Archives for posts with tag: actors

Leslie Nipkow is an amazing talent. Her stage presence and believability are seamless. Lucky me, she was one of my scene partners in Wynn Handman’s class. Her work elevates the work of anyone fortunate enough to share the stage with her. You know that feeling you get after a performance in which everything clicked for you? You spent the entire show in “the zone?” That was how I felt every time Leslie and I worked on a scene together. What a buzz that is!

I had an audition for the Actor’s Studio and Leslie generously agreed to partner up with me. We had decided on a scene from Dylan by Sidney Michaels. We had spent weeks on it for class and it worked very well for us. The scene is between Dylan Thomas and his wife, Caitlin. They had a tumultuous relationship on one level and a deep, mutual love on another. The scene we did shows both of those levels along with a significant emotional arc for both characters. It’s a great and challenging piece.

To get to the performance space at the Actor’s Studio we had to go up a set of narrow stairs and wait just outside a door for the call to go. While we were waiting I noticed Leslie had her arms extended and was pushing herself back and forth by pressing her open palms on the opposing walls of the stairwell. She was doing this at a pretty brisk pace and I was afraid she might fall down the stairs. But I knew Leslie well enough to keep my mouth shut.

After the audition, which went really well, I asked her why she had done that back and forth business on the stairs. “Because Caitlin is trapped,” she said. Simple enough, right? But the fact was, she had landed on a subtext for Caitlin and found a way to express it physically right on the spot. Waiting on those stairs she had discovered and, right up until the last second used, a focus mechanism that grounded her in Caitlin’s reality and exploited it.

What’s my point? Leslie could have skipped that step and still delivered a remarkable performance because that’s how talented she is. But she wasn’t about to give less than 100 percent of everything she knew and everything she had learned, no matter what. That’s what lifts her from ‘talented’ to ‘unbelievably amazing.’

Finding a way to “kick open the door” to a character’s mindset and world and using it consistently for every performance is one of those basics that we too often ignore. After working at our craft for a long time it’s easy to stop feeling the need for such things. I know I’m guilty of it, just hanging out in the green room until a few lines before the first entrance.

Sorry, Leslie. I’ve got to fix that.

This video speaks a lot of truth to everyone, especially actors and other artists. Take a moment and watch it.

That video is brilliant and everyone should see it. Better yet, everyone should live it.

It brought back a very fond memory. I was in Wynn Handman’s class in the mid-nineties. (If you’ve never heard of Wynn, Google his name. He’s one of the great gifts to American theatre.) In Wynn’s class you worked on whatever you wanted to work on. A monologue, one-person show, whatever. Or, if you had nothing specific in mind, Wynn would pair you off with another student and give you a scene to work on. He assigned a scene from Beyond the Horizon to a male/female pair of students.

Beyond the Horizon was Eugene O’Niell’s first full-length play. Written in 1920, it’s a story about two men in love with the same woman and the personal compromises each is willing to make to win her over.

The actors did their first read through in front of class. After the read through, Wynn got up and made his comments and gave his notes. He started by telling us that O’Niell’s play was a uniquely American tragedy. He then explained what constituted an American tragedy. One of the most profound facets of American life is the freedom to choose the life we want to live. In 1920 that choice was not and, in some cases, is still not available in many of the world’s other cultures. In those places, from the time one is born their life is mapped out for them: where they will live, how they will earn a living and even whom they will marry. But as Americans we have the freedom to make our own, individual life choices and follow dreams no matter how crazy they may seem to others. We can choose the path we want for our lives and even change paths if we want to. An American tragedy results when someone makes the wrong choice. Wynn closed those remarks by saying to the class, “And here’s to all of you talented people for choosing the right path!”