Friday, August 14, 2009


The other day my friend Jaclyn and I went to Red Squared, the art gallery in downtown Spring Green which is currently host to an exhibit by students of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hillside School of Architecture. The exhibit is great - photography, mixed media, oil paintings, architectural designs, and other projects fill the space.

This marked my second visit to the exhibit, and once again I was intrigued by the varying types of people I saw perusing the art just as much as I was intrigued by the art itself. There were, of course, the students whose art is hanging in the exhibit. They stood by the door, greeting guests, perhaps flanked by family members or friends, talking about their latest work, their education at the Hillside School, or other artists they know who are currently working in the "real world" else where in the country.

Both times now that I have seen the exhibit, I've also been in cohorts with an older set, a group that to my eyes seems uninterested in the purpose of the art and more concerned with being a part of the artistic, cultured world. They drink wine from plastic cups, inquiring about prices for certain works, and all the while they meander without committing themselves to their surroundings. They are aware of the art, but they do not seem to interact with it. I see no connection being made. Why are they there? The idea of being cultured, I think, can become misconstrued, and I see these people as a prime example of the misinterpretation. Suddenly, being part of these artists' domain becomes a recognition of status; they can afford to turn the art into a commodity with a monetary value which they believe will give them access to an artistic world to which they've given nothing of real worth in exchange . Perhaps that's a hasty generalization, but feel as though I see it happening. It may also be that I've got The Gift on the brain, and so now I'm constantly on the look out for artistic phonies.

I think that people-watching is fascinating. Lots of food for thought and a great source for creativity.

And then there are those perusing the gallery like myself and Jaclyn, a younger generation with much less money and perhaps a lot less concern for being considered "cultured" (what does it even mean to be "cultured," anyway?). We wander back and forth, considering each piece. I am fascinated most by the smaller projects which look, at first, as if they could have been created some lazy afternoon in front of the TV, but after a closer examination the intricacy of the detail is revealed and the art becomes a puzzle. How was this wall of tiles, each covered with 1/8" strips of magazine shreddings, brought to fruition? What message is this artist trying to relay? Does that pattern of the tiles as a whole mean something, or is it within each individual tile that an independent story lays waiting to be discovered? Are the patterns meant to be decoded? And why has this artist chosen to create large paintings using bright and cheerful colors which look charming and upbeat from a distance when the actual subject of these works, upon closer inspection, turns out to be the depressed neighborhoods of Brooklyn?

Most of the time, I can't really come up with answers for the questions the art seems to prompt. It all feels subjective anyway, since my own answers manifest themselves through my own personal perspective and experiences. But just the same, I'm happy that I'm able to consider the provocative nature of art. I hope that other people are doing so, too.

Going to the gallery reminded me how very much I enjoy all artistic mediums. I get really wound up in theatre a lot of the time, and I forget about the other forms of artistic expression that exist. I'm hoping that this school year I can make trips the Milwaukee Museum and perhaps to some in Chicago, too. I've also been thinking about Andy Warhol a lot lately, which is strange considering I really don't know much about him. So, I think I'll start exploring his life and work when I get back to school.

I don't think I'm going to have time to sleep this semester... but that's cool. Lots of reading, writing, and creating on the horizon; I really can't complain.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Edward Albee and other distractions

Is anybody reading this? Eh.

I spent most of my afternoon thumbing through course catalogs and schedules, trying to figure out what to do about this upcoming year. The result? Even if I only major in Theatre and get no other minor, I won't be graduating in the spring of 2010. Here's to the class of 2011, I guess. And that's enough about that.

I read a play this week that I found particularly interesting: "The Goat, or Who is Silvia?" by Edward Albee. He also wrote - among many others - "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woof," which I read back in 2007 and would like to read again soon after reading "The Goat." The very small amount of information supplied by my textbook about Albee gave me a bit of insight into his work overall. An absurdist playwright, Albee had an extreme dislike for conventional heterosexual marriage, and, for the most part, all things considered conventional in modern American life. "The Goat" certainly attacks conventional morals and marriage - the play follows Martin, a successful architect, who has just admitted to his best friend that he is having an affair with a goat named Sylvia. Obviously, his best friend is repulsed by this and immediately writes a letter to Martin's wife, Stevie, letting her in on the affair. From there, the play gets pretty bizarre. Emotions run high and irreversible damage is done to their marriage as Martin and Stevie confront the existence of Sylvia. Meanwhile, they deal with their 17 year old gay son, Billy, who is called a stupid faggot by both his father and his father's friend. To make a long story short, nobody comes out of this play remotely happy.

