Songs for the Struggling Artist


Thinking About Respectability in Law and Theatre
August 27, 2022, 11:09 pm
Filed under: Acting, Justice, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Mostly I don’t worry about respectability. I’m aware that I work in fields that lack a certain respectability and that by operating at the margins, I do not rank high on a lot of people’s respectability scales. I notice it particularly in the comments on anything that proposes providing support for artists (for housing, basic income, anything – “Why should we help these people who don’t even do a regular job for a living?”). I have made a kind of peace with my lack of respectability and can sometimes even revel in it.

Recently, though, I found myself thinking about it – after wrapping up jury service on a civil trial, spending hours watching lawyers. Lawyers, despite all the jokes to the contrary, experience a high level of respectability. Often, immigrants want their children to grow up to be lawyers (and doctors!) so that they know the children have achieved something like respectability. No one shakes their head regretfully when they hear someone is going to law school. It’s a sign they are entering a respectable social class, a genteel profession. There may be a lot of jokes about how terrible lawyers are but no one will be disappointed if their kid becomes one.

After sitting through a week and a half of a personal injury lawyer trying to gaslight us into punishing a doctor for something he didn’t do, I really don’t think law is such a respectable profession anymore. I may not make a lot of money but I don’t try to convince people of lies. I may do things that a lot of people don’t understand but I don’t waste people’s time and attention on spurious situations. I don’t take advantage of vulnerable people and expose their innermost life details to groups of people for no good reason. I do not find the guy who does this kind of work respectable.

The other lawyer, the guy defending against this case didn’t strike me as all that much more respectable, honestly, even though he at least had truth and science on his side. But this man spends all his time pushing back on the specious claims. He’s participating in it, too. If this lawsuit had not been brought, he would not have had a case. None of it struck me as particularly respectable. And yet.

It made me feel my own lack of respectability keenly in a way. I do not usually pay much mind to such things but I thought of all the actors I know, tired of being asked “Oh, where do you wait tables?” when they tell someone they’re an actor so they just decide to go to law school, just to get some respect for a change.

I read a quote from Uta Hagen recently where she explained why she called her book Respect for Acting. Her sense was that there wasn’t enough respect for the work and she hoped to foster some. (I’ll put the whole quote below. It’s bracing and inspiring.) There’s even less respect now than there was when she wrote the book and I suppose I’m thinking about it because it is not easy to live in a culture that does not respect what you do. Being exposed, at length, to the work of a job that IS respected and find it, instead of respectable, somewhat reprehensible is a kind of an unpleasant turnaround. I know this particular kind of law isn’t the only one and there are many many lawyers whose work I admire and am grateful for. (I think of the heroes who showed up at JFK airport the day Trump implemented the Muslim ban.) But – as a whole? I don’t know. Maybe we could treat artists with a little MORE respect and the vast field of law with a little less. It’s not all respectable.

I called the book ‘Respect for Acting’ for a very clear reason. I did not call the book ‘Delight in Acting’ or ‘Love of Acting’ or ‘The Fun of Acting.’ I called that book what I called that book because of the shocking lack of respect that was creeping into both the teaching and the practicing of acting. Now? Forget it. We have allowed so much to recede or languish that I don’t know what I could call a book today. ‘Demand for Acting’ might work. …There was a time when people became bored and they took up bridge or golf; ladies had an affair or had their hair rinsed and joined a book club. Now they want to act. And there are fools with no standards who allow them into classes and theatre groups and tell them to live their dream. I don’t care about dreams. I care about work and responsibility and truth and commitment. You can see how old-fashioned I am. When you are bored or depressed, you might be advised to visit a museum, to look at the art. You are not, typically, advised to pick up a brush and become a painter. It is understood that this is a rare gift, and foolish to presume it might be yours. If your soul is crushed, it might be suggested that you listen to classical music or submit to opera. It is not suggested that you audition for the Metropolitan Opera, or even your local, provincial opera company. You haven’t had the training. But acting? All you need, it seems, is the dream, and there are doors–doors that once meant something and once housed some standards behind them–that fly open and embrace you. And it enrages me. If there is some small society that calls itself amateur or community or whatever, and they want to get up and do plays, that is fine. I’ll contribute money and I’ll support you in the joys of understanding plays, but do not call yourself an actor. Do not think that your dream is similar in weight or meaning to the years of training and commitment that I and all the many actors whose work I love and respect and envy have invested in this art. Respect what is an art. It is not a pastime, and it is not something to get you through a bad time, and it is not something that should be taught to everyone with a dream. The term seriousness of purpose comes to mind. Apparently, only mine.

 Uta Hagen/1996. 

