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.

Patrick Troughton: The Doctor, The Clown

To celebrate Patrick Troughton’s birthday we have posted an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s new book Doctor Who FAQ. Please enjoy!

The Clown was the Second Doctor, formally introduced to his audience still lying on the TARDIS floor, where he fell at the end of the previous adventure.

In what we might call “the real world,” that in which BBC writers, pro- ducers, directors, and crew fuss around to bring the Doctor’s adventures into our living rooms, it was a moment of unparalleled drama, anticipation, and probably fear.

The outgoing William Hartnell was more than a popular actor, after all. To everybody and anybody who had any awareness of the show, he was the Doctor. White-haired and wrinkled, smartly attired and condescending. Whereas now he was dark-haired and shorter. Craggier, with the kind of face that could be described as lived-in. Kindly but a little lugubrious. The eyes sparkled, and the cunning of the First Doctor was a lot less pronounced. Politely, the Second Doctor looked a bit of a bumbler.

Who ever would accept it was the same man?

Certainly not Ben and Polly, his latest companions. And the man who called himself the Doctor didn’t seem too sure, either.

“You’re the Doctor!” said Polly, in answer to one of his rambling remarks. “Oh, I don’t look like him,” replied the Doctor. And the introductions could have gone on all night were it not for one slight problem. There were Daleks about, and if the Doctor had learned one thing over the past three years of television, it was that Daleks—his oldest and most lethal enemy—did not have time for small talk.

That was how this new man was to be introduced, not through the force of his personality, or the delight of his sense of mischievous humor, but through the sheer populist weight of his most implacable foe, the single most popular creation in the show’s entire history and still, all these years later, one of the most beloved (if a metal tin packed to bursting with unrepentant malice could ever be described as “beloved”) aliens in science- fiction history. We will get to know them better later in this book; for now, suffice it to say that the very inclusion of the Daleks’ name in an episode title was worth a million or so extra viewers every week, and The Power of the Daleks did not disappoint.

It still doesn’t. With hindsight, it’s difficult to say which future story was most heavily influenced by The Power of the Daleks: the Ninth Doctor’s Dalek, in which the time traveler’s pleas for an inactive Dalek to remain inactive are ignored, or the Eleventh Doctor’s Victory of the Daleks, in which stupid humans (Britain’s wartime hero Winston Churchill among them) convince themselves that it is they who call the shots, and that the Daleks are simply theirs to command.

Either way, in terms of storytelling, action, and excitement, the Second Doctor’s debut is at least the equal of the former and effortlessly superior to the latter, with the Daleks seemingly even more sinister than usual simply by virtue of behaving so helpfully.

Of course, they will soon be at their screeching, screaming best as well, but what is important here is less the manner in which the Doctor, Ben, and Polly defeat them than in the nature of the understanding that quickly comes to bind the three of them so closely. After all, this Doctor is still a total stranger to them, and while Polly is willing to accept that he might be the same man, Ben is considerably more suspicious. And it will take more than a silly hat and an annoying recorder to win him around.

But somehow, the Doctor succeeded. Yes he was a clown, and in sharp contrast to his prickly predecessor, a lovable one as well. But by the end of his first season, which concluded with another encounter with the Daleks, the Doctor was again the Doctor, and memories of his past personality were just that.

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.

Happy Birthday, Timothy Dalton

We have a special blog today in celebration of Timothy Dalton’s birthday.

Tom DeMichaelGuest Blogger: Tom DeMichael, author of James Bond FAQ.

The 007 Film Formula…

Consider, if you will, the number one fast-food purveyor in the world. You know which one – golden arches, billions sold, meals that make kids happy – yeah, THAT one. What is it that makes them so successful?

Of course, there are a number of reasons and just a reminder – this isn’t a business blog. But consider one of the main reasons: They have a formula that works. They make sure that the sandwich you buy in any of the twenty-five Portland, Oregon locations is just like the one you buy in any of the six locations in Portland, Maine. As a consumer, you know what to expect; you know what you’re getting when you walk in.

The same can be true for the James Bond film franchise across the last fifty years. Certainly, there have been major changes (for the positive) in the latest films (Skyfall, while offering a welcome throwback to the solid action and character-based films from the beginning of the series, is the most recent retooling of the 007 flicks.) But, just like the aforementioned fast-food chain, much of the success across the last five decades can be credited to an established formula: a “Bond formula.”