As the play develops, each of the family members (and Martin's friend, Ross) must confront their values and ideals and are left grasping at answers for what is right and what is wrong. They are emotionally charged characters who are torn between instinctual lust (or is it love?) and the restraints that society has put upon them - in this way, Albee seems to be asking his audience to reflect on their own values, too. How can we define love, and how can we define the role of sex within love? Sex, as a symbol, is extremely important in both modern society and in Albee's play, but perhaps for different reasons within each. The play's final scene, in which the son forgives his father for his actions and they share an embrace with evolves into a sensual kiss in front of Ross, is especially heartbreaking and somewhat repulsive, but at the same time it is very poignant. It stirs up a lot of questions and emotions and, for me, the answers are not readily available. The play takes time to digest and, as soon as possible, I hope to find someone else who is familiar with this play so that I can discuss it further.

After reading this play, I feel that I will definitely be reading more of Albee's work this semester as well as adding him to the list of playwrights I want to explore in my independent study I'm planning. It is my hope to work with a few dedicated students this spring on a research project that will examine modern/post-modern theatre in the US and in Europe. I want to compare and contrast their playwrights, styles, and themes, and, as a final project, present some sort of lecture which would include scene work from key playwrights and their respective plays that would represent the body of work we studied as a whole. I'm working with one of my professors, Lisa Kornetsky, on filling in the blanks and coming up with a better angle for this project, but for now that is my main objective. I really enjoy working with classical text, but I've found a niche with modern playwrights that I want to continue researching. I find modern drama to be more immediately relevant to today's issues and am also interested in learning more about how the boundaries of theatre performance are being crossed by current playwrights and their styles.

In other news, my writing has come to a bit of a standstill. I haven't done any writing in the last few days, and it certainly is apparent. I need to get back in the habit of writing a few pages every day to keep my brain well lubricated. I actually just read an article in the paper about Julie Powell, who provides the inspiration for the new film Julie and Julia. The film is based on the book, which is based on the blog written by Powell during the year she decided to cook every single one of Julia Child's recipes within 365 days. In the article, Powell explained that the blog gave her a chance to hone her writing skills and become confident in her writing. She hadn't planned on making a movie, or even being a cook, she just wanted to become a writer and the blog helped her cultivate her talents. I don't really know if I'll see the movie, but I thought the article was interesting anyhow.

I wish I could be a writer, too. But, of course, the best way to become something is to just do what it takes to get there. So, here I am. Something I read in The Gift recently reminds me of my current problem as a writer (I'm nearing the end of the book - hopefully I'll be done by middle of next week). In one section of the book, Hyde discusses the role of will power in the work of an artist. He explains that the initial inspiration for art must arrive when the will is suspended; an artist who forces or wills creation will not develop anything worth while. It is after the inspiration that will power comes into play because, more often than not, inspiration arrives in small snippets without any real coherence. An artist must piece them together to create a cohesive piece.

This is definitely my main problem right now. My play, as an example, came to me over many days of random "inspiration;" scenes and moods popped into my head at the strangest of times, and i often had to scramble to grab pen and paper to scribble them down before they disappeared. Although I saw how they could all fit together, the blanks still needed a bit of filling and, of course, nothing came to me in an order that made sense. I was very excited during this period. I thought I was really on to something and piled up a great deal of ideas, dialogue, and other nonsense. But when I sat down two days ago to begin the process of tieing things together, fleshing out characters, or even creating some sort of throughline for the story, I felt like someone threw a wrench into my machinery and I was all jammed up. I'm up against self-doubt, a short attention span, and many other outside forces that could hinder me from stringing my ideas together. My hope is that I can start writing about a page or two a day for this play, not necessarily in any order, but just expanding sections I've already roughed out, with the hope that it will get easier every day. I may start writing here every day, too. But if I do, I will be cutting back on how much I write. I need to learn to be more succinct - think a thought, develop it, and share it, simply and without too much superfluous language.

Will power, man. Will power.

That's all for now. I hope things get a bit more exciting in the days to come, though I'm sure they won't. Hopefully next week I'll have some short story or section of my play to share here.

Moving back to Racine in about 16 days, though. Weird.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Double wammy Thursday...

