lunes, 23 de septiembre de 2013

David Maler, director, talks about the staging of "American Dreams and an Elephant"


He was busy writing when I entered the café and walked up to his table hesitantly. “Are you David Maler, the theater director?” We had agreed to meet in the La Paz bar-café in Buenos Aires, still a hang-out for artists and egg-heads. The subject? “American Dreams and an Elephant” and the more evasive subject of theater, how actors are like magicians because they create something from nothing.

“My name is David Maler, I’m 23 years old and I’m from the Dominican Republic. I was born in a little fisherman’s village on the southeast of the island. A very picturesque place, no more than 500 people, and my father is an artist and maybe that’s why he chose the place—no electricity, no television, no phones. I grew up there but also travelled around with him and so I have lived in those two very contrasting environments.

“And then somewhere along the line theater appeared...”

“I was a pretty lazy student, really laid back, but then the school put on a show once a year in our school and that was the only time I would work as hard as I could. It seemed to come naturally. Then when I was 16 I did a musical—Jesus Christ Superstar. It wasn’t a big production but I would drive two hours to take lessons with a singing coach. And I realized that that was the first time I really wante to work for something.

“What kind of theater inspires you?”

“Before I graduated I found through a friend of my father’s an amazing theater coach, called Jack Walter, from the Actor’s Studio in New York. He comes from Method and studied with Lee Strasberg and other key figures in the theater world but developed his own approach. So that’s my way to work usually but this play—American Dreams and an Elephant, being played at the El Tinglado teatro in Buenos Aires City—is diffirent because it is a comedy. I do love Russian playwrites though, for all of the dark turmoil that appears in their plays.

“Perhaps we might refer also to the internal effect that theater has had on you.”

“We all grow up supressing so many things, but theater has that almost therapeutic effect of allowing those emotions to flow that you have been holding back for so long, although I have always felt that the line should be very clearly established between psychology and theater.”

“Where did the idea for the show come from?”

“Well, Dennis Weisbrot, the author, went to see a play I was acting in. Later on we began working together. But initially “American Dreams” was directed by a woman. A problem appeared concerning the necessay adaptation of the play. It could be presented in any city at any time, but the danger is the possible loss of the strong criticism of U.S. society. Anyway, I dropped out of the project for a while but kept in touch with Dennis. Five or six months ago he called me up and said listen I want to start this up again and asked me if I wanted to direct the play. I re-read it and, well, I was a bit nervious because I had never directed a play before that. So I read it and re-read it until five O’Clock in the morning and then called him up and said: “I’ll do it.” That’s how it all started. “

“How did you go about it?”

“Initially the idea was that everyone would direct his own sketch. But there had to be someone to make sure that a line went through the whole thing. It’s difficult because the show is not lineal: you have four sketches, each completely different. I received a lot of help from the actors telling me how they saw their roles in each scene.”

“In your opinion what is the underlying idea in the four sketches?”

“It has to due with the processes that are taking place in U.S. society, so if you are northamerican you can relate to it more but I think a lot of the processes which are happening are taking place all over the world, globalization, alienation, what is happening at the workplace, information, technology, the effects of war and what that is going to mean for future generations. The show touches on all of these taboo things which are there but we don’t really talk about them. “

“The show appears to have many different messages, not only what is in the script...”

“It isn’t just saying the lines but how you say them. The characters are very cartoonish. Physically we had to make clear to the audience what kind of characters we are dealing with. That called for over the top actions, to the physical actions, to small details, the movement of the hand, how the actors look at the audience. As they say, the eyes are the windows of the soul and in thise case it was extremely important to seek complicity with the audience in circumstances that are very uncomfortable. It is as if the characters were seeking approval. One thing that appears frequently in the sketches is ritual, how actions are repeated robot like and that is a good technique for comedy.”

David Maler, director of “American Dreams and an Elephant.”