Some scholars point to a set of rules originally established by author Ian Fleming in many of his 007 stories – similarities in villains, women, plots, predicaments – all which led the reader to a satisfying literary experience. Likewise, the movies discovered what worked and stuck to it.

Without overdoing it, (and while not always in the same order,) take a look at the following events found in most Bond films:

The gun-barrel sequence: Consider this to be the movie equivalent of the yellow semicircles that the above-mentioned fast-food purveyor has used to brand their company. Created at the last  minute by Maurice Binder, the gun barrel sequence has appeared in every Eon Productions-produced Bond film – although not always at the beginning. Casino Royale, in 2006, incorporated a brief gun barrel view as Bond fires his pistol at a bad guy in a public restroom. The following two flicks – Quantum of Solace and Skyfall – placed the familiar opening at the end.

The pre-credits scene: A mini-film of sorts, as Bond encounters some sort of conflict, wrestles with it, and comes to a resolution – usually in the form of some sort of fantastic escape to safety. (Except for Dr. No. Being the first in the series, there was no pre-credits scene.) There have been variations, especially since the retooling of the Daniel Craig films, but Bond’s mission to destroy a Latin American radar system and his escape in a miniature jet during the opening minutes of Octopussy are perfect examples, complete with wry witticism. When the jet ran low on fuel, 007 merely landed it at a gas station, calmly instructing the attendant to “Fill it up, please.” Cue the theme song…

Opening credits: Whether delivered by Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn, Daniel Kleinman, or MK12, the opening credits over the theme song clearly convinced the viewer that “this MUST be a James Bond film.” While a previous blog entry covered the story of the 007 credits, suffice to say that the “formula” called for writhing female forms, bold colors and pools of lights, and signature icons from the franchise.

Bond receives his mission: Originally set in the office of Universal Exports – the cover for MI6 – 007 dallied with Miss Moneypenny, was rudely interrupted by M and ushered into the private and plush quarters of Bond’s boss. When that got old, the location of M’s briefing went mobile – a British sub in You Only Live Twice, even at Bond’s apartment in Live and Let Die.

Bond’s visit to the Quartermaster: With orders in hand, Bond visited Q – usually deep in his lab – to receive an assortment of gadgets and goodies to keep him out of peril. Occasionally, Q got out and joined Bond in the field – like in Octopussy and Licence to Kill. Of course, Major Boothroyd was totally intolerant of Bond’s lack of respect for the hours of hard work behind every item, invariably chiding, “Now – Pay attention, 007!”

Bond heads out on his mission: Keeping his Frequent Flyer miles current, Bond more often than not found himself at an airport – either leaving for or arriving at his destination. Whether at Miami International, LAX, Heathrow, McCarran International, Palisadoes International, JFK, or another airfield, 007 knew that commercial jets were “the only way to fly.”

Bond connects with an ally (often the “sacrificial lamb”): Male or female, this character often provides Bond with a valuable bit of information, access to the villain (as they are sometimes in cahoots with him,) or other service – then usually gets bumped off by the bad guy. Picture Quarrel, Kerim Bey, the Mastersons – Jill AND Tilly, Aki, Plenty O’Toole (drowned by Wint and Kidd, who mistook her for Tiffany Case in a scene not seen in Diamonds Are Forever,) Rosie Carver, Andrea Anders, Corinne Dufour, Vijay, Sir Godfrey, Saunders, Sharkey, Paris Carver, Solange, Agent Fields, among others. Gone, but not forgotten.

Bond meets up with an associate/bodyguard of the villain: Sometimes a female, but often a large, brawny man possessing superhuman strength – Professor Dent in Dr. No was hardly an imposing brutish specimen, but the tarantula he placed in Bond’s bedsheets was no lightweight. Soon, figures like Oddjob, Hans, Tee-Hee, Jaws, Zao, even Xenia Onatopp and others, flexed their formidable physical skills to give 007 a real run for his quid. In some cases, this person was combined with the role of “sacrificial lamb” – May Day, for example.