Uta Hagen is doing some highly respectable work on that stage. (She’s Desdemona and look how she’s THIS close to dropping that hankie.) And this production featured Paul Robeson as Othello so it is respectable feast.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me become more respectable?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



In Praise of the Monologue

Despite having written and created an audio drama podcast made up entirely of monologues, before now, I’d have told you I hated monologues. When casting actors, I would never ask for a monologue for the audition. I felt sure they could tell me nothing about what an actor would do in a show. I know I have delivered a few rants on the subject before. I could not fathom why preparing one classical and one contemporary monologue became a norm. As a director, I found them useless. My feeling was a monologue performance could only tell me whether that actor could do that monologue performance and not much more. It told me nothing about what they were like with other people, what their choices might be like for my show. Why did training programs rely so heavily on them when most directors I know prefer to see sides of the work they’re casting?

Today, I finally get it. I find myself intensely grateful for the way theatre trains actors with monologues. I feel like I finally understand why everyone bothers.

Because I’m in the middle of casting the second season of my audio drama, I have gotten a fresh perspective on what theatre folk do and what it takes for us to do it. This didn’t happen with Season One because every single one of the actors was a theatre person (among other things, of course). But the main thing was, I could give them pages of text and they could read it back into a microphone in such a way as it all made sense, that had a rhythm and a music to it. Every single one of the actors gave their work a shape and an arc and a series of beats. You would not believe how little direction I gave these people. I did not need to. They all just did it naturally. I thought at the time that it was just because they’re all good actors, but I think now it is specifically because they are good theatre actors.

Because Season Two is set in another country, I have to draw from an unknown acting pool and I began to listen to a lot of acting reels from voice over actors. They are incredibly skilled. They can do animated character voices. They can make a bank ad sound like silk. They can stretch sound into moments you would not believe. I have found myself impressed. Believe me, I have tried reading ad copy before – it is a lot harder than I ever imagined. These folks have skills. But do they have the skills I need?

I’ve dipped my toes into the film world a little bit more this year and one thing I’ve noticed about the difference between film and theatre is the rhythm of the making. Most everything in film is in small bits. You do one line in a multitude of ways (or the same way over and over) and then you move on to another one. If you had a long passage of text (unlikely in a film, but, just for the sake of argument) you wouldn’t shoot the whole thing all at once, you’d get two lines here, two lines there, another from the other side and so on. The rhythm of the speech would happen in the edit. It only matters what each individual line is like, not the whole. The whole gets created later.

In the theatre, however, you have to say the whole thing, all at once. You need a plan of attack. You become a one person band, orchestrating the speed, the tone, the ups, the downs. When you’re giving a speech in the theatre, it’s all you. You’re it. It is a much more sustained experience.

It turns out that reading a monologue is more than just saying the words in a reasonably correct way. It is taking an audience on a journey and that is what we train actors for. That’s why we teach monologues. I apologize for every bad thing I ever said about monologues. It turns out that training actors to deal with large swaths of text is exactly the training I need as a creator right now. It may be one of the theatre’s defining characteristics actually.

Theatre educators – thank you for continuing to teach actors to do more monologues, even in the face of cranky people like me who didn’t understand the value before. Please keep doing it.

This isn’t actually a monologue. But it LOOKS like a monologue and that’s the important thing. And, like a monologue, if I gave it an actor to read, they could handle all that text without too much trouble.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me make more things for actors to act?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




Actors Are Not So Replaceable

We were watching the 4th Season of The Expanse – a show that takes place in the future where a lot of stuff happens in space. (We call it Space Stress – as in “You up for watching some Space Stress?”) The woman in charge of Earth was on a space shuttle talking with a man who seemed to be an advisor of some sort – maybe a vice president or secretary of education? “Who’s that guy?” we asked, since we’d never seen him before. Then the woman in charge of Earth (Chrisjen Avasarala is the character’s name.) introduced him to someone as her husband and we were, like, “What happened to her previous husband? Did he die? Have we taken a dramatic jump forward in time? Has so much time passed that her sweet husband died and she had time to remarry a younger busybody one?”

We were very confused since the show made absolutely no mention of what the deal was. It took looking up both the actors on IMDB and eventually finding an article about it to understand that they meant this guy to be same character as the one before. He had the same name, the same back story. It was supposed to be the same guy.

They were pulling a thing that they do on soap operas where they just change actors, without any reference to it. So, one day (in the 80s, just for example) you can be watching the soap opera, Santa Barbara, for example, because you really like Robin Wright’s performance and then, for example, suddenly her character has someone else’s face! (Yes, this happened. Yes, I’m glad she went on to do cