Tag Archives: theatre

The Suit and Peter Brook

I can’t remember when I first learned of director Peter Brook and his work. Maybe it was reading The Empty Space in college, maybe it was before then, but after coming back from my year abroad in London (where is name was certainly thrown around frequently), I dug into his history of work, reading Conference of the Birds, scouring the internet for images and details of his past productions, all because I had become obsessed with ways to combine multiculturalism and theatre. To this day, I have a hard time finding a way to combine the two in a new way, but that’s another story. I always thought it would be sooooooo incredible to work with Peter Brook on these daring productions and admired him for being so incredibly prolific. As you can imagine, I was thrilled by the opportunity to see The Suit while it was here visiting UCLA on it’s world tour, directed by Peter Brook himself.

The Suit, From the Afridiziak Theatre News website

The Suit, From the Afridiziak Theatre News website

As was expected, the story was beautifully put together. Scenes weaved in and out very organically, the use of the fourth wall was very appropriate to the type of show/story, and the performances were extremely focused and strategically nuanced. The three actors, Jordan Barbour, Ivanno Jeremiah, and Nonhlanhla Kheswa, gave masterful and captivating performances. The music was a absolutely a fourth character, playing almost constantly. The musicians (a guitarist, a trumpeter, and a guy switching between an accordion and a piano) deserve just as much praise as the actors.

I would go on and on about what made it so fantastic, but I’m not trying to write a review, AND they’ve moved on to a different city and I don’t want to tease you. What I wanted to explain about the impact of this show is that as I move more fully into the film/tv realm (never letting go of theatre, though!), The Suit was a great reminder of powerful it can be to experience a show that’s best and only possible incarnation is live performance. To film this piece would strip it of all that makes it so lovely– the amazing flow of energy in and out of scenes, the feeling that you get hearing these instruments played live as if just for you, the palpable connection between audience and storytellers, the way that subtle emotions make you lean in to read the feelings on an actor’s face… It just felt special. And that, my friends, is what I love about theatre. No matter what caliber of venue, company, or production you are partaking in, a well-executed piece of theatre will feel like you have experienced something unique and personal– like that performance was made solely to feed the souls of the folks who came that particular evening.

Thank you, Mr. Brook, for reminding me of this, for directing another show at 89 years old, and for creating such a wonderful celebration of my favorite art form.

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Musings on Musical Theatre

After getting cast in a benefit concert called “Broadway Beginnings” to raise money for Camp Musart and arts education (a cause very near and dear t my heart!), I got right to work rehearsing my appointed song– “The Worst Pies in London,” from Sweeney Todd.

My instructions have been to interpret the song as close to the original broadway recording as possible. Now, I love Angela Landsbury (she is in my Baller Hall of Fame), but this direction is notable to me because it illustrates the difference between being an imitator and being an artist. Musical theatre often toes this line which has lead to me having more of a love/hate relationship with it rather than just the love relationship I had before.

Musical theatre was IT as far as the school theatre back in junior high/high school. The annual musicals were more important– they cost more money, they made more money, and when it came to casting the fact that I could sing well made up for the fact that I didn’t look like a model. They brought in more attendance and brought us more small town glory. For many people who later pursue acting, popular musical theatre is an important starting place, and is often very close to the heart.

For me, it was always a passion, but when I graduated from college and thrust myself into the real world, I realized that I would never be happy doing national tours or regional shows of well known musicals for the rest of my life. Certainly, living the musical live on stage, singing a song when you’re really feeling it… there’s nothing like that. BUT, there’s a certain expectation in musical theatre that you’re going to do it just like it’s been done before. If you’re going to play Sandy in Grease, if you’re going to play Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, if you’re going to play Eliza in My Fair Lady– the audience is going to expect to see that person act a certain way, to hear the songs sung a certain way, etc. People buy tickets and come to the show because they want to see something familiar and something that they know they already like. To make changes to the essence of that character would disturb the vibe of the show that brought them there in the first place.

For nostalgia’s sake, I get it. It can be great to let music take you back in time and to hear songs you know so well– classics are classics for a reason, and that’s certainly why most theatre companies do them with some regularity and why it’s not difficult to get people to see them.

However, as an artist and a creative person, I don’t feel that’s enough for me. As is written about in Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, people who replicate art are not artists. The originator of the art is the artist. Harsh, maybe, but it goes back to the whole Plato’s The Republic and the chair thing  (what is the TRUE chair, the drawing of a chair is merely an imitation of an actual chair, etc, etc). The further away you get from the real source of creation, the less one can consider it art.

Now don’t get me wrong– I love classic musicals, many of them are extremely special to me and make me super emotional, and I’d love to keep doing them from time to time. I LOVE to support arts education, and am happy to be a part of a show that focuses on that.

I also hope that I can spend most of my acting career being a creator, sharing new stories with people, and collaborating on brand new projects where one can play outside the confines of the past.

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Eugenio Barba Says…

“Whatever hidden, personal motives led you to the theatre now that you have entered that profession you must find there a sense which goes beyond your proper person and fixes you socially in the sight of others… If the fact of being an actor means all that to you, then a new theatre will be born.”

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