The “Bond Girl” is introduced: Sometimes more than one (minor “Bond Girls” were often combined with the “sacrificial lamb,” such as Aki, Plenty O’Toole, Andrea Anders, Paris Carver, and others,) they were always easy on the eyes. The Bond Girl actresses were often international beauties (Ursula Andress – Swiss, Daniela Bianchi – Italian, Claudine Auger, Carole Bouquet, Sophie Marceau, Eva Green, and Bérénice Marlohe – French, Mie Hama – Japanese, Britt Ekland and Maud Adams – Swedish, Famke Janssen – Dutch.) Early on in the series, the Bond Girl was usually portrayed as helpless and unable to cope with conflict without 007′s assistance (although Honey Ryder and Pussy Galore stood out as women capable of handling themselves well within the world of 1960′s men.) Fortunately, time recognized woman’s ability to stand up on her own two (albeit shapely) legs, as strong and independent characters like Dr. Holly Goodhead (despite the double-entendre name,) Octopussy, Pam Bouvier, Jinx Johnson, and Camille Montes, among others.

Bond engages the villain in a game or sport: This allows 007 and his foe to come face-to-face and size each other up, where they both realize their opponent is no pushover. Golfing with Goldfinger, poker and skeet with Largo, Tarot cards with Kananga, baccarat with Kristatos, backgammon with Kamal Khan, horse racing with Max Zorin, blackjack at Sanchez’ casino, fencing with Gustav Graves, Texas Hold’ Em with LeChiffre, etc. Win or lose, the game was afoot.

The villain’s lair: Where money is no object – Doctor No had his bauxite processing plant – a cover for his expansive nuclear-powered control center that fiddled with rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. Goldfinger outlined his plan to knock off Fort Knox in a cavernous conference room – complete with pool table/control panel, a mechanical bucking bronco, and a huge detailed model of the gold depository and surrounding landscape (a model that, in reality, is now on display at the Patton Museum as part of the REAL Fort Knox in Kentucky.) Blofeld had his marvelous and vast volcanic headquarters in You Only Live Twice, loaded with rocket pad, a monorail, and more soldiers and ninjas than one could ever imagine. There’s more and more, all the way to Gustav Graves’ Ice Palace in Die Another Day. No matter, these hangouts were the place to hang out.

Bond’s death-defying labor: Once again, the very first film established the need for Bond to go through hell in order to get to heaven. Dr. No found 007 crawling through the searing heat of the villain’s ceiling duct work in search of escape, only to be nearly drowned in a rush of water in the same conduits. Whether it was a swim with man-eating sharks in Thunderball, a bobsled race with Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a brief stroll along the backs of jaw-snapping alligators in Live and Let Die, or a last-minute jolt from a portable defibrillator in Casino Royale – among many others – Bond was always challenged to look death square in the eye. Inevitably, it was always death that blinked.

Final confrontation: (with spectacular demise of villain and his command center.) Face-to-face with the antagonist, 007 always had the last word as his opponent bit the dust. Rosa Klebb “had her kicks;” Goldfinger wound up “playing his golden harp;” Mr. Wint “left with his tails between his legs;” Kananga had “an inflated opinion of himself;” Gustav Graves thought it was “Time to face destiny,” while Bond reminded him it was “Time to face gravity.” Despite the glib remarks, 007 and good always prevailed, as Bond and the Bond girl escaped (where their attempt at a well-earned romantic tryst was always interrupted.)

Reassurance that James Bond Will Return: The first dozen Broccoli/Saltzman films all finished with a tease that the series would continue – although they weren’t always accurate. The end of The Spy Who Loved Me promised viewers that For Your Eyes Only would be next. But the success of Star Wars in movie theaters prompted the Bond producers to reconsider and make Moonraker – with its spaceflight theme – the follow-up film. For a while, the tease for Bond’s return was omitted from the end of the Bond films. Skyfall, in 2012, while not mentioning a specific title, did promise that “James Bond Will Return…” Just like the good old days.

Lewis Gilbert, director of three Bond films – You Only Live Twice in 1967, The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, and Moonraker in 1979 – acknowledged the existence of such a formula, saying: “I think that part of the charm of the Bond picture [is] you know what you’re going to get… You can change it slightly, but it’s very well laid down, the Law of Bond, and people want you to abide by it.”

Heaven forbid one should break the “Law” and receive a ticket from the movie police.

James Bond FAQ is a book that takes on the iconic cinema franchise that’s lasted for so many years. Sometimes serious as SPECTRE, sometimes quirkier than Q, but always informative, this FAQ takes the reader behind-the-scenes, as well as in front of the silver screen. Everyone’s included: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig; little-known facts about TV’s first shot at 007, the same Bond story that was made into two different films; whatever happened to those wonderful cars and gizmos that thrilled everyone; plus much more. It’s a book for the casual, as well as hardcore, James Bond fan.

