Saturday, October 22, 2011

Staged Reading of "Maidenhead" at Brooklyn College

On Friday I had the privilege of reading the role of Angela in Brooklyn College MFA Playwright Kim Davies' new play, Maidenhead. 

In a feudal, alternate-universe United States, high-school prom queen Angela Johnson is a vestal virgin gone rogue, dragging her gay bestie and her father's AmEx to the big bad city and throwing them all into high-stakes crime.  Nothing is sacred when you're sharp, subtle, and a shapely seventeen, and schoolgirl Angela knows how to play for keeps.  If beauty is fleeting and virginity is a woman's treasure, she'll buy low, sell high, and take her payment in unmarked bills.  But even when the future seems most certain, Angela can't escape her past.  In K. Davies's sharp new satire, sex sells, winner takes all, and nobody comes out clean.

Directed by MFA directing alumnus, Welker White, curated by Andy Buck, an MA candidate in Theater History, with design consultation by MFA Design candidate, Tatsuki Nakamura, the cast includes current students and acting alumni Emmanuel Elpenord, Paula Jon deRose, Michael Colby Jones, Jonathon Maldonado, Aaron Mednick, Mervyn Morris, Jeremy Ping, Keelie Sheridan, and Darius Stone. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

William Alfred Reading

The Brooklyn College Library recently announced it's collection of personal letters to and from playwright William Alfred (former Brooklyn College professor), celebrated by a staged reading of several of the letters from Gertrude Stein, Lillian Hellman and others. I was asked to read a letter by Elizabeth Hardwick, a friend of Alfred's going through a difficult divorce. 

The readers and directors at the performance: from L to R Professors Robert Cohen and Judylee Vivier, MFA Actors Jeremy Ping and Aaron Mednick, MFA Director Josh Penzell and MFA Actors Patrick McCormick and myself!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Friar's Foundation Adopt-A-Scholar Reception

So many updates! Here's the first!

Last night I along with several other scholars from NYC arts programs were honored by the Friar's Club as a part of their Adopt-A-Scholar Program. Friar's Club members generously donated scholarship monies to help us finance our studies in our chosen fields, and I am so honored to be one of the recipients! 

Each college had one student perform and one student speak- I was lucky enough to be selected to perform a monologue from my one-woman show, A Woman in Progress. I was STOKED to get to perform in front of such an esteemed audience. I was also mildly terrified...

In the bathroom getting ready to perform. NERVES!

My fellow 1st year MFA, Jonny, was selected to speak on behalf of the Brooklyn College contingency- he was a hit! He expressed his gratitude sincerely and humbly, but not without some chop-busting- it IS the Friar's Club (you know, the ones who throw the Celebrity Roasts)- laughter is important...

And then... it was my turn! My monologue was very well received, and I truly enjoyed performing it!

From the very bottom of my heart, thank you to the Friar's Club for your commitment to helping young artists finance the training they need to hone their skills. Education is truly the most generous gift one can give. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Some love for my fellow multi-hypenates!

Some Actors Work Both Sides of a Script

Robert Wright for The New York Times
AT the end of a 90-minute conversation Jesse Eisenberg announced that what he really would like to do is write a musical. To which Zoe Kazan responded, “That’s the most impressive thing you’ve said this whole time.” Mr. Eisenberg answered back by listing other comments he had made. “Musical theater totally trumps that,” she retorted.
Merrick Morton/Sony — Columbia Pictures
Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Joseph Mazzello in a scene from the film “The Social Network.”
Ms. Kazan, 28, and Mr. Eisenberg, who will be 28 next month, trade barbs in a way that only people who run in the same circles would. These actors have known each other for years. They are both slightly built New Yorkers known for intelligent performances dramatizing eccentric anxiety. Mr. Eisenberg is more famous because of blockbuster movies like “The Social Network,” but Ms. Kazan has more experience onstage, starring most recently in the revival of “Angels in America.” But they both give the impression that they are younger than they are, of being indie even when acting in Hollywood or on Broadway. Now they have something else in common: They have each written a play that has a debut next month.
Ms. Kazan’s “We Live Here,” a dysfunctional-family drama set before a wedding, opens atManhattan Theater Club on Oct. 12, the same day that Mr. Eisenberg’s “Asuncion” begins previews at the Cherry Lane Theater. Mr. Eisenberg stars in his comedy, a Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production, as a naïve blogger whose ideals clash with his life experience. On a recent morning they chatted with Jason Zinoman over coffee. These are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. It’s a cliché for actors to say, “I want to direct,” but less often do I hear them say, “I want to write a play.” Why did you do it?
ZOE KAZAN I always wrote. My parents are writers. It just seemed like something people did. I took a writing class in college, liked it, and my first year out of school I couldn’t get a job, so I wrote a play. I never wanted to be a playwright. I just didn’t say no to any of my interests. I don’t have any hobbies.
JESSE EISENBERG People ask me what my hobbies are in interviews, and I always say biking. But all I bike for is to get to rehearsal more quickly. I have no hobbies either.
KAZAN Way to go. I bet you and I would make fascinating dinner companions.
EISENBERG Pure narcissism. We could have separate dinners alone.
KAZAN I am my own wife.
Q. Jesse, tell me about your play.
EISENBERG It’s about a writer obsessed with big issues but who doesn’t do anything about them. I do what I like to do, explore parts of myself that I am embarrassed by. I grew up in an apolitical household. I never left the country. When I became an adult, I started traveling and became interested in politics, and I probably talked about things in a silly, ignorant way. So I explored this in myself and exaggerated it for comedic effect.
Q. How exaggerated is it? One of the main characters, the one played by you, gets mugged and then sympathizes with his attackers.
EISENBERG I was mugged one night in New York and slammed into a concrete pillar, and I did an interview where I said I completely understand why they attacked me. It was a poor, black neighborhood. Someone sent me an article saying: “You ignorant idiot. It’s more offensive to defend these people. It’s more racist to defend them.” He’s right, and that is the impetus for the first scene.
Q. Jesse’s play deals with a relationship between brothers, while yours is about an equally fraught sibling relationship.
KAZAN I have a sister who I am close to. I was interested in the idea of the sister relationship in general. I wrote a first draft in fall of 2009. MTC commissioned it, and they gave me some money. When I was acting in “A Behanding [in Spokane],” I was going in five hours early and working on it there.
Q. Did Martin McDonagh [the author of “Behanding’] give feedback?
KAZAN He read it.
EISENBERG [Imitating Mr. McDonagh] How come no one gets his head sawed off in this?
KAZAN You don’t know, Jesse, you haven’t read it.
EISENBERG Listen, I read the play, but I think you left out a page where someone gets his tongue cut out and stapled to his eye.
KAZAN I guess I don’t really seek notes from a broad range of people. It’s more like we were becoming friends, and I was going early and he was like: What are you doing?
Q. Jesse, who do you give work to?
EISENBERG If I think my play is bad, I’ll send it to my mother because she only gives me compliments. If I think it’s good, jeez, I don’t know. My mom calls me every 16 minutes, and she says: “That’s great sweetie. You’re my favorite child out of the three of you. Why are you not president?”
Q. Zoe, you grew up with two screenwriters as parents.
KAZAN My parents will sit down at the dining-room table and give notes on each other’s scripts. It’s the worst thing in the world. It’s like the house is burning down. It’s awful for my sister and me.
EISENBERG You should give your script to my mother. She would be real encouraging.
KAZAN I would love that. Then maybe I would be her favorite child.
Q. Which is the biggest challenge for you as a writer: character, plot or language?
EISENBERG Aspects of each. It’s a cop-out of an answer. At each point I come to a problem with a plot point or character, it seems insurmountable. Or is it unsurmountable? Not to be surmounted? So language is my answer.
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Zoe Kazan in a scene from Martin McDonagh's play “A Behanding in Spokane” on Broadway in 2010.
KAZAN I think action should be revealed through character, so if you have a plot problem, it’s probably a character problem. It’s fun and easy to write language, but there were things I loved that I had to get rid of because they are no longer carrying their weight.
Q. Does the fact you are actors have any impact on the amount of trust you have that your cast will find the right subtext in your lines?
KAZAN My rewriting process has been a lot about taking away the explicit and letting the subtext speak for itself. Sam [Gold, who is directing the play] is pushing me to be brave in pursuit of that. I think it’s hard for an actor.
Q. One thing that struck me about both your plays is that in an age when plays are becoming more cinematic in structure, yours are not.
KAZAN We both work in film, so if we are going to write a play, why not write a play?
EISENBERG There’s something strange about theater. My characters consistently demonize elitism, but of course it’s taking place in a theater where only so many people can see it. I’ve been in silly popcorn movies — the kind of thing that as an actor you might feel embarrassed about — but those movies reach many more people. In a play you’re basically performing for rich people.
Q. Broadway was once the ultimate in success for a young dramatist. How do you think of it now?
KAZAN Broadway is different now than in our parents’ generation. The number of straight plays opening there now is so small compared to the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. I see many more plays Off Broadway by dint of ticket price and what’s being produced. If it costs more, it has to reach a larger audience. That’s why there aren’t more risky plays on Broadway.
EISENBERG I don’t consider Broadway for us — as theatergoers. I never even consider going there to see something.
KAZAN I want to see “Book of Mormon,” but for $400? Look, [turning to Mr. Eisenberg] for 60 bucks, 65 bucks I can see your play, right?
EISENBERG $75, actually. Listen I know someone who can get you in.
KAZAN $75? I’m not going to see your play.
EISENBERG Hey, I was in a zombie movie.
Q. Zoe, you also wrote a movie called “He Loves Me” that is supposed to come out next year. What is it about?
KAZAN It’s a magic realist romantic comedy. Paul [Dano, who is her boyfriend] plays a Jonathan Safran Foer-type writer who has writer’s block. He has one big novel and can’t follow it up. He starts to dream about this girl and then magical high jinks ensue. But it’s rooted in reality and comes from my experience. I was in relationships in my late teens with much older men and always felt like a piece of clay. But when I got older, I wasn’t so fluid as a person anymore. My relationships got better but harder. I wanted to write about that.
Q. Jesse, you just finished shooting a Woody Allen movie currently titled “The Bop Decameron.” Why do actors always adopt his mannerisms when starring in his films? Is it because his humor is so influential or is it in the cadences of the lines?
EISENBERG Those two plus a third reason, which is that after each take, he’s giving you notes and his voice is so iconic and funny and specific. Its impossible not to [imitate it]. You also want to indulge fully in being in a Woody Allen movie. He would say, “Don’t be hamstrung by dialogue and say whatever you want.” And I just end up making his jokes. At one point I realized after I did a scene that I made a joke from “Manhattan.”
KAZAN Steal from the best, man.
EISENBERG Just not in front of him. Go down the block first.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

