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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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acting

So, I got hooked on Grey’s Anatomy a couple of months ago……

……. thanks to Lifetime Network and their habit of airing half a dozen episodes five days a week (it repeats to the first episode of season 1 after the last episode of season 10).  I’m surprised at how much I like it, considering that my memories of the show when it first aired were decidedly not impressed.  I’ve been wondering why it took me this long to get sucked into the daily life of Seattle-Grace turned Grey Sloane Hospital and my only conclusion thus far is that, like anything else in life, there is a timing for everything.

And seriously, what’s not to like about this show?  Women are allowed to be silly and strong and angry and loving and emotional on this show (and its spin-off, Private Practice, which I preferred over Grey’s at the time).  No one comments on it, except as a response – a woman getting pissed off is actually respected by the male characters as having a reason for being pissed off, not just dismissed as unimportant.

This is due to Shonda Rhimes’ vision and direction and she has chosen writers, producers and directors to further that vision.

There are characters I don’t really like (Karev, Arizona, George), despite their moments of pure generosity and humanity;  there are characters I really like because of their utter awkward goofiness (Lexie, April);  I like the friendship between Callie and Mark, who keep the lines and boundaries clear, regardless of where it goes;  I like Derek and Meredith’s faith in each other, despite the heartache and pitfalls;  and I absolutely love and admire the almost Victorian courtship of Owen Hunt and Christina Yang that didn’t entirely hide the raw passion between them.

Of all the characters on the show, Christina Yang has emerged as one of my favorites.  She doesn’t have time for bullshit, she doesn’t have time for niceties, she just wants to work in surgery and be the best in order to save lives.  Sandra Oh brings that hard-edged, unapologetic character to life so fully, that it would be impossible to picture anyone else in that role.  Yang may not have the best bedside manner, but if she’s there to save your life, I rather think the latter is more important than the former.  I’d certainly want her as my doctor and surgeon because I know she’d fight like hell to keep me alive.

No spoilers on Seasons 11 through 13, please!!!

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So, I’m feeling a little bereft……

……now that I’m done re-visiting my trip to Ireland. I’m not sure what course to plot next, but I have some ideas that I’ve started working on. Not necessarily another travel-log, but things that should at least be interesting.

In any case, I’ll try not to mourn the end of my trip down memory lane too much. It was a grand adventure, I feel very lucky that I was able to manage it and I hope to find my way back. Not to repeat it, one can never do that, but to deepen my experience by spending more than one day in a specific place.

That’s the goal, anyway.

In the mean time, I’ve got a novel to finish, a play to revise and a show to act in. Also, it never hurts to plan the next big adventure.

I think I’ll look at Middle-Earth, see if I can convince Gandalf the Gray to take me on one of his quests.

Oh, wait. That’s New Zealand. 😉

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So, I’m in another play…..

……a one-act, more specifically, which lasts about 15 to 20 minutes. There are four other one-acts in this production, thus it’s referred to as the one-act festival. It’s held every year and seems to have a fairly good turn-out.

Which makes the time frame about the length of a two act play (two hours).

This is actually a nifty idea, because you can get maybe four or five playwrights’ work staged and exposed to a receptive audience, instead of just one. It enables unknown playwrights especially, since you could also mix them in with well-known playwrights, whose work has been established.

The stage where the one-acts will be performed, but not with this backdrop.
The stage where the one-acts will be performed, but not with this backdrop.

I’m having a lot of fun with finding my moments within my character’s speeches and today, I made my director cry. Which I suppose was the point – my character is blind, and is writing an email home, feeling very insecure about what may occur upon her arrival. So there’s a lot of emotion and empathy coming out.

That’s part of an actor’s job – to make you feel what the characters feel. Same thing with a writer. Or songwriter.

The arts are about creating empathy between you and the subject. It can be uncomfortable, it can make you mad or upset or happy or melancholy. No two people will have the same kind of experience, even if they see or read the same things.

In a play, there is a symbiotic relationship between the actors on-stage and the audience that is watching them. My job, as an actor, is to make you feel what I’m feeling. If my character, in the moment, is feeling something so powerful, that you start to cry, then I’ve done my job.

Even if it’s a tiny sniffle, I will consider that I did my job and transported you to another plane of emotional existence.

It’s an experience that’s harder to pull off via film or TV – not impossible, just harder.

Go see live theater, even if it’s a musical you grew up loving as a kid. It’s an experience that is always good to share with friends and family.

 

“The stage is set, the curtain rises. We are ready to begin.”
Sherlock Holmes, The Abominable Bride (2015)

So, I think my passion went on hiatus……

…….because I am feeling less and less sure of what I want to do. Or where I want to go. It’s an overwhelming weight on my chest, trying to sort out what to do, let alone even coming close to knowing what to do.

