Selecting America’s Best Short Plays

For years now, Bill Demastes has been selecting and editing together the best short plays in the U.S. for the long-running series, The Best American Short Plays. The newest volume in the series, The Best American Short Plays 2012-2013, includes works from a wide variety of writers, from seasoned playwrights to college students. Many ask, how exactly does Bill pick the “best” plays out of such a huge selection of eager voices? Mr. Demastes has been so kind as to write us a post giving us some insight into his quest to find the best plays in America.

 

First, let me say that I love this job. I get to read hundreds of plays from some of the best new talents in the country, and I get teasingly exciting submissions from many of the most established writers today. Judging from the number of high quality submissions I receive from year to year, I can say that

Bill Demastes taking a break in his Baton Rouge office.

Bill Demastes taking a break in his Baton Rouge office.

creative talent in New York City is definitely alive and well.  (That might actually be an understatement.) What’s equally exciting to me is that talent exists across the country, in Baltimore, Atlanta, Knoxville, Athens, New Orleans, Kalamazoo, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Southern and Northern California, and even up there in Alaska. Where next?

People often ask me how I pick the plays for each volume. It is a very difficult decision, and there are no real rules to this procedure. I read for fresh writing, stuff that reads like spoken language. Neat ideas certainly help, but well-done, quiet vignettes and reminiscences work well, too. I’m a sucker for surprise endings and good jokes. Political messages are not what I look for, but well put together and heartfelt pieces often catch my eye. I love comic word play when I see it. Not a big fan of gratuitous profanity–can’t the effect be better generated through wit rather than coarse bludgeoning? 

After I pull together a large list of plays that I like, I look to see what common threads course through most of the works and try to string together something of a theme for the volume. This is a difficult task. However, if you look hard enough, common threads do surface among good writing since all really good work deals somehow with the common experiences of love, hate, loss, regret–the things that occupy those moments in our lives beyond the empty hurlyburly of simply making a living.

I frequently hear from authors included in these volumes that their works find their ways onto the stage thanks to the exposure from these volumes. That’s a very gratifying thing. In a world where being a playwright is no easy occupation, it is a good thing to be able to help in some small way.

I look forward to the publication of this new volume, certain the playwrights and plays I’ve included will not disappoint. And I welcome submissions of scripts that have been produced over the past theatre season from any and all–including recommendations from discriminating theatregoers.

The SAVI Singing Actor on Dramatic Circumstances

The musical theatre technique blogger, The SAVI Singing Actor, has written a comprehensive review of William Wesbrooks’ Dramatic Circumstances. Check it out!

 

Once upon a time, there was a professor who taught singing actors about how to perform00103894 songs. He worked in a big city at a university with a big reputation, and many students came to study with him. He loved his work; he loved being able to help students, and the things he taught them were genuinely helpful. After awhile, he thought to himself, “Maybe I could help more students if I were to write about the ways I train my students in a book.”

Yes, this is my story, but it’s also the story of Bill Wesbrooks, Director of Vocal Performance at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU. The difference between Bill and me is, he’s actually written the book. It’s called “Dramatic Circumstances,” it was published a few months ago, and it’s a great addition to the literature of singer-actor training.

 

Read the rest HERE
William_Westbrooks

Listen: At the Table with Sheana Ochoa

Sheana Ochoa, author of Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, visited Kelly Lincoln of At the Table. Together, they discuss “the great, ahead of her time Stella Adler, and how the Yiddish Theater birthed American Theater.”

00121937

>>LISTEN HERE<<

Arthur Miller decided to become a playwright after seeing her perform with the Group Theater. Marlon Brando attributed his acting to her genius as a teacher. Theater critic Robert Brustein calls her the greatest acting teacher in America.

At the turn of the 20th century – by which time acting had hardly evolved since classical Greece – Stella Adler became a child star of the Yiddish stage in New York, where she was being groomed to refine acting craft and eventually help pioneer its modern gold standard: method acting. Stella’s emphasis on experiencing a role through the actions in the given circumstances of the work directs actors toward a deep sociological understanding of the imagined characters: their social class, geographic upbringing, biography, which enlarges the actor’s creative choices.