Comedy for Your Shakespeare Lessons

Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield are the authors of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Below is a Q&A Daniel and Jess did with StageNotes.net.

StageNotes: What were your favorite subjects in high school and why?

DanielSinger

Daniel: Drama, Concert Choir, Yearbook, Art, English. The arts classes were great because we learned by DOING. Studying English gave me practical writing skills that I use every day. Touch Typing was probably one of the most helpful classes of my entire life.

JessWinfieldCurrent Headshot JWJess: English, European History, and P.E. (I was on the basketball team until my Junior year). I enjoyed Drama, but gave it up in favor of the Forensics (speech) team. Same idea of developing skills in performance, delivery, comic timing and the like, but more fun travel, days off from school; plus I knew I’d have a great role because I was choosing the material myself. And I wouldn’t have to deal with other pesky actors: I would play ALL the roles!

SN: How did you first become interested in Shakespeare?

Daniel: My 8th grade class read Romeo & Juliet aloud and I instantly loved the verse form of the dialogue. The rhythmic language appealed to me and I didn’t have any problem understanding it. When the BBC filmed all of Shakespeare’s plays in the late 1970’s I watched them all and thought, “Some of these plays are fantastic! (Others, not so much!)” While studying drama in London, I saw everything the Royal Shakespeare Company did. They were so adept at finding clever techniques to make the old plays feel new. Their modern-dress Taming of the Shrew with Jonathan Pryce blew my mind.

Jess: I’d only had the requisite curriculum in Shakespeare (R&J, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Henry IV Parts 1 and 2) and hadn’t been wowed by any of it. Then two actors from the Ashland Shakespeare Festival came to perform for our drama class. They did a couple of Shakespeare scenes (which ones, I don’t recall), but they also did a bit of the game of “Questions” from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which prompted me to buy a copy of the play immediately. As it happened, my English class was just starting Hamlet. I found the interplay between the two works exhilarating. So in a way, my entrée to Shakespeare has always been via the backdoor of parody and satire… and Tom Stoppard.

SN: You mention in the notes that the play was originally developed through improvisation and ad lib. Can you please explain how the play came to be?

Daniel grew up in Santa Rosa CA, just up the road from the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County. He’d worked there as an actor in the late 1970’s. After drama school, he sent the Faire a proposal to produce a half-hour Hamlet – all Faire entertainment was scheduled in half-hour timeslots. There was a surprising lack of Shakespeare in their offerings so they gave the show a green light. Tom Stoppard’s Dogg’s Hamlet had proven that an abbreviated version of the Prince of Denmark’s tragic tale was both easy to follow and comical in its sheer brevity, so it seemed like a natural. Daniel’s script was originally just a reduction of the play with no jokes in it.

Two of the actors Daniel hired, Jess Winfield and Adam Long, were brilliant young comics. We were all strongly influenced by the antics of the Marx Brothers, Bugs Bunny, and Monty Python. Our Hamlet became a showcase of broad humor and personal interactions between the actors. This allowed the audience to enjoy the show on multiple levels: the cleverness of seeing the greatest play in the English language rudely compacted into an absurdly short skit; the delight of vaudeville-style slapstick adapted to a 16th-Century idiom; and the witty interplay of three charismatic guys struggling to get through the damn thing.

Keep reading this interview at StageNotes.net!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s classic farce, two of its original writer/performers (Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield) have thoroughly revised the show to bring it up to date for 21st-century audiences, incorporating some of the funniest material from the numerous amateur and professional productions that have been performed around the world.

The cultural touchstone that is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) was born when three inspired, charismatic comics, having honed their pass-the-hat act at Renaissance fairs, premiered their preposterous masterwork at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1987. It quickly became a worldwide phenomenon, earning the title of London’s second-longest-running comedy after a decade at the Criterion Theatre. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) is one of the world’s most frequently produced plays, and has been translated into several dozen languages.

Featured are all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, meant to be performed in 97 minutes, by three actors. Fast paced, witty, and physical, it’s full of laughter for Shakespeare lovers and haters alike.

Considering the Six Bonds

Tom DeMichaelTom DeMichael is the author of James Bond FAQ. Below is an excerpt from that book provided by Bookgasm.com.

Considering the six actors who donned the crown of Bond, here is one person’s opinion of how they rate, worst to first. Of course, you may believe differently (as is well your prerogative). Guaranteed to be a hot topic of conversation around the water cooler, but remember—this is not a competition so, please, no wagering.