MFA Acting Week 3

Monday 9/12

Today marked our first improv session and I can tell I am going to love it. This course will serve more as an opportunity to become acquainted with our own unique individual creative processes than to 'teach improv'. We discussed some of the personal obstacles we as actors encounter- doubting and denying impulses and fearing that we aren't enough (original enough, funny enough, clever enough, giving enough...). We often forget to stop and realize how much more energy we expend when we restrain ourselves and restrict our impulses, rather than allowing ourselves to be without judgement. Our professor used a beautiful analogy that resonated deeply with me- if we think of ourselves as houses, our experiences and emotions are stored in different rooms, some of which we allow free access to, others of which are locked and guarded. It's important that we know what is in each room of our house so that we can access and call upon the things that our work demands from us. 

Tuesday 9/13

We continued working on the production of consonant sounds and had a mini-group quiz. Everyone passed!

Wednesday 9/14

Our readings for this course gave us background information on the Alexander Technique, including how Alexander himself discovered the principles he would go on to teach. We discussed the startle response- the body's physiological and neurological pre-choreographed response to danger, and how this physically manifests in a species that is constantly living under stress. The righting reflex, which the body naturally does when the danger is removed, manifests in the head and neck leading the spine into length. We also began to discuss the cycle of awareness, inhibition and direction.

We did a facial mirroring exercise today where we sat across from a partner and conversed with them while taking on any facial manipulations we observed in them- raised eyebrows, wrinkled foreheads, etc. More than imitating, it required a release into our partner which necessitated working with ease. This allowed us to be more open when observing and being observed. We did some more improv work and discussed the impact that place has on our behavior.

Thursday 9/15

We had a double speech session today as our voice teacher is away working with the RSC. We continued work on our consonant sounds and then played with the power that different sounds have in different words.

Today we discussed the elements of the theatre auditory- sound, tempo, pitch, volume, stress and phrasing. We expiremented with this and then recapped all of the elements- kinetic, auditory and visual, through which we will analyze scenes and characters in the future. We finished up our abstract art/ movement exercise as we began to think of ourselves not only intellectually but also as physical entities with lines, forms, shapes, etc. As actors we are both the sculptor and the sculpture. 

Friday, September 16, 2011