Always “onstage,” Stella’s flamboyant personality disguised a deep sense of not belonging. Her unrealized dream of becoming a movie star chafed against an unflagging commitment to the transformative power of art. From her Depression-era plays with the Group Theatre to freedom fighting during WWII, Stella used her notoriety as a tool for change.

For this book, Sheana Ochoa worked alongside Irene Gilbert, Stella’s friend of 30 years, who provided Ochoa with a trove of Stella’s personal and pedagogical materials, and Ochoa interviewed Stella’s entire living family, including her daughter Ellen; her colleagues and friends, from Arthur Miller to Karl Malden; and her students from Robert De Niro to Mark Ruffalo. Unearthing countless unpublished letters and interviews, private audio recordings, Stella’s extensive FBI file, class videos and private audio recordings, Ochoa’s biography introduces one of the most under recognized, yet most influential luminaries of the 20th century.

Harold and Stella: Opening night!

fringeThe two-person play “Harold and Stella: Love Letters” opens at the Hollywood Fringe Festival tonight (Friday). Here are some details from the Festival website…

 

In 1942 Stella Adler (queen of modern acting) and Harold Clurman (dean of American theater) were living on opposite coasts of the country as the U.S. entered the Second World War. They began a steady stream of correspondence to buttress their long distance romance, letters that reveal times as tempestuous as their relationship. Through their words, we enter the lives of two artists unflinchingly committed to their work while struggling through creative, financial and romantic uncertainty.

 

Sheana Ochoa, author of Stella Adler’s new biography, Stella! Mother of Modern Acting will be at each performance to sign copies. Enter discount code “BOOK” to receive a signed copy of the book along with your ticket at the discounted price of $35. Visit the festival website HERE for more details. Hope to see you all there!

A True Acting Tip from Larry Silverberg

larrysilverbergLarry Silverberg’s True Acting Tips has become a favorite amongst acting teachers, being used in their classrooms to generate a true conversation about the craft of acting. Larry, known worldwide as a master teacher of the Meisner Approach to acting, has written a book that instigates an exploration of the fundamental roots of human creation and the demands of entering the path towards acting with humanity and soul. Larry, Director of the True Acting Institute (www.trueactinginstitute.com) has trained tousands of actors and acting teachers around the globe and he is the Master Teacher of Acting at renowned Shenandoah University Conservatory of the Arts. Here now, a new “True Acting Tip of the Day” just for you!

Larry’s True Acting Tip of the Day

This morning, I read a lesson from the wonderful teacher, Pema Chodron and I thought of you dear readers and your interest in this thing I am calling “True Acting.” It has become clear to me over the years of working and teaching that the most resistant barrier to great acting is not an acting issue at all, it is a human one. Pema says it in this way, “…to remain open to the present groundless moment, to a direct, unarmored participation with our experience. We are certainly not being asked to trust that everything is going to be all right. Moving in the direction of nothing to hold on to is daring. We will not initially experience it as a thrilling, alive, wonderful way to be. How many of us feel ready to interrupt our habitual patterns, our almost instinctual ways of getting comfortable?”

How simple and profound these words, “Moving in the direction of nothing left to hold on to.” This reminds me of something I heard Rudolf Nureyev say many years ago. He told our group that right before every performance, he would work himself out to the point of exhaustion and then, in the performance of the dance, he would have nothing left to hang on to and he would SOAR!” Yes! And that is exactly the point, to soar in your acting!  This is the thing… to move beyond your old, habitual ways of being, to shift the frozen, stuck, protective armor of the mind to the side so that your creative self can function. My friends, this is no small matter and will demand a complete commitment and a relentless pursuit.  The DESIRE to enter this particular domain, the land of “nothing left to hang on to” is something no one can give to you – not your mother, not your teacher, not your guru – and only you know if it is of true interest to you. But I can tell you clearly, until an actor walks that ground, his work will remain pedestrian and uninspired.

true acting tips cover

Happy Tony’s!

What with the 2014 Tony’s happening this Sunday, there is no better time to brush up on your Broadway trivia! Test your knowledge with a few questions from The Broadway Musical Quiz Book. The answers will be posted next week. The questions we’ve chosen to ask have everything to do with Broadway’s most well-known duo: Rodgers and Hammerstein, of course. Think you know your Broadway stuff? Give it a go!

