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Posts Tagged ‘actor’

cmyk-albina-ishmasova-as-lady-macbeth

Photo: Kyrgyz Academic State Theatre
Albina Ishmasova as Lady Macbeth. As part of a unique collaboration in Kyrgyzstan, director Sarah Berger created three versions of
Macbeth using the Kyrgyz language, which she doesn’t speak.

Theatrical directors are often up for a challenge, but this challenge takes the cake: directing actors who don’t speak your language in a production of Macbeth.

That is what Sarah Berger did in Kyrgyzstan. She writes about it at The Stage.

“I recently returned from six weeks in Kyrgyzstan directing the first ever Kyrgyz translation of Macbeth, made from Russian into Kyrgyz, at the Kyrgyz Academic State Theatre in Bishkek.

“I worked with 30 Kyrgyz actors who spoke no English. I don’t speak Russian or Kyrgyz.

“To add to the mix, I took two British actors with me, Claire Cartwright and Steve Hay, who performed in English with the rest of the cast speaking Kyrgyz. They played Lady Macbeth and Macbeth respectively. There was also a fully Kyrgyz performance that was filmed and screened on state TV.

“So I had to deliver three different versions of the production in just over three weeks, as we performed four premieres with the cast variations.

“The challenge of that aside, the Kyrgyz state theatre method of working is entirely different to what we’re used to in the UK: the company comprises people who have trained there and are attached to the theatre throughout their working life, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

“The advantages are that they practise their craft every day, and are used to working as a company. They are vocally highly trained and easily fill an 800-seat theatre. They are physically grounded and able to experiment with movement and voice. For example, the Witches and Hecate invented a unique style of delivery, incorporating song and dance.

“The disadvantages are that they are not hungry for work in the same way British actors are. There’s a competitive edge missing. …

“We discovered that the challenge of acting opposite someone speaking a different language was surmountable when the intentions of the scene or particular line were clear. In fact, the particular challenge for the actors wasn’t so much the language but the differing approach to rehearsals and the text. It quickly became apparent that we adhere far more strictly to the verse, and are led by it, whereas for Kyrgyz actors that is just one element of the performance. …

The production itself worked remarkably well given its disparate elements and the lack of rehearsal time. I would recommend the experience of working in such a different arena as it informs our practice.” More.

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Photo: Village Voice
Grover Gardner is one of the country’s best-known voices on audiobooks.

Many of my friends are beginning to find that audiobooks work better for them than hard copy, probably because they can do something else at the same time as listening, like driving a car. One of my nephews, in fact, says audiobooks have changed his life because he just never took to reading much but he loves learning.

One of the country’s most intuitive vocal interpreters of an author’s works is Grover Gardner, profiled recently by Molly Fitzpatrick at the Village Voice.

“When Grover Gardner goes to work, there are certain things he can’t wear. No watches. No jewelry of any kind. No starched shirts. No starched anything. Nothing that could rustle, click, rattle, or otherwise make noise. …

“Among the more than 1,200 books Gardner has narrated are Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, Stephen King’s The Stand (all 48 hours), and all four volumes of Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson published to date. The resident of Medford, Oregon, was named 2005’s Audiobook Narrator of the Year by Publishers Weekly and has been heralded among AudioFile magazine’s ‘Best Voices of the Century.’ …

“Gardner’s favorite credits include Shelby Foote’s The Civil War, Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules, Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March …, David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter mystery series, and the LBJ biographies. ‘Boy, I hope [Caro] finishes the fifth one before I get too old to read and my teeth fall out,’ Gardner says. ‘I wish he would write ten more, because I loved doing them so much.’

“For Gardner, every project begins, unsurprisingly, with reading the book in question, and with detailed visualization of the characters and events described therein. It works: His narration vividly conjures a sense of place, be it the streets of New York City via Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel, or the shores of the Mississippi via The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. ‘If you act out the performance in your head, that’s what the listener is going to hear,’ Gardner explains. That acting extends to movement within the recording booth …, vital even though unseen by his audience — for instance, shifting from one side to another while embodying each of two characters in the midst of an animated conversation, or gesturing angrily to punctuate an argument. The trick is making sure you stay on mic. …

“Even seasoned voiceover artists will find that audiobooks are a ‘completely different’ discipline. ‘If you’re coming from a context where the point is to call attention to your voice, to grab the listeners’ ear — Tomorrow, big sale!  — that doesn’t work in audiobooks,’ Gardner explains. ‘If I’m listening to the sound of your voice, I’m missing the book. The word that we use a lot in the business is “transparency.” You want people to forget. You want to disappear into the book.’ ”

More at the Village Voice.

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Here’s a great story from the Japan Times about a theater group for people over 60. Where do I sign up?