I thought I'd throw another post on here that might shed some light on what I've been doing lately, rather than just gushing about personal epiphanies and the like.

It has recently occurred to me that my summer is about three weeks away from completion. My contract is up on the 29 of this month and then it will be time to pack up the very few belongings I took with me on this journey and make my way back across to the state to Racine to begin another school year.

To be more specific, it's my senior year. Kind of. There is no way I'll make it out in two semesters if I want to graduate with a Theatre major and a minor in, well, anything, really - but for the moment I'm hoping for graphic design. The art department at Parkside, much like at any school I would imagine, is very popular. It is host to a slew of talented professors from all over the country who have somehow found themselves nestled between Milwaukee and Chicago at this small Wisconsin public school. From what I see and what I hear, the program is great and provides many great resources, and I think I could learn a great deal from their graphic design professors. Getting into the program is proving difficult, at least for now. I waited until the end of May to ditch my English minor in favor of this more "useful" one (though truly my reasons for leaving English behind have nothing to do with use, but more to do with academic/creative engagement and stimulation), and now nearly all the art classes are overflowing with students, leaving me with a handful of classes that, if I do make this switch into the art department, will be useless to me. With only three weeks to go and a newly-received email from Parkside announcing that their online system will be down for most of August, I'm a little panicked about changing my schedule around and figuring out what exactly is happening with my fall semester.

At the same time, though, I don't feel too bothered. It will be what it will be, and I guess if I really get screwed over I can take a bunch of online classes to fill the void. I'm trying not to get too worked up over it. As long as I can take the art classes at some point and get out of Kenosha before 2011, I'll be satisfied.

Earlier this week I experienced a bit of a breakthrough in my writing - I abandoned my short stories (for the moment) in lieu of a play that began to fester in and eventually overwhelm my thoughts this past Monday. I wrote about 15 pages out hand-written the other night, most of which are just quick short-hand descriptions of key scenes and characters. It's slightly influenced by Tracy Letts and Sam Shepard, but I have a feeling that my writing won't be nearly as dark. It will be a family drama with some comic moments, but ultimately a coming of age story about two siblings who are ripped apart by adolescence (sexuality, the ever-looming "real world," and an increasing gap between parent and child) who, through each other, must find a way to regain individual identity in order to find bigger and better things (though they know not what, at least for the time being). For now, the working title is "Far from the Tree." We'll see where it goes. I'm really excited about it, actually! I think that writing plays is exceedingly difficult, mostly because I know that as a writer I tend to focus on details that relate to developing locations and moods; I use metaphors too much and (as I've mentioned in a previous blog) I tend to let the action stagnate. Writing a play requires not only the ability to create action, but to do it primarily through dialogue - a very daunting task. But I'm doing it, and will keep working with it for as long as I can. My hope would be to find some Parkside actors to workshop bits and pieces of it with me during the first semester so that I can spend a portion of my winter break refining it and working toward tieing together loose ends. Cool!

This week has been a relaxing one, as far as work goes. Last week Noel Coward's Hay Fever had its tech rehearsals and first preview performance, and this week marks tech time for Henry V. I am not involved in either of these shows, so I've worked, at most, about 3 hours a day. I spent most of my time sleeping in order to catch up on some z's and also cure a bit of a cough I aquired a few weeks ago. I also discovered a new television show on Discovery Channel called The Colony, an experiment which puts a handful of strangers in a post-apocolyspse scenario in which they must rebuild their "society" and survive without outside help. It takes place in what appears to be a gaint abandoned industrial park in California. It's really interesting. Oh, entertainment.

I've also been taking walks a lot, disappearing on my own to just be away from everything. I've really come to enjoy living a more "simplified" life - as simplified as things can be in this day and age at any rate. It's just good to be away from the malls and department stores and all those other things I'm used to cushioning my life with. I cook for myself, get a lot more exercise every day than I normally would in a city where I can drive right up to any building I want to enter, and the fresh air has done wonders for my nerves. I am much more at peace these days. There is a lot less anxiety. Perhaps I'm just letting my brain float away into la la land, and my re-entry into "regular life" this fall will be some kind of weird jolt to my senses, but I doubt it. For now I'm enjoying appreciating a quiet existence, and I hope that this ability to simply be content with my thoughts and a good book to keep me company will stick with me when I return to the chaos.