6. George Lazenby. Not necessarily for the reason you may think. At only one appearance as 007, he hardly had the chance to develop any sense of character or continuity. Of course, his limited acting skills certainly factor in, as well.

5. Roger Moore. Although he gains points for longevity, he loses even more for his lack of chest hair. Not just by his own doing, Moore took a dark and thrilling character and, in terms of sincerity, left him just short of Shemp Howard.

4. Pierce Brosnan. Not bad, not bad at all—but he looks too skinny to peel a banana, let alone save the world. Still, he gave Bond a sense of urgency and worked very hard to make the character his own. Bravo, Brosnan.

Read the other three on Bookgasm.com!

James Bond FAQ

James Bond FAQ is a book that takes on the iconic cinema franchise that’s lasted for so many years. Sometimes serious as SPECTRE, sometimes quirkier than Q, but always informative, this FAQ takes the reader behind-the-scenes, as well as in front of the silver screen. Everyone’s included: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig; little-known facts about TV’s first shot at 007, the same Bond story that was made into two different films; whatever happened to those wonderful cars and gizmos that thrilled everyone; plus much more. It’s a book for the casual, as well as hardcore, James Bond fan.

Voice and Speech Training Today by Nancy Saklad

Guest Blogger: Nancy Saklad is the author of Voice and Speech Training in the New Millennium. Below is a post she wrote for the blog StageNotes.net.

Voice and speech training today is a far cry from the elocution training of the 19th century with its cookie cutter, perfectly shaped vowels and predetermined patterns of inflection. Today’s training does not uphold a single “standard” for all actors to learn (except perhaps a standard of vocal health and safety.) Rather, today’s voice and speech training provides tools for freeing the actor’s instrument and expanding the actor’s expressiveness. It is not considered separate from actor training but instead a means of evoking performances that are rich in clarity, variety, spontaneity, emotional and intellectual expressiveness and safe for the actor’s instrument. This type of training directs the actor’s awareness to the sensation of the ever-changing moment and so keeps him in the moment with this point of focus.

For more please visit StageNotes.net.

Voice and Speech Training in the New Millennium

Voice and speech training has long been a part of the fabric of actor training and the training of those whose task it has been to persuade through the voice: primarily actors, politicians, lawyers, and other public speakers. Voice and Speech Training in the New Millennium is a collection of interviews with 24 of today’s leading voice and speech teachers, each of whom has contributed to the advancement of the field and made today’s training a cutting edge component of actor training. Included are interviews with master teachers Richard Armstrong, Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Kristin Linklater, Catherine Fitzmaurice, Dudley Knight, Robert Barton, Rocco DalVera, Natsuko Ohama, Nancy Krebs, Bonnie Raphael, Susan Sweeney, Fran Bennett, Louis Colaianni, Nancy Houfek, Jan Gist, Andrea Haring, Saul Kotzubei, Robert Neff Williams, Andrew Wade, David Carey, Phil Thompson, Deb Kinghorn, and Gillian Lane-Plescia. Amidst their similarities and differences in approach is a unified spirit and acknowledgment that voice work is of fundamental importance to the actor’s training process and has the potential to resonate profoundly with the actor and with the audience.

High School Inspired Broadway: Q & A with Robert Viagas

Robert Viagas PlblYrbook_AuPhoto_314865Robert Viagas is the editor of The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012. Below is a Q &A with StageNotes.net.

What first sparked your interest in Broadway and Theatre?

Being tall (now 6′ 4”) had a curious amount to do with it. Although I wasn’t raised in a theatrical household, I was often asked play the father or other adult roles in elementary school plays because I was the tallest. Then, when I was in my teens, I had a friend who loved theatre and got a reviewing gig for our local newspaper so he could see shows for free. But Times Square in the 1970s was a much more dangerous place than it is now, so he invited me to come along, partly as a bodyguard, I suppose. Well, the theatre bug bit me hard, and it’s been all downhill from there. I’m now a member of the Tony nominating committee, as well as being founder of Playbill.com and founding editor of “The Playbill Broadway Yearbook.” Over the years I have blocked the view of countless theatregoers sitting behind me, especially when I am accompanied by one of my sons, who are 6’8” and 6’6”, respectively.

What was your favorite subject in High School and why?