On stage Wednesdays at 8pm at the El Tinglado teatro in Buenos Aires City, 948 Mario Bravo. Booking: 4863 1188.

jueves, 19 de septiembre de 2013

Henri Bergson:"An essay on the meaning of the comic"

At first glance it might appear that comedy is easier than drama; yet an exploration of the nature of good comedy must necessarily lead us to a contrary conclusion. Comedy has its rules; for example the French writer Henri Bergson believed an important ingredient of humor is an involuntary act; likewise the mechanical aspects of life. The following extract is from Bergson's "An essay on the meaning of the comic:"

"A man, running along the street, stumbles and falls; the passers-by burst out laughing. They would not laugh at him, I imagine, could they suppose that the whim had suddenly seized him to sit down on the ground. They laugh because his sitting down is involuntary.

"Consequently, it is not his sudden change of attitude that raises a laugh, but rather the involuntary element in this change,--his clumsiness, in fact. Perhaps there was a stone on the road. He should have altered his pace or avoided the obstacle. Instead of that, through lack of elasticity, through absentmindedness and a kind of physical obstinacy, AS A RESULT, IN FACT, OF RIGIDITY OR OF MOMENTUM, the muscles continued to perform the same movement when the circumstances of the case called for something else. That is the reason of the man’s fall, and also of the people’s laughter.

"Now, take the case of a person who attends to the petty occupations of his everyday life with mathematical precision. The objects around him, however, have all been tampered with by a mischievous wag, the result being that when he dips his pen into the inkstand he draws it out all covered with mud, when he fancies he is sitting down on a solid chair he finds himself sprawling on the floor, in a word his actions are all topsy-turvy or mere beating the air, while in every case the effect is invariably one of momentum. Habit has given the impulse: what was wanted was to check the movement or deflect it. He did nothing of the sort, but continued like a machine in the same straight line. 

"The victim, then, of a practical joke is in a position similar to that of a runner who falls,--he is comic for the same reason. The laughable element in both cases consists of a certain MECHANICAL INELASTICITY, just where one would expect to find the wide-awake adaptability and the living pliableness of a human being. The only difference in the two cases is that the former happened of itself, whilst the latter was obtained artificially. In the first instance, the passer-by does nothing but look on, but in the second the mischievous wag intervenes.

"All the same, in both cases the result has been brought about by an external circumstance. The comic is therefore accidental: it remains, so to speak, in superficial contact with the person. How is it to penetrate within? The necessary conditions will be fulfilled when mechanical rigidity no longer requires for its manifestation a stumbling-block which either the hazard of circumstance or human knavery has set in its way, but extracts by natural processes, from its own store, an inexhaustible series of opportunities for externally revealing its presence. Suppose, then, we imagine a mind always thinking of what it has just done and never of what it is doing, like a song which lags behind its accompaniment. 

"Let us try to picture to ourselves a certain inborn lack of elasticity of both senses and intelligence, which brings it to pass that we continue to see what is no longer visible, to hear what is no longer audible, to say what is no longer to the point: in short, to adapt ourselves to a past and therefore imaginary situation, when we ought to be shaping our conduct in accordance with the reality which is present. This time the comic will take up its abode in the person himself; it is the person who will supply it with everything--matter and form, cause and opportunity. Is it then surprising that the absent-minded individual--for this is the character we have just been describing-- has usually fired the imagination of comic authors? 

"When La Bruyere came across this particular type, he realised, on analysing it, that he had got hold of a recipe for the wholesale manufacture of comic effects. As a matter of fact he overdid it, and gave us far too lengthy and detailed a description of Menalque, coming back to his subject, dwelling and expatiating on it beyond all bounds. The very facility of the subject fascinated him. Absentmindedness, indeed, is not perhaps the actual fountain-head of the comic, but surely it is contiguous to a certain stream of facts and fancies which flows straight from the fountain-head. It is situated, so to say, on one of the great natural watersheds of laughter."

jueves, 12 de septiembre de 2013

In one of his most celebrated statements on the nature of theatrical art, British director, playwrite and student of theatre Peter Brook, suggests that acting has to do with a tiny quiver inside one's body. This notion leads him to give us some extremely important advise on the nature of theatrical art. The following quotation comes from the chaper "The Immediate Space" in Brook's "The Empty Space," published in 1972 by Pelican Books.