Nobuko Tanaka writes, “At the age of 91, Saitama resident Izumi Noguchi is speaking at his first press conference — at least as an actor anyway.

“ ‘When I saw an advert in April inviting anyone aged 60 or older to audition for a new project called 10,000 Gold Theater, I just felt like challenging myself to do something I’d never had a chance to try before,’ he says.

“Noguchi is the oldest person to join the 10,000 Gold Theater ensemble. …  ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream’ [is] a staging on an unparalleled scale that features some 1,600 performers (not 10,000 as the name suggests) who are all volunteers and almost all amateurs …

“Arts promoter Taneo Kato came up with the idea [when] he was watching a performance of ‘Hamlet’ in which stage icon Yukio Ninagawa directed members of the Saitama Gold Theater and Saitama Next Theater — troupes made up of older and younger actors that he formed in 2006 and 2009, respectively, after becoming artistic director at Saitama Arts Theater in 2006.

“ ‘Out of the blue, midway through “Hamlet,” veteran enka singers the Komadori Sisters — who are actually twins — appeared and sang “I Want to be Happy One Day,” ’ Kato says, recalling how striking a moment it was to see the women, born in 1938, sing those words.” More here.

I wonder how big an issue memorization is for the performers. My friend Dorothy started a group of older amateur actors in Concord, but they do readings and don’t have to memorize. I have many memorized stories, Bible verses, and poems in my head and can trot them out at a moment’s notice. Not sure if I could acquire new ones to the same extent.

Photo: Maiko Miyagawa
Massive undertaking: Seiji Nozoe directs elderly actors during rehearsals for the play ‘Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream,’ performed in Chuo-ku, Saitama City, December 2016.

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The world’s oldest working actor has died at age 101. And good for him to have worked at something he loved for so long!

Shaun Walker wrote recently at the Guardian, “Vladimir Zeldin, believed to have been the world’s oldest working actor, has died aged 101, after appearing for 71 years at the same Moscow theatre.

“The Russian actor appeared on stage as recently as [September], using a walking stick due to a broken hip, to appear in the play The Dance Teacher by the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega.

“He had appeared in the play more than 1,000 times, Tass reported. The theatre had planned for him to appear again next February, to mark his 102nd birthday. …

“Zeldin was born in 1915, when Tsar Nicholas II was on the Russian throne. He shot to fame when he appeared in the film They Met in Moscow, on which shooting began shortly before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. …

“When the war finished, Zeldin joined Moscow’s Red Army Theatre, where he was part of the troupe from 1945 until his death. The theatre is now known as the Russian Army Theatre. Fellow actors at the theatre described him as full of energy until the very last.” More.

I think the actress who played 104-year-old Great-Great-Grandmaw in All the Way Home (the stage version of James Agee’s A Death in the Family) must have been nearly as old as Zeldin. I remember her voice came out as kind of a croak. But that may have been because she was acting.

Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/AP  
Vladimir Zeldin on stage in Moscow.

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Actor Finn Wittrock wrote recently at the New York Times about helping to start a mini Shakespeare company in the 1990s to entertain his parents and other theater professionals. He recalls with wonder his young self’s confidence of success.

“I was born in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. I lived there until I was 6, then moved to Evanston, Ill., and later to Los Angeles. But every summer for most of my youth, I would go back East with my brother, my mom and my dad, who most summers was acting or teaching for Shakespeare & Company. I would often be cast as a page or an altar boy in one of the professional productions.

“I went in lieu of a summer camp; I went to romp in the Berkshires, see old friends, get out of the city. But mostly I went for the Very Young Company.

“Starting at the age of 8 and until I was 16, my oldest friends and I would get together every summer: Rory, Reilly, Wolfe, and later my brother, Dylan, and Wolfe’s brother, Tiger (yes, their real names) would arrange five or six scenes from Shakespeare, rehearse them on our own time in the sun-drenched Berkshire afternoons and perform them for the adult company after one of their Mainstage shows. We began the company ourselves and it ended when we were no longer ‘very young.’

“For a kid, it was an epic undertaking; an outlet for pre- and post-adolescent energies. We were totally self-motivated; nobody told us to do it, which was in itself an incentive. We’d choose a scene based on our own criteria: Had the company done it before? Could we make fun of them for it? Could we put Reilly in a wig and have him play a girl? And, most important: Did it end in a sword fight? …

Sometimes I yearn to have the boldness of one who knows nothing, who jumps onstage for no other reason than because he is young and has a loud voice.”