It would be easy to say Music or English, both of which I did like a lot. My 8th grade English teacher Miss Heidengen, took me to my first Broadway show on a field trip: “Man of La Mancha.” But my favorite was Social Studies, mainly because I also like history and, especially, maps. That interest has helped me a lot when watching plays like Shakespeare’s War of the Roses dramas or more recent plays like “Copenhagen,” “Democracy,” “The Coast of Utopia,” and even “Clybourne Park.” Every year our high school music department staged a big musical, and in 7th grade I was invited to help beef-up the chorus of “Guys and Dolls,” again because I was tall and could easily pass for a 10th grader. In 11th grade they gave me the lead in “Promises, Promises,” even though the lead usually went to a senior. So I did have a certain fondness for Music as well, although I played no instrument. However, I didn’t consider theatre as a career at that point.

How did the Playbill Broadway Yearbook come to be 8 seasons ago?

It was the brainchild of our publisher, Philip Birsh, who had originally hired me to launch and run Playbill.com, and has since expanded Playbill from being just a theatre program company into a theatre INFORMATION company, with numerous websites, a travel branch, an online branch, a book branch, broadcast, etc. He walked into my office one day and said, “I have an idea. Let’s make a high school yearbook, but for the people who work on Broadway.” Everything else grew out of that.

Keep reading this Q&A on StageNotes.net.

The Playbill Broadway Yearbook: June 2011 to May 2012

Many of the people who work on Broadway keep scrapbooks of their experiences: photos, signed posters, ticket stubs, and, of course the Playbills. These are treasured keepsakes, something to be savored over a lifetime, and then passed on to friends and descendants. Playbill Books, a division of the iconic 128-year-old company that designs the programs for every show on Broadway, has expanded this idea into an annual project that has become a Broadway institution: The Playbill Broadway Yearbook. Taking the form of a high school or college yearbook, the eighth edition is packed with photos (more than 4,000 of them, many in color) and memorabilia from the entire 2011-2012 Broadway season.

The new edition includes chapters on 70 Broadway shows, which is every show that ran during the season – not just such new shows as Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Once, Newsies, Nice Work If You Can Get It, and One Man, Two Guvnors, but the long-running ones from seasons past, such as Phantom of the Opera, The Book of Mormon, and Wicked. In addition to headshots of all the actors who appeared in Playbill, the book has photos of producers, writers, designers, stage managers, stagehands, musicians, ushers – even Leonardo, the “SM” fish who is the backstage mascot at Jersey Boys. This year’s roster is expected to top 10,000 names.

Q&A with Andrew Gerle

Andrew GerleAndrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition. Below is a Q&A that was done with stagenotes.net.

What first sparked your interest in Broadway and Theatre?

I’ve been in love with theater since I was a small child, doing plays and musicals in school growing up, then joining a children’s theater company in Tallahassee. I love music (grew up as a classical pianist) and I love stories, so it’s a perfect combination.

What was your favorite subject in High School and why?

I was a typical music/math geek, so I really liked math classes. It was like doing puzzles. Organic chemistry was also fun, similar puzzle-type activity.

When did you decide to write The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition and why?

I had been toying with the idea for several years before I sat down to write it a few summers ago. I had played so many auditions and had begun to see patterns in the actors that were auditioning, simple pointers that clearly they just weren’t being taught. I love actors, and it frustrated me to see good ones giving bad auditions when I knew they could be doing better and feeling better about the process.

Other than auditioning, what lessons can be taken away from the book for subjects like Public Speaking, Music, Psychology, Social Studies, etc.?

I’ve had a lot of people read the book and see parallels in other disciplines. What I stress is not only the nuts-and-bolts specifics of audition technique for musical theater, but even more importantly, the mindset that leads to a successful audition, and a successful career. When you put too much pressure on a single audition (or speech, or performance, or athletic event), it can really get in your way. The most successful auditions are ones where the actor is simply showing themselves off to their best ability, doing what they do best, not trying to be something they’re not, not trying to please people they’ve never met. Confidence is seductive and leads to a better performance, no matter what the field.

Keep reading this interview on stagenotes.net.

The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition

“I am your accompanist. You do not know me. I am the guy who sits behind the upright in the unflattering fluorescent light of the dance studio, a bottle of water on the floor, a half-eaten Power Bar on the bench, and your audition in my hands.”

Award-winning New York theatre composer and pianist Andrew Gerle pulls no punches in this irreverent, fly-on-the-wall guide to everything you’ve never been taught about auditioning for musical theatre. From the unique perspective of the pianist’s bench, he demystifies the audition process, from how to put together your book and speak to an accompanist to the healthiest and savviest ways to approach the audition marketplace and your career. By better understanding the dynamics of professional auditions, you will learn to present yourself in the strongest, most castable way while remaining true to your own special voice – the one that, in the end, will get you the job.