"Acting begins with a tiny inner movement so slight that it is almost completely invisible. We see this when we compare film and stage acting: a good stage actor can act in films, not necessarily vice versa. What happens? I make a proposition to an actor's imagination such as, 'She is leaving you.' At this moment deep in him a subtle movement occurs. Not only in actors. The movement occurs in anyone, but in most non-actors the movement is too slight to manifest itself in any way: the actor is a more sensitive instrument and in him the tremor is detected. In the cinema the great magnifier, the lens, describes this to the film that notes it down, so for the cinema the first flicker is all. In early theatre rehearsals, the impulse may get no further than a flicker--even if the actor wishes to amplify it, all sorts of extraneous psychic psychological tensions can intervene--then the current is short-circuited, earthed. For this flicker to pass into the whole organism, a total relaxation must be there, either god-given or brought about by work. This, in short, is what rehearsals are all about. In this way actors are mediumistic: the idea suddenly envelops the whole in an act of possession: in Grotowski's terminology the actors are 'penetrated'--penetrated by themselves. In very young actors, the obstacles are sometimes very elastic, penetration can happen with surprising ease and they can give subtle and complex encarnations that are the despair of those who have evolved their skill over years. Yet later, with success and experience, the same young actors build up their barriers to themselves."

Our comment:  The acting experience subjects us to a world that goes beyond the one we know. Everything is different. When we improvise we take possession of a (usually) empty space. We invent characters, bring them to life; we imagine places, perhaps castles or offices or beaches where we have never been. We do things we probably would never do in real life. We are allowed to use our voices in sharp contrast to the way we do so outside the rehearsal room. Instead of fretting and stewing about "what is correct" we set about constructing something believable. And we do it together. What we do depends to a great extent on what our companions do because theatre is a social game. When we think we can't do it, someone claps and praises us for how well we have acted. We think we know how to act and we stumble along as if we were blind, as if we had attempted acting for the first time. Then, as Brook so nicely puts it, "a tiny inner movement" begins...and we are on our way!

martes, 3 de septiembre de 2013

Interviews with students of the Buenos Aires Stage and Camera Workshop

 What do the students feel about their progress at the workshop on theatre and acting before cameras which began in Buenos Aires three months ago? We have asked them their opinions and here are some of the answers:

Demian Renzulli:

 What led you decide to participate in the theatre workshop?

I needed to speak  English regularly, because my work requires it. While living abroad for a while I found out that speaking with native people is a quite different experience from studying the language at an institute. When I would return to BA and stop speaking in English for a couple of months, I'd feel I was losing touch with that spontaneity you need to sound natural.
I also watch theatre plays regularly and I love reading. Some of my favorite writers (Wilde, Amis, Bukowski) wrote in English. I  was curious about experimenting with something completely new when I heard about the workshop. I considered it to be the best way to connect up all of these things..

 Do you feel this experience has improved your English? Has it increased your knowledge about acting and creativity?

I have always admired the work of many famous actors and heard stories about guys like Day Lewis or Dustin Hoffman who go very far out to get into the skin of the characters they represent. I always found that very interesting but at the same time, a bit hard to believe.

After taking some classes and having a glimpse of what the process involves, I understand that it's not just memorizing a few lines and going to stage trying to look convincing. The whole thing includes a bit of technique, creativity, and specially team work; it's really hard to achieve good results at the end of the process.

Concerning English, I think tjhis is a good combination bringing together reading and speaking. You likewise learn a lot by listening to your fellow actors, observing how each actor handles the different situations, specially while improvising.

Does doing both theatre and acting in front of cameras produce confusion or uncertainity? Which do you prefer and why?

