Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guest Artist Tom Mounsey on Big Love

Post from Big Love Guest Artist Tom Mounsey (Class of2008)

When I was a first-year student at Portland Actors Conservatory, way back in 2007, my biggest goal was to audition well and make it into the second year. Once I had done that, I strove to grow as an actor throughout the course of our season and graduate feeling like I had accomplished something I could be proud of. Once I had graduated, the focus of my acting goals moved away from PAC, and out into the wild world of Portland theatre. But deep within me, I knew that I had not yet achieved everything I wanted as far as the Conservatory was concerned. No, there was one mountain left to climb: appearing as a guest artist. Philip Cuomo, for reasons I cannot begin to imagine, has given me that opportunity this year by asking me to join in the crazy adventure that is Big Love.

It was strange, coming back to PAC this way. Guest Artist. Let's ignore the "artist" part, and focus on "guest." Isn't that someone who comes and stays in your home, but is never really part of the family? The students at PAC work and practically live together throughout the course of their training, and I know from experience this creates a bond that one can only describe as familial. Would they accept me? I can answer that question with a resounding "yes." I haven't worked with a more welcoming group of people since I graduated from PAC, and I have only worked with lovely people. This goes not only for the students, but also the other, much more talented, guest artists involved in the show.

And what of "artist?" My first reaction to that word is always, "I'm no artist. Van Gogh was an artist. Come on." So let's think of it a different way. How about someone who does this acting thing out in the

"real world," and therefore knows what s/he is doing, and has experience and wisdom to share with those who are not out there yet? That sounds about right, but that's an insane amount to live up to!

Would I have wisdom I could share with them? Would I in some way be able to set a positive professional example? I have to admit, I'm a bit of a goof, so I don't know about setting a professional example. Wisdom? The best thing I can come up with is "always be polite and respectful," and that's something people are supposed to learn in kindergarten. Looking back now, I can't think of a single time I provided wise words, or a specific example that I set. I hope I have been helpful in some way, but to be honest, they seem wiser and more professional than I have ever been. I think I've probably taken more away from them than they have from me.

So I achieved my goal of being a guest artist at PAC. Yes, this is in some ways the icing on the cake of my graduating in the first place, but the main thing I have learned is that I am still a student. Not officially at the Conservatory, but of acting and of life. I have learned every day, both directly from Philip as my director, and indirectly by watching my cast-mates take Big Love from a table-read to the living, breathing piece of art it is now. And it's been wonderful. I would do it again and again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Clown for the Actor – Guest Post by Philip Cuomo

WHY study Clown?!?

Philip Cuomo, PAC Associate Director, faculty member and clown, answers this question with his top five reasons:

5) Clown is fun. It demands silly hats, colorful costumes, energetic music and lots of dancing.

4) Clown is extreme. This form demands commitment and energy, while breaking down psychological barriers and inhibitions.

3) Clown is laughter and tears. Between ying and yang, a clown can’t have the joy of laughter without the pathos of tears.

2) Clown is exaggeration. These timehonored techniques are stagecraft, magnified.

1) Clown is character development.

Clowning demands digging deep into one’s unique psychology and physicality, and revealing the self the actor chooses to present to the world. That self is then held up for celebration and derision and its inherent ridiculousness.

Using heightened stagecraft and dynamic physical exercise, patterns of behavior and attitudes are revealed without judgment. As the actor gives attention to his or her unique imaginative associations, the shape of the individual clown emerges. This is an intimate, internal exploration, exaggerated in a fantastical theatrical world. Actors who learn clown must develop skills to be vulnerable and intimate, while expanding expression and dynamics - skills appropriate for any style of character development and theatre.

My ongoing clown workshop through the Studio Program at Portland Actors Conservatory is intended for both the actor who has never clowned before and clowns who are looking to refresh characterizations or further develop bits. Exercises for both the beginner and the street wise professional are the same: starting with dancing, basic stage/streetcraft such as entrances and exits, the take, the rule of three, the three second rule, and other fundamentals. Elements (earth, air, water, fire), materials (glass, oil, steel etc.), and Laban effort actions (dab, flick, glide, etc.) are also explored in an exaggerated form, demanding both the new comer and the old timer to stretch and extend physicality. This strenuous approach demands commitment and focus, concentration and energy, which break down psychological barriers and inhibitions revealing deeper truths about the individual.