13 in Your Classroom

Jason Robert Brown is the songwriter and lyricist for 13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway MusicalBelow is an excerpt from the libretto’s introduction, as seen on stagenotes.net.

From the age of eleven until I turned eighteen, I spent my summers at a music and theater camp called French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, a pretentious and ridiculous name that perfectly suited the pretentious and ridiculous upper-middle-class teenagers who went there (and still do). French Woods promised its campers an immersive experience in the arts; what mattered most to me as an aspiring thespian were the thirty or so plays and musicals that were produced there every summer.

I know it can’t be true that the version of Nine I saw at French Woods in 1986 was superior to Tommy Tune’s Tony Award-winning original production, but as far as my memory is concerned, there’s no contest. I am convinced that when I was in Merrily We Roll Along that same summer, we made that show work in ways it never did before or since. And it doesn’t matter what Neil Simon says—the definitive Eugene Morris Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs is Doug Shapiro of Miller Place, Long Island, even though he only did the show in a two-hundred-seat un-air-conditioned theater in upstate New York filled with restless suburban drama nerds, and even though the girl who played his mother was fifteen. There is a certain strange comfort in not attempting to reconcile these memories with the more likely reality that we looked exactly like the bunch of gawky, goofy amateurs playing dress-up that we were. It doesn’t matter. We felt the current crackling through the theater, and we knew we got it right.

Some of us campers did end up making a life in the theater, but for those summers, all of us were making a life from the theater. We were nurtured and sustained and given meaning not just by the words and songs and dances that inhabited our bodies but by the communion of sharing the stage with our friends, our mentors, and our audience. Once I became a “professional,” once I joined the ragtag army of artists who count on the theater to pay their bills and provide a long and consistent career, that communion became ever more elusive. It is simply true that in spite of anyone’s best intentions, professional artists are not “all in this together.” We are climbing and fighting and pushing for a life that at least occasionally resembles the thing that we all fell in love with in the first place, and for the vast majority of us, that thing remains tantalizingly in the distance.

Keep reading this post on stagenotes.net.

13: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical

One of the most frequently produced new musicals of the last decade, 13 is a rollicking musical comedy featuring a cast exclusively made up of teenagers. Thirteen 13-year-olds, as a matter of fact.

Evan Goldman is two months from turning 13 years old, living happily in New York City, the greatest city on Earth, when his world is blown apart by his parents’ divorce, and he is dragged away from home to live with his mother in a small town in the Midwest. Facing a new life in a new place where the customs and culture are utterly alien to him, and with his bar mitzvah getting closer every day, Evan has to navigate who he wants to be versus who he really is, and see if he can make it through the fall without losing the best friends he’ll ever have.

James Bond FAQ: The Best Bond Film

Tom DeMichaelGuest Blogger: Tom DeMichael is the author of James Bond FAQ, which will be released from Applause Books in February 2013.

OK, my last post featured my five “favorite” James Bond films. Along the way, I tried to explain the difference between “favorite” and “best.” Put succinctly – “favorite” is emotionally-based and “best” is based on logical analysis and measurable qualities. Of course, both categories can be argued and wrestled with – much like 007 going for Goldfinger’s golden gun.

The “best” Bond films entail so many factors for consideration, with cumulative totals sending them to the top of the list. For the sake of clarity, let’s take the following factors into account.

- Performance – Simply stated, actors and actresses that convince the viewer that they are     really who they are in the world of Bond. From Sean Connery and Honor Blackman to Daniel Craig and Eva Green, these folks bring the goods.

- Story/script – The portion of that world that rolls out on the screen for somewhere around two hours. It’s where the viewers are taken, the action the viewers see (including all those wonderful gadgets,) the words they hear coming from the mouths of the performers and, ultimately, how the viewers feel when they leave the theater. Long-time contributor Richard Maibaum, the team of Purvis, Wade, and Logan, and many others brought Bond to life.

- Direction – The bus driver for the aforementioned cinematic trip, creating the vision by translating the written word. Think Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, or Sam Mendes, among others.

- Cinematography and production design – How the film looks – set design, camera movement, and lighting, creating the richness of the projected image, visually influencing the emotions of the viewers. Crafted by Ken Adam, Peter Lamont, Ted Moore, David Tattersall and more.