Later in his essay, Wittrock recalls something the celebrated director Mike Nichols once said about his own early years: ” ‘Why was I so confident back then? I had no business being that confident.’ And yet he attributed most of his early success to that unreasonable confidence. …

“No one gave us permission to do the Very Young Company; no one ordered us to do it, and no one had to boost our confidence to do it. We just did it. We were just kids howling Shakespeare to the Berkshire trees, and our readiness was all.” More at the New York Times, here.

At one point in my  childhood, I, too, was confident. I thought, if my parents would only call the movie theater and set it up, four of us kids — the Gordons, one of my brothers, and I — would be a smashing success performing our version of “Snow White and Rose Red” before the feature. The grownups didn’t quite believe in it.

Some neighbors and I did perform an original play about a snowman for family members. One of the actors returned a copy of the pencil-scrawled script to me at my aunt’s funeral in 2002, decades later.

Photo: Lauren Lancaster for the NY Times
Finn Wittrock, right, and Rory Hammond, enacting the killing of Lady Macduff and her son in a mini-“Macbeth.” The young actors formed their own company more than 20 years ago to entertain their parents and other professionals at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass.

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Maura Judkis of the Washington Post blogged recently about an actor who wants the opportunity to perform in your home and will throw in a surprising service.

Judkis writes, “Fringe Festival audiences have opened their homes to Brian Feldman. He has met their families and friends, admired their art, eaten their food, handled their precious china. …

“The premise for Feldman’s show, ‘Dishwasher,’ is this: He will come to a person’s house, wash all of the dirty dishes, perform a monologue of the audience’s choosing and then conclude with a single question: ‘Am I a better actor or dishwasher?’ The answer can depend on the monologue that he cold-reads — and on how crusty that casserole dish in the sink has become. The show — the first Fringe show to take place in private homes — has sold out its entire run. …

“His [work] follows in the tradition of great performance artists such as Tehching Hsieh and Marina Abramovic, but it’s more playful — and in his opinion, more theatrical.

“ ‘It’s hard to define — I’m straddling the middle, and I’m always pitching it as theater,’ he said. ‘I was always more interested in theater that had a concept that was hard to define, or things that didn’t have an ending, and didn’t necessarily have a beginning.’ …

“In the week of performing the show so far, he’s dealt with messes big and small. There was the Cleveland Park home with the too-small sink.

“ ‘It was hard to wash anything,’ he said. ‘They had a door that you could enclose yourself in the kitchen. I used it to comic effect, it was almost like “Noises Off.” ‘ …

“So far, five of his hosts have told him he’s better at acting, one has said he’s better at dishwashing, and two couldn’t decide.

“ ‘I’m trying to do as good a job dishwashing as I am acting,’ he said. ‘It’s subjective, just like art.’ ”

Read how Judkis and her friends got him to read “the character of Mrs. Pringle, who is fretting about a disappointing party, from the play ‘Fourteen’ by Alice Gerstenberg. ‘This is my last dinner party — my very last — a fiasco — an utter fiasco!’ ” here.

Photo: Maura Judkis/The Washington Post
Brian Feldman performs a monologue in the writer’s home.

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John found a sweet little video clip of the 1955 Danny Kaye film The Court Jester featuring my favorite lullaby.

I often sing “I’ll Take You Dreaming” to my grandchildren, and I sang it to John when he was a baby and to Suzanne. (A pre-verbal Suzanne used to make a squeaking noise when I came to the word “dreaming,” and I finally figured out she thought the word was “screaming.”)

The YouTube video refused to embed, try as I might, and as I poked around the web for another video, I came on some information about Danny Kaye, who was hilarious in that movie. I never saw my mother laugh so hard. The lullaby was one of the few quiet places.

“Danny Kaye left school at the age of 13 to work in the so-called Borscht Belt of Jewish resorts in the Catskill Mountains. It was there he learned the basics of show biz. From there he went through a series of jobs in and out of the business. In 1939, he made his Broadway debut in Straw Hat Revue, but it was the stage production of the musical Lady in the Dark in 1940 that brought him acclaim and notice from agents.”

Oh, boy, I saw a production of Lady in the Dark in the 1980s at the Boston Conservatory. What a show!

“Samuel Goldwyn had been trying to sign Kaye to a movie contract for two years before he eventually agreed. Goldwyn put him in a series of Technicolor musicals, starting with Up in Arms (1944). His debut was successful, and he continued to make hit movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and The Inspector General (1949). In 1954, he appeared with Bing Crosby in White Christmas (1954), which was based on the Irving Berlin song of the same name. In 1955, he made what many consider his best comedy, The Court Jester (1955). …

“He also worked tirelessly for UNICEF.” More at IMDb.

You can find the lullaby scene on YouTube. I thought the sound quality was best here.

Studio publicity photo of actor and comedian Danny Kaye. 

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