1) What is there to say about Oklahoma! (1943)? It marked a watershed in musical theatre history. Even poor souls who know next to nothing about musicals have heard of it. Richard Rodgers’ folksy melodies and Oscar Hammerstain’s easy, conversational lyrics helped give this tale of cowboys and farmers its naturalistic feel. Which of the following critters is not found in Oklahoma! (the show, not the state)?

A. a hawk

B. a lark

C. Rams and ewes

D. a field mouse

E. a little brown maverick

 

2) The duo followed Oklahoma!‘s triumph with another success, 19945′s Carousel, based on Ferenc Molnár’s Liliom. Fortunately for Rodgers and Hammerstein (and musical lovers everywhere), Molnár approved many changes to his play, including a drastically softened ending and its relocation from Hungary to New England. During the Boston tryouts, Hammerstein (or director Reuben Mamoulian, depending on which source you read) came up with a new concept for the deity figure: he became “the Starkeeper,” perched on his ladder, polishing the stars. How was this character previously depicted?

A. as a calm sea captain in a celestial boat

B. as a stonecutter

C. as the owner of the mill

D. as Billy’s angelic counterpart, the operator of a heavenly carousel

E. as “Mr. God,” sitting quietly in a New England parlor, with “Mrs. God” playing on the harmonium

 

3) 1949′s South Pacific  returned the pair to the heights, capturing the Pulitzer for drama and running 1,925 performances. based on James Michener’s stories, it concerns the romance between a navy nurse, Nellie Forbush (Mary Martin), and a French plantation owner, Emile de Becque (opera star Ezio Pinza). The subplot involves the tragic love affair of a young officer (William Tabbert) for an island girl (Betta St. John). What does Lt. Cable try to give Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) after he renounces Liat?

A. a boar’s tooth necklace

B. his grandfather’s watch

C. DiMaggio’s glove

D. “fo’ dolla’”

E. a blueberry pie

Sheana Ochoa on her journey to “Stella!”

Applause Cinema and Theatre author Sheana Ochoa recently posted an article she wrote on her experience writing Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, which is currently available online! Visit Sheana’s site here.

 

Find Your Cause: My Journey through Writing Stella Adler’s Biography

00121937As a girl I would watch the Oscars and diligently record all the categories, nominees and winners in my journal. I didn’t realize there were professional archivists already handling this job just fine without me. Somehow I intuited the import of the work, and it was the only way I knew how to be a part of it. The allure was no doubt a girl’s impressionistic view of all the glitz and glamour, but I don’t think it’s a surprise that my way of identifying was through pen and paper.

Later, as an adolescent, I became confident enough to begin planning my acceptance speeches for the Oscar. I saw myself up on the stage winning an award for acting, yet it was not performance, but writing that would propel me artistically. Besides, other than public school productions, I had no idea how to “break into acting,” but I could create my own characters with pen and paper. So all my life I have identified myself as a writer. Writers are just actors who don’t want to be told how to perform anyway.

So instead of drama, I got my bachelors in screenwriting. When it came time to go to graduate school, I was headed toward academia, and although I love teaching (5 years of teaching high school English was the hardest job I’ve ever had), I wasn’t convinced it was my route in life. I began my graduate studies at USC in Spanish literature when I answered an ad to work at a “vocational school.” I needed a day job while I pursued my degree. The school turned out to be the Stella Adler Academy of Acting, throwing me right back into the world of performance and lights and celebrity that had seduced me as a girl. Spanish literature? I don’t know what I was thinking, but I still didn’t have the confidence to drop out of academia. At a crossroads, it came to me. Why not study writing? I imagine I never took my writing seriously enough, but now it was clear and it was as easy as changing my major.

While I was workshopping my poetry and honing screenplays at school, I began learning about acting craft at work. I have an uncle who had produced a couple of well-received films who put me in touch with a producer in Hollywood. I remember meeting this man and knowing that if I wanted to get him interested in my script, I’d need to get him interested in me. I’d need to stand out and be clever, make him laugh, build a relationship so maybe one day, when he was on the crapper, he might have my screenplay nearby and possibly flip it open to read. There were other half-hearted attempts to schmooze, but I immediately knew I didn’t have the know-how to “network.” Now I know why: it was all about me and not about the work.