These moments of revelation lead the performer to make choices about who he is and how he presents himself to the world. This presentation is then exaggerated for effect and an opposite truth is chosen to offset her psychology. All clowns are all things and can be in one moment vulgar and in the next elegant, or sweet and sour, or prude and lusty or arrogant and humble. The ying and yang of the clown, the primary quality and its opposite comprise the clown character. In the creation and execution of bits the performer in the clown world is required to shift from one extreme to the next and back again one moment to the next.

It is in the distance traveled between the extremes that moment-to-moment reality is elevated into a clown reality. The skill to travel in an exaggerated way from one extreme to the next translates to good moment-to-moment behavior on stage in any style or form. The requirements to stay connected and organic in the clown world are demanding, and amazing exercise for the actor in developing the skill to stay organically connected and in character from one moment to the next.

Last reason to take a clown class: Clown is demand.
Are you ready to demand something of yourself?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Guest Post by Philip Cuomo - "Unleashing The Monster"

This post comes to you from the tech week for "Big Love," directed by PAC associate director Philip Cuomo.

Charles Mee’s Big Love is a huge story. All about power and gender, sex and love. His narrative exposes the elegance and the vulgarity of life. It is sophisticated and base, witty and boorish.

As we approach tech week everything is still very polite. We seem stuck in low gear. Many of the performers have shifted out of second into third gear, some from third to fourth, but we have yet to open up the throttle. Repetition will help, adding tech will help, picking up the pace and understanding the text and action of the play better will help. But as I watched our run-through Sunday night I wondered if that will be enough, will we reach overdrive, attain maximum velocity.

It occurred to me I needed to take the reins off big Rich Cashin. Let his character Constantine explode onto the stage. I have been working Rich to find the cap to Constantine’s emotional life, which has stifled and contained his instrument. He has worked the text with a sophistication that has shamed his arrogant director and taken my direction fully to heart, working to govern his impulses, and as a result Constantine has become polite.
It is time to honor Rich’s large physical instrument, his booming voice, expose the head banger he once was: unchain the beast. Let him tear it up, over the top, big and bad. No apologizes. Rattle the stage and upset the delicate imagery created by the director.

It is why I cast him in the role in the first place. Allow him to be the electric performer he is capable of being. Unleash the Monster.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Guest Post from PAC Board Member Jeff Gorham

Conservatory Confessions is pleased to start bringing in guest posts from people around the Conservatory. Our last guest post was from Rich Rubin, a member of our playreading group, on his impressions after attending "Crimes of the Heart" at Sandy Actors Theatre. This one is from our newest board member, Jeff Gorham, who you might remember as Mr. Kirby from this season's production of "You Can't Take it With You." He's decided to share his experience of being in the audience for the Second Year auditions.

I had the fine pleasure and honor to be asked to be on the panel of judges for Portland Actors Conservatory's First Year students auditioning to get into the second year of the program. Having auditioned myself for an MFA program, I felt the immediate energy in the room as these First Year students waited backstage while the instructions for evaluating these fine students were given to us. You never quite know what to expect when you are given a task like this, and I have to tell you that I was simply out of my mind, blown away by what these First Year students brought to the stage with their auditions that day. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a couple of the acting faculty and I kept asking them if they were as blown away as I was. The answer was an emphatic yes.

You would have had to be there to feel it, but these students invested everything they had been taught over the past year into this one day of - without sounding to dramatic - destiny.

This was not a day where you sat down and watched a group of actors do a monologue of contrasting differences. This was a day where the students started at 10:00am and finished at 4:15pm. All disciplines of acting were covered and the students did not fail.

What Portland Actors Conservatory is doing here in Portland should be celebrated by the entire city. The craft of acting is far more than taking a role on stage and developing a character and bringing it to life. Acting prepares individuals for something larger than the stage, and that is life. Nothing is more compelling in life than when you have an individual who has the ability to listen, to be empathetic and engaging, and have the ability to present in an impactful manner.

On May 21st, I had joy in my soul watching these students put it all out there on the stage. Every one of these First Year students should stand up proudly whether they made it to Second Year or not. Everyone says this, but in this case it is truer than ever. I celebrate Portland Actors Conservatory and the fine group of First Year students who took the risk.

"You Can't Take It With You" images courtesy Jeff Forbes.