I find it a bit harder to do it in front of cameras. The notion about ignoring that object that's always pointing at you as if it wasn't there, is a bit confusing, really. You also have to control your body and be careful with your voice and watch out for other noises.

In movies, you can take a shot many times and perhaps the final product depends more on the director: he decides how many takes will be made and which will finally go into the movie.
On the contrary, in theatre I think there's more freedom. Also, what people finally enjoy (or not), depends mainly on the actors and what happens in real time. If you mess up you can't go back and do it again.

I think from the point of view of an actor, I would say that I prefer theatre but even so I find it very interesting to learn about filmaking and all that stuff.


 What led you to participate in the theatre workshop?
My love for the English language along with a need I felt to enhance my ability to express myself better –in any language- was what made me decide to participate in the theatre workshop. As a journalist, I have always enjoyed reading British/American news articles. Besides, I like contemporary English literature (particularly authors such as David Lodge and Philip Roth, who write satires). As before taking up this workshop, I had never attended theatre classes, I thought (and still think) that in a foreign language I might be able to lose my inhibitions more easily. In a word, joining the theatre workshop is part of a personal quest for both enjoyment and self-development.   

 Do you feel this experience has improved your English? Has it increased your knowledge about acting and creativity?
While I didn’t take this workshop in order to improve my English, it certainly has helped! As regards my knowledge about acting, this is my first experience, so I know that there’s a long way left to run. However, I feel that I immediately experienced an improvement in my creativity. The activities in the workshop have helped me a lot to be less stuck in my ways and become more mindful of everyday life (perhaps looking for ideas to perform better)!

 Does doing both theatre and acting in front of cameras produce confusion or uncertainity? Which do you prefer and why?

It’s been quite difficult for me to act in front of cameras, particularly because of my complete lack of experience in “ordinary” acting. I guess that, as soon as I learn the basics (which is taking me quite a long time!), I will enjoy it. Anyway this experience is going to be very useful for my professional career –as a journalist—I mean learning how to act in front of cameras can obviously be important for journalists!  Nevertheless, for now I think I prefer developing my skills in for acting on stage. But one never knows. Maybe later on I will change my mind!


What made you decide to participate in the theatre workshop?

I started loving theatre at a very early age, when I attended an English school where our school plays were all in English. After I finished School I started began studying theatre in different Theatre Schools and also took some seminaries. However, when I heard about the possibility to act in front of cameras in English, I wanted to try it because it would give me the opportunity to do what I had done in school but now as a grown-up. As I don´t often use the language now, this is an opportuity to freshen up or  practice my English in the way I most enjoy, through acting. I think this workshop will also be important for my my acting CV.

Do you feel this experience has improved your English? Has it increased your knowledge about acting and creativity?
 In my case, I’m not sure if it has improved my English but it has helped to  keep in practice and use the language well. Concerning the acting aspect, I think I’m learning  how to act in front of cameras, as I feel I am already attached to the theatrical way of acting. For example, I’m getting more used to the idea of economizing my actions and facial expressions. Sometimes I´m really afraid of exaggerating things, and maybe before the camera things must be a bit more “bigger” in order for the spectator to notice those actions and reactions. The idea of the workshop is to learn by playing, to play in order to find the character we are working on, so exaggerating things is part of the exploration we carry out in working on  our characters.  

Does doing both theatre and acting in front of cameras produce confusion or uncertainty? Which do you prefer and why?

I love the idea of being in front of cameras, always did. But now that I have the experience of both theatre and cameras, I really enjoying it and believe it´s useful for my acting overall experience. Of the two I realize I prefer theatre, because that´s what I always have always done.I feel more comfortable and have always enjoyed being there at that exact moment, all the feelings it provokes and the public in front of us. I prefer the whole story taking place right there, than filming on scenes. Of course I understand that´s how it is working with cameras and find it interesting and can benifit from mis stakes; yet I prefer to improvise something fast on the moment if I’ve made a mistake and carry on, because solving issues on stage is part of being a theatre actor.