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Sunday, October 9, 2011
The Interview, Part 3
ME: I went to the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Now it's called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. I may have wanted to go to a professional theatre school or some other college with a reputation, there was no money or means to get my hands on either of those, so I woke up early each morning and caught a little yellow school bus that carried us locals down the road (Highway 90) from Crowley through Rayne, then Scott and, finally, to the campus where we all dispersed until late afternoon, when we would all reassemble for the trek back to our little towns. Except, of course, for me when I was in a play and had to rehearse at night. Then I would catch a Greyhound bus back to Crowley where my my dad would meet me at the station and sometimes come up onto the bus to wake me up and carry me home.
TQ: Those were the good old days ...
ME: They were miserable. I never got enough sleep. I did manage to get my studying in on the buss though. I was always able to do that, shut out the outside noise and concentrate. Not anymore. I get distracted now.
TQ: What was the theatre program like?
ME: I didn't like it at the time. I wanted to fill my head with art and theory and process. I wanted an esoteric high. Instead, we were constantly being taught how to enter and exit, how to project our voices, how to walk and stand and sit in a chair. None of which you do onstage the same way you would do it in your own bedroom. Thank God for the campus library. I continued to read a lot and got my highs in the stacks.
TQ: Sounds like a smothering experience. How did you cope?
ME: Looking back on it now, I think it was the best kind of education I could have gotten. The kind of education that seems to be missing nowadays. (I sound like an old fart. Have I become an old fart?) Remember I could still run to the library and get high whenever I felt like I was suffocating. The fact is, everybody needs discipline. Everyone needs a grounding in technique. You've got to know how to properly do something. You can't paint unless you know how to hold a brush and pass it over a canvas. Try it. It's not as easy as it sounds. You can't dance Giselle if you haven't spent the better part of your life in ballet class. I go to plays today, and what I see onstage is formless. What I should be hearing is inaudible - or incomprehensible because the actors have never made friends with their consonants. Believing you can empathize with a role does not make you able to communicate it to an audience. I don't know what it is that's kept me from yelling, "Sing out, Louise," in the middle of a performance. That's typically the kind of thing I would do.
TQ: You'd find yourself canned.
ME: I'd probably get a round of applause. You'd be surprised how often people will remark after a performance, "I couldn't make out half of what they were saying;" or how rarely they will say, "I could hear every word." They say it with a sense of wonder, like it's something odd. Well, it shouldn't be. Anyway, my college experience was drudgery. Which was what I needed. Art takes time, and that's something the young don't have.
TQ: That's very perceptive.
TQ: Yes. Yes, it is. What were some of the plays you did in college?
ME: The first play I got into was Mother Courage and Her Children. I played Eilif. Brecht. Can you imagine? Our first blocking rehearsal, our director, who would become the head of the department a year later, told me to enter from stage right and cross to Courage. I asked him something really stupid like, "What's my motivation?" And he started screaming at me that my motivation was to do whatever the hell he told me to do, goddammit! I never opened my mouth in rehearsal again. I learned to figure those things out for myself (a good lesson for a future director: know motivations and be willing to listen to your actors). I was lucky, though, because most of the cast were upperclassmen who'd already asked their stupid questions before I'd asked mine and had gotten the same kind of response. So they took me under their wings and looked out for me after that. But I never auditioned for any other play directed by this guy.
TQ: Sad ...
ME: No, funny. I mean, how more stereotypical and stupid could I have been? But it happened, and it passed. The next play I remember doing was Royal Gambit, a play of ideas using Henry VIII and his wives as metaphors - or something like that. The main reason I remember it was because there was a senior theatre major at USL who was fat and had grown a beard to make him look like he was Henry. Everyone assumed the part was his, but I auditioned for it and got it. I reveled in winning it. I was a blockhead of insensitivity. I think these were the only two plays I did as a Freshman. I became choosy. I didn't live to be in every play. I saw classmates jump at every chance to get up onstage, but I was different. I thought that was kind of unnatural. Between classes and rehearsals, there was little time for anything else, like living a life. I remember thinking how some of the people who jumped from show to show didn't seem to be developing depth but were, rather, developing shtick. You see this all the time. Ready-made performances. It's easier than starting at the beginning.
TQ: What do you mean by "starting at the beginning?"
ME: I mean starting blank. Putting aside things you've done in past performances and starting over from scratch. Each role becomes a new life that develops the way we do as we grow. You start off being conscious of sitting in a playpen, let's say. You look out at all the strange things around you. What can those things be for and what do they mean? The urge for adventure becomes an irresistible force, and you start to crawl, then walk. Falling doesn't stop you. Knocks on the head - that hurt - don't stop you. You start a role from a passive place. Maybe it's like observing nature. You don't impose yourself on it, you let it happen while you observe it, you make assessments, and you learn from that. That enough metaphor for you? I didn't do a lot of plays in college, but I did the good ones. That was where I realized I had a capacity for learning and the ability to absorb what I had learned and make it a part of who and what I was. Two different things, the first one useful, the second one an uncommon gift.