I’m pretty sure this is a rut. Why? Because I still want to write. Writing is what I do best. I love sinking into that world I’ve created, taking on multiple characters and locations and basically playing god (or goddess) to make the story come to life.

I also love painting and drawing and acting and theater. I love being around creative people – they are the most exciting, challenging and invigorating people I know. It’s like being on some kind of drug, except instead of destroying your life and the lives around you, the creative energy enriches you, fulfills you, makes life brighter. You are lifted up, not dragged down. Your brain sizzles with ideas that inspires you.

That rut I mentioned? That’s the low – it’s all those doubts and negative thoughts that tell you to not keep going, to just quit while you’re ahead and go do something practical. To hell with the practical – do the art. The practical is only good for one thing – paying bills, building a nest egg for emergencies or that maybe-someday trip.

The art is what makes life magical. It pushes through that dull, gray rut and into to the sparkle and energizes your heart chakra.

Whether it’s art or photography or acting or writing or any creative style I haven’t mentioned, it’s like being around an electrical surge that won’t stop.

Keep doing that art that makes you happy. Even when it feels like the passion packed up and left.

Which reminds me.

I have a violin that I need to learn to play. I have to learn it, even if I suck at it. I’ve had this dream since I was twelve years old. Or maybe I was six, when I discovered Sherlock Holmes. Just the idea of learning the violin makes me happy.

My violin, waiting patiently.
My violin, waiting patiently.

So, the final curtain looms…..

……as my show enters its last weekend. The last few weeks have gone by in a blur and it seems inconceivable that there are only three performances left. Each performance led to something new in my character, a discovery of her humanity and motives. Although it’s not written in the script, I felt an underlying sense of guilt and fear that drove her to her final destination. There were specific lines that alluded to her distress, but the nature of her personality drove others away from her, a self-defensive measure on her part.

This show, The Mousetrap as written by Dame Agatha Christie (adapted from her short story Three Blind Mice, which in itself is adapted from the radio play written in honor of Queen Mary’s 80th birthday), premiered in London in 1952. It has continued to play in front of audiences, celebrating its 64th anniversary this year in the same theater.

It has been a privilege and a joy to work with my fellow cast mates, who have provided a lot of support and laughter in the last few weeks. I am grateful to my director, for casting me in this part, for reasons I mention in a previous post. I had the best stage manager and costumer and producer to help shape, guide and fashion us into a wonderful presentation.

For their privacy, I will not identify them or post their pictures – I feel I need to ask their permission.

But I will leave you with a photograph of our set, where we played out our parts and made our discoveries and connections, both within the context of the play as our characters and outside the play, as actors, as friends, as comrades in arms.

The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.
The set of Monkswell Manor, from The Mousetrap, by Dame Agatha Christie.

So, Stephen King has said, on many occasions……

……….“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
What does he mean by this? Read the top 100 lists, read pulp, read history, memoirs, fiction, science and more. Read what you love, what you’re indifferent to, what you dislike. Ask friends for their favorite books and read them.
What you gain from all of that reading is what works, what doesn’t, style, voice and structure. Try writing in the same style of your favorite author or break it down into specific acts (for example, Act One – Inciting Event; Act Two – Discovery; Act Three – Betrayal; Act Four – Revelation; Act Five – Resolution). Another way is to take a notebook and, while reading, keep track of what the author does to make seemingly unrelated events tie together by the last few pages.
Although King is clearly talking about writing, the idea behind his quote can be applied to any other creative endeavor. A creative artist doesn’t study just one master or medium in their chosen field – he or she studies as many as possible to learn and discover their own styles. It’s mixing and matching particular elements to find what works for you, then using it to push yourself further.
Whether you’re writing or singing or playing the guitar or acting, the more you learn about your creative passion, you’ll find that your own experiences with it has become richer. You’ll be better able to express yourself in whatever creative endeavor you pursue. It may be that you’ve discovered a passion for more than one creative art and that they feed off of and influence each other in delightful ways.
It worked out that way for me – in addition to writing, I spent many years performing onstage in local theater. It helped a great deal in developing stronger characters, understanding what motivated them, and finding the story’s beats (important moments). This may occur with you – if you enjoy poetry and music, for example, you may unconsciously find yourself writing poems in time with a specific musical beat.
There are infinite combinations to mix and match with. To discover them is to read, to play with your creative passion and be open to new opportunities as they present themselves to you. The worst that can happen is that it didn’t work out the way you’d hoped it would.
Say, “Yes,” to your creative self. Amazing things will happen. Trust yourself.

 

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Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal.

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