My last year of graduate school, I produced a one-act play festival at the Stella Adler Academy—with one of my own plays in the production. This was the route for me: producing and writing. I remember receiving a horrible review in Backstage, but it didn’t deter me. By then, I began researching Stella Adler’s life, and when I realized the contributions she had made to refining acting craft, I was actually insulted that she didn’t have a biography. Like me, Stella didn’t have a knack at self-publicizing and now her legacy was withering away in the annals of theatrical history. I didn’t decide to write her biography; I had to write her biography to rectify what I saw as an injustice.

My first “big” interview was with Arthur Miller. The fact that he was one of the last century’s greatest playwrights or married to Marilyn Monroe never entered my mind when I contacted him. I had, as Stella would call it, an action, which was to get him to tell me about Stella for her biography. And so it went with everyone I needed to interview or approach from Peter Bogdanovich and Robert De Niro to Stella’s family. Serving Stella’s legacy and not my own ambitions motivated me for the thirteen years it took to research, write and publish her biography. In the mean time, the connections I made happened organically, not by orchestration.

Once you have a cause, a path is cleared to do whatever it takes to pursue your dreams. This bears emphasizing: your cause empowers you to succeed. My best advice to artists trying to negotiate the competitive creative market is to discover what you care about passionately. Why do you want to act, direct, produce? If you’re an actor, go for the roles that impassion you the way writing Stella’s story did me. Same for directing, producing, or whatever art form you choose. It can’t be for fame or money because that’s amateurish and self-serving.

The success I have achieved in my chosen field has come from a dedication to the work. It takes tenacity, discipline, and the willingness to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when you fall. When I think about it, I’m still that girl recording history, but now I am a part of that history, as is everyone. Find the cause behind your work and serve that cause. You’ve got one shot, this one life to do it, so what have you got to lose?

 

Q&A with Robert Blumenfeld

Robert Blumenfeld, author of Teach Yourself Accents: Europe, chats with The Playbill Collector about his new book on April 4th. Click here for the full interview!

What is your background in dialect coaching?

 I studied French as an undergraduate at Rutgers where I also studied German and Italian and got into accents and dialects there.  I continued my French studies in grad school at Columbia, and took courses in phonetics and teaching French, including the accent. When I got into professional acting, I also started coaching accents. And I have taught accents at professional studios, and done private and production coaching.  I use lots of accents in my various audiobook recordings.  Audio recording is the majority of where I spend my time now.

When was your first book released?

In 1998 I released “Accents: A Manual for Actors”.

What was the main reason for writing your newest book “Teach Yourself Accents: Europe“?

The book is for a new generation of actors.  I wanted to provide something that has an easy method to follow.

Who is your target audience?

Younger actors but the series is equally useful to seasoned professional actors and amateurs.

00109570Teach Yourself Accents: Europe, A Handbook for Young Actors and Speakersthe third volume in dialect coach Robert Blumenfeld’s new series on accents, covers the European accents most useful for the stage and screen: French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Yiddish. The most important features of each accent are detailed, enabling the actor to begin immediately to sound authentic, and Mr. Blumenfeld’s unique approach makes the accents easily comprehensible.

 

DRAMATIC CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE SCIENCE OF ACTING

Dramatic CircumstancesWilliam Wesbrooks studied psychology, theatre, and music in preparation for his theatrical career, which, in its 40 years, has encompassed performing, directing, playwriting, and teaching.  In his new book, Dramatic Circumstances, Wesbrooks shows how actors can “live inside” the stories they tell in a way that brings them to life for them and their audience.

 In a recent article in The Atlantic, titled “How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology,” Judith Ohikuare writes that “fully inhabiting the mind, mannerisms, and reality of a fictional character can be as alienating as it is rewarding.”Here, Wesbrooks looks at where acting intersects with brain science and psychology.

 The acting process presented in Dramatic Circumstances can have a significant impact on the way singers and actors tell their stories, and I think that brain science offers intriguing insights into why that process works.

* * * * * * *

            Brain science is an ever-growing field of study that endeavors to address any number of mental, emotional, and physical issues that trouble many people, and I realize that applying that science to the study of acting may appear somewhat frivolous. However, in the best of worlds actors tell stories about what it is to be human, and I believe that we are all better off because these stories get told. It only follows that these stories have greater impact when they are told truthfully, in a manner that really looks inside human behavior and the human condition.

            Years ago I was told that the subconscious mind has no sense of humor. This struck me then as an extremely useful idea when applied to the art and craft of acting, and it has proved invaluable in the development of the dramatic circumstance process. The ideas we plant in our subconscious mind are, as far as that particular part of our mind is concerned, true.

            In a New Yorker article (“Head Case: Can Psychiatry Be a Science?” March 10, 2010) Dr. Louis Menand wrote, “The brains of people who are suffering from mild depression look the same on a scan as the brains of people whose football team has just lost the Super Bowl. They even look the same as the brains of people who have been asked to think sad thoughts [italics mine].”

            I believe that an actor’s subconscious mind evokes responses and inspires action in circumstances that are entirely imaginary because key components of the actor’s brain do not realize that those circumstances are, in fact, imaginary.While it is certainly not necessary for actors to understand brain function in order to live truthfully “inside the stories we tell”, I find it a compelling way to think about acting. 

            It is certainly something worth exploring.

Stella Adler’s Birthday

Today is Stella Adler’s birthday! A new  biography by author Sheana Ochoa, Stella! Mother of Modern Acting, is coming out in April. You can check out Sheana Ochoa’s website here.

Arthur Miller decided to become a playwright after seeing her perform with the Group Theater. Marlon Brando attributed his acting to her genius as a teacher. Theater critic Robert Brustein calls her the greatest acting teacher in America.

At the turn of the 20th century – by which time acting had hardly evolved since classical Greece – Stella Adler became a child star of the Yiddish stage in New York, where she was being groomed to refine acting craft and eventually help pioneer its modern gold standard: method acting. Stella’s emphasis on experiencing a role through the actions in the given circumstances of the work directs actors toward a deep sociological understanding of the imagined characters: their social class, geographic upbringing, biography, which enlarges the actor’s creative choices.

Always “onstage,” Stella’s flamboyant personality disguised a deep sense of not belonging. Her unrealized dream of becoming a movie star chafed against an unflagging commitment to the transformative power of art. From her Depression-era plays with the Group Theatre to freedom fighting during WWII, Stella used her notoriety as a tool for change.

For this book, Sheana Ochoa worked alongside Irene Gilbert, Stella’s friend of 30 years, who provided Ochoa with a trove of Stella’s personal and pedagogical materials, and Ochoa interviewed Stella’s entire living family, including her daughter Ellen; her colleagues and friends, from Arthur Miller to Karl Malden; and her students from Robert De Niro to Mark Ruffalo. Unearthing countless unpublished letters and interviews, private audio recordings, Stella’s extensive FBI file, class videos and private audio recordings, Ochoa’s biography introduces one of the most under recognized, yet most influential luminaries of the 20th century.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR Stella!

 “What Stella brought to the American style of acting was a depth of naturalism that had not been seen up until then. It was naturalism mixed with a deep reverence for the actor as an artist and the writer as a teacher of mankind. For me she is still a bright light in a particularly dark time for the culture of Actors. In Stella! A Life in Art, Sheana Ochoa has captured a life lived well and large, always striving for more.”

Mark Ruffalo, actor

 “Over the four decades I have been producing films in Hollywood I have continuously heard the name of Stella Adler spoken with enormous reverence by actors. Now, after reading Sheana Ochoa’s biography, I understand why her legacy as an actor and teacher burns so brightly. An excellent, rich, and informative book.”

Michael Phillips, film producer (The Sting, Taxi Driver)

“Stella Adler’s passion for acting and teaching actors merges with tales of her personal struggles and triumphs in Ochoa’s detailed, compelling narrative of Adler’s life. As Adler’s life unfolds, Hollywood’s past and present come alive – with names, places, and dramas as informative as they are entertaining.”

Deborah Martinson, author of Lillian Hellman: A Life with Foxes and Scoundrels