On my most recent walk I took some pictures with my shoddy digital camera - I used photoshop to try and spruce them up a bit, but I'm definitely ready to upgrade my camera (didn't I just say I'm happy living a more simplified life? Oops). The photos were taken near my summer residence in Plain, WI - I will post them sometime soon, once I figure out the best place to post them online. It's a beautiful place, and a lovely sight every morning when I wake up to get ready for my day.

And one man in his time plays many parts

Although I am not doing any acting this summer, I feel like I've really had some time to digest and better understand the acting principles I received during the last school year. Or, if not better understand them, at least gain a better perspective of how they serve me as an actor (and, of course, as a human). A lot of what we learned in my acting classes through lecture was that acting is 'doing' - that is to say that an actor's job is to create change in another individual by putting action to the words -

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature - Hamlet Act III, Scene ii

- in order to create a reaction within other actors. So then, of course, that actor receiving action must be receptive to that actor's intentions and react equally (or perhaps with even more intensity) in a physical and emotional manner.

Here, the word 'vulnerable' comes into play. The idea of being vulnerable was tossed around in class quite a bit, and I spent a large amount of time during my rehearsals for The Seagull trying to master my own vulnerability in order to open myself up to the emotional powers of my comrades.

Looking back, after finishing the school year, reflecting on my performances (the challenges, the successes, and, of course, those moments when I could not take myself to the 'place' I knew I needed to go to), and observing the remarkable talents of the American Players Theatre acting company, I visualize this idea of vulnerability in a different way. I've discovered that I never really understood being vulnerable as simply being receptive; instead I viewed my own vulnerability as an actor in the same way I perceive my vulnerability in every day life. That is to say, I bred fear within myself whose origins could not be seperated between the world of the play and the world that I, the actor, reside in. Instead of being receptive, I often times muffled my own ability to connect with my collegues as characters because I carried energy from the outside world into my performance.

During my talent review at the end of second semester, Jamie, my acting professor, told me that I always push myself in new directions, but I seldom know how to really get to where I'm going; there is too much "Chad" in what I do, and I need to let go of that.

Colleen Madden, an actor at APT who I have admired for several years, discussed with me her graduate training, where the only true theory she was taught to follow was to "just speak the words." I feel that Colleen truly puts this theory into motion - her actions are simple, driven by her words and her ability to penetrate an other with a fine sense of focused purpose. She is receptive without being fearful and vulnerable without losing her footing. In person, she is perhaps no taller than 5'4" with a tiny build and spritely demeanor, but on stage she is immediately 10 feet tall and her stance is solid, never stumbling. I find her captivating and certainly a force to be reckoned with on the stage. Her art seems effortless (though I know that she rehearses to the bone, always pushing herself to the limits and testing her abilities) during performance. It is truly and honor to see her on the stage.

She's really cool to sit and chat with, too, which is also a plus. She is just a person, and I like that very much.

What I must regain in order to speak simply and be receptive, to create action from idle text and drive toward an objective and avoid all superfluous exersion, is a sense of groundedness; a sense of complete power and confidence within myself. In the past year I have grown tremendously, perhaps learning more about myself and this ridiculous art that I pursue than I really thought possible. But now that I have had the priveledge of expanding my mind, I see how much more there is (and always will be) to learn, and I also see how everything I experience in my life plays a role in what I can give back to others through work in the theatre.

In a way, I'm still very focused on myself - I want to improve my skills, both artistically and academically - but I've also lifted the weight off my shoulders; I do not need to wear my vulnerability like a veil of self-consciousness. Instead, I can utilize my ability to receive experience and emotion and reflect it, as Shakespeare has said, like a mirror onto nature.

It's hard to explain how the ego plays a role in what I do (what I try to do, what I hope to do for years to come); for a very long time, I took to the stage because of the elation I felt from a round of applause or a burst of laughter, and it was during this time that I never really understood how much work was involved in the craft of acting. Now, I shy away from those self-indulgent aspects of theatre I once enjoyed - I am no longer tickled by those who might gush over my own comedic timing or something or other - instead I am pleased when audiences walk away feeling as though they've been affected by the action of the play, that it has given them ideas to consider and a new perspective they might apply to their own lives. I work harder now in the classroom and rehearsal hall, because I want to be the best that I can be for my own sake. But when I am performing, I think that from now on I will always strive to have the power to stand my ground and address an equally receptive audience. I want to give back, because giving creates such a satisfying feeling within my self.