Wednesday, August 29, 2007

End Game by Samuel Beckett

I saw "End Game" by Samuel Beckett at Shakespeare Santa Cruz in August 2007. This was my second attempt at watching this play. My first attempt was ten years ago at Berkeley Rep, but my husband insisted on leaving during a break. I am glad I saw it a second time all the way through. I think I understand it now.

What tripped me up about the play was my visceral reaction, the first time, to the image of an elderly mother and father without legs, living inside garbage cans.

I was repulsed the first time.

The second time, I saw the wry humor of the situation. "End Game" in this play refers to the final stages of life. The next stage for the elderly couple was going to be death, so removing their legs and putting them in the garbage can was a humorous, and definitely undignified way, of demonstrating that they are going to die -- cut off at the legs, put out with the garbage -- life is done with them.

The elderly couple is financially supported by, and living with their blind son, Hamm, who is the unhappy protagonist of the play. Hamm abuses, manipulates and controls everyone around him, but never in a way to achieve his purpose. Hamm has a helper/aide/nurse named Clov. When Hamm's helper, Clov, leaves the room, Hamm comments to himself "I think we are getting along now." But they are not getting along because Hamm is unreasonably demanding and Clov wants to get out. Hamm asks Clov to kiss him on two or three occasions, but Clov refuses.

Hamm wants love, friendship, and compassion. Unfortunately, his behavior does not invite this response from those around him. It is a tragedy. It is the end. No one gets what they want in End Game. They all just die.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Total Immersion Improv Class - Second City Training Center - Los Angeles

Last week, I participated in a five day improvisation class in Hollywood at the Second City Training Center.

I had the time of my life.

I feel like I was just introduced to the third level of consciousness -- "improv consciousness". There is the time when you sleep, the time when you are awake, and the time you are doing improv. While doing improv, I felt hyper-awake. It was like drinking cup after cup of espresso continuously for 96 hours. Bright lights emanated out of every pore of my skin. It was definitely a feeling I have never had before.

Our instructor was the Second City Artistic Director David Razowsky. He was beyond excellent -- he was an inspirational, master guru of improv instruction. Razowsky created a safe environment. He introduced us to all the elements of narrative improv. Like most people, I thought it was a matter of spontaneously coming up with pithy one-liners and getting a laugh. I was wrong. This was all about emotionally connecting with our partner and responding to our partner. Razowsky coached us, supported us, and encouraged us. He learned all of our names and all of our strengths and weaknesses.

I got an amazing amount of individual attention and personal coaching, as did my classmates. Razowsky also followed all the principles for teaching adults -- minimize the lectures, get the students doing exercises with each other, mix it up. He also focussed on the zen of the moment. We would try something, and if it did not work, we felt it experientially, and Razowsky let it go and moved on to the next thing. So there were no scoldings, reprimands, lectures, just gentle reminders.

For the week of our Total Immersion class, I felt every human emotion deeply, strongly and intensely. It was hard to shake the feeling when class ended. I had social events to attend with my husband every night, and while I was physically present, my brain was consumed with what had happened during the day, replaying all the moments, trying new things, creating new characters. I got very little sleep -- how does one sleep when one is doing the emotional equivalent of chain-drinking espresso?

I also developed a completely new view of actors. I made an assumption that temperamental, emotional, and insecure people go into acting. Now I realize that it is the work of acting that makes them that way. They are putting everything into their performance. It is a lot to demand of them, it is a lot to expect of them, and it is personally devastating when it is not appreciated.

It is also completely exhausting.

By Thursday I was really dragging and making lots of mistakes. I had a huge number of business commitments on Thursday night and Friday. I tried, but I could not rearrange them, and I could not make it to the last day of the class and our big ensemble performance.

I was very disappointed.

BUT... I am just going to figure out how I can go back for more. I am hooked!