actors.  We’re studying several books/techniques of acting on styles that we’re interested in — right now Viewpoints, and when we’re done with that, we’ll start on Michael Chekhov’s techniques.

This little club of ours has a few purposes.  The first is just to train in things we’re interested in, and keep in practice, something which can be difficult in a slow town like Santa Barbara.  The other purpose (and as the group hopefully grows, it will be more effective at this) is to bring theatre people together, to work and play and learn and do shows.  It can be difficult to stay motivated to create in isolation, but if you have friends and colleagues around you to work with and encourage you, it makes it easier.

My two major motivations for starting this group were feeling lethargic and lonely.  I needed something to do, and I needed people to do it with.  As things stood, I didn’t really know that many theatre people in this town (at least who have graduated from school), and so our group is small.  We hope to change that.  :)

But as I said, we have been meeting to do Viewpoints, and let me just say, it has been wonderful.  Viewpoints, if you, dear reader, are not familiar with it, is both an acting technique and a way of looking at the world.  It is a way of categorizing possibilities in performance, and freeing your mind and body to those possibilities.  It involves a great deal of improvisation, listening to the group and your surroundings, and the freeing of impulse.  If you want to know more, you should just come to one of our meetings.  :) [keep reading…]

Life, via List

January 30, 2009

So, to begin with, facts about me:

  1. I work at the library.  I like books.
  2. I am also an actor, a director, and (sort of) a writer.  More on that later.
  3. My bike ride to work everyday is one of the best parts of my day.
  4. People with actually nice road bikes zooming past me on my Huffy Superia is one of the worst parts of my day.
  5. This is a picture of a Huffy somewhat similar to mine.  Mine is not pink, but blue.  The greasy man in the photograph, however, is not somewhat similar me.  Not at all.  But he does look a little like my brother in high school.
  6. I have the most wonderful wife in the world.  She has a blog too!  Much better than mine.  You can find it here.
  7. I am newly obsessed with cooking.  Having a real kitchen will do that, apparently.  Be my friend, and I will invite you over for dinner.
  8. Someday, I will be like this man.
  9. I have a sort of strange allergy, in which at certain parts of the year, when I first wake up in morning I sneeze, very hard, 5 or 6 times, and then never again for the rest of the day.  I am currently not experiencing symptoms.
  10. I own a tiny a scooter which is possessed by four or five demons at least, and breaks down about once a month.  It is currently in the shop.
  11. My hair is kind of curly.
  12. God takes good care of me, and I do my best to make him proud.
  13. I have an abnormal obsession with NPR, and its podcasts.  I’m brainy like that.
  14. It is my dream that one day when I’m feeling sad, Terry Gross will come and read to me.
  15. I can never see a paperclip without picking it up and bending it flat.  Never.
  16. Post-it notes are among the best inventions known to man.  I wish to find the man that created them, come to his house, and shake his hand.
  17. My wife and I do not have any children, or pets, but we do have a small aloe plant that we have named Al.  Al is a sickly little aloe, and we can never seem to give him the right combination of sun and (lack of) water to keep him happy.  Thus, his little stumpy limbs are always swollen, and slightly brown. But despite all odds, he struggles on.
  18. We really need to get a pet.

That sums it up, pretty much.  My hope is that this blog will not only be a venue for silly lists and things, but also be a vehicle for somewhat insightful thoughts and meditations.  That’s my hope.  You’ll just have to stay tuned.