- Music score – Another component of the emotional impact, enhancing the thrills, suspense, humor, and other facets of the story. Courtesy of greats like John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch, and David Arnold.

- The myriad of sets, props, special effects, makeup, costuming, and other technical aspects in the movie that fill the screen (and consume the budget) to make the flick most memorable.

While anyone can have “favorites,” choosing “bests” might require a more experienced person, possessing the background and knowledge to separate emotion from the facts. Then, who am I to say what’s “best?” For the record, I have written about the film world for more than twenty years, publishing in books and magazines (including the upcoming James Bond FAQ for Applause Theater and Cinema Books,) as well as being a former college major in TV/film, a technician for broadcast television, and a makeup artist for stage, film, and live performance. As actor Walter Brennan used to say in his 1960′s TV show, The Guns of Will Sonnett – “No brag, just fact.”

That said, I offer the following five films as the “best” Bond films in the last fifty years, understanding fully that – despite the above-stated qualifiers – your results may differ. And that’s OK…

Number five: Licence to Kill

With a non-Communist story based on drug trafficking, and plot points taken from Fleming’s Live and Let Die novel and The Hildebrand Rarity short story, this film focused on the conflict between Bond’s coldness in his job and loyalty to his friends. Timothy Dalton and Robert Davi turned in great performances as hero and villain, while John Glen delivered a gritty film – the best of his five Bond directions.

Number four: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Forget that George Lazenby was not an actor and had the thankless task of picking up the baton from Sean Connery. OHMSS told the story that Ian Fleming had written – Bond falling in love and getting married, only to lose one of the few things that ever had value in his life. Telly Savalas – pre-Kojak and lollipops – brought a determined Blofeld to the screen, sans fright makeup. Diana Rigg played Tracy, Bond’s betrothed, as a free spirit tamed by 007. Editor-turned-director Peter R. Hunt told this story very well.

Number three: From Russia With Love

Only the second film in the series, From Russia With Love was pure espionage, with few gadgets and great performances by Connery, Robert Shaw, Pedro Armendariz (dying of cancer while shooting his scenes,) and Lotte Lenya. The story stayed close to its roots as written by Ian Fleming, while spanning Europe and visiting cities like Istanbul and Venice. The action on the Orient Express was great, with Bond and Red Grant viciously fighting to the death. The movie was pure Cold War stuff.

Number two: Casino Royale

With stories, people, and direction having strayed during the Brosnan days (although still very entertaining films,) 2006′s Casino Royale brought everything back to basics – action, suspense, and three-dimensional characters. The film’s look ranged from harsh (007′s opening and brutal brawl in the washroom) to lush (scenes in the casino and the Bahamas.) Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen were tops in playing their parts and director Martin Campbell kept the action moving. Casino Royale told a great story, breathing new life into a franchise that had begun to look a bit ragged.

Number one: Goldfinger

Perhaps the stars (celestial, not theatrical) were in alignment for this one – everything clicked, presenting the essence of the character of James Bond and his world. With Fleming’s novel as a guide, ruthless and unique characters like Goldfinger, Oddjob, and Pussy Galore were brought to life (German actor Gert Fröbe can thank actor Michael Collins for dubbing the voice of the villain.) Connery hit his stride as 007, the gadgets opened everyone’s eyes, and director Guy Hamilton continued to shape the characters first handled by Terence Young. Production designer Ken Adam’s set of Fort Knox was impressive – considering the US government denied him any access to view the facility (Can you blame them? Someone may have taken a free sample at the end of the tour.) Composer John Barry built the suspense with brass better than anyone, especially during the sequences of Goldfinger’s invasion of the gold depository.

If anyone can only see one Bond film, it should be Goldfinger.

There’s plenty more to the world of 007 to consider, so come on back…

 

James Bond FAQ is a book that takes on the iconic cinema franchise that’s lasted for so many years. Sometimes serious as SPECTRE, sometimes quirkier than Q, but always informative, this FAQ takes the reader behind-the-scenes, as well as in front of the silver screen. Everyone’s included: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig; little-known facts about TV’s first shot at 007, the same Bond story that was made into two different films; whatever happened to those wonderful cars and gizmos that thrilled everyone; plus much more. It’s a book for the casual, as well as hardcore, James Bond fan. James Bond FAQ is filled with biographies, synopses, production stories, and images and illustrations seldom seen in print, leaving little else to be said about the world’s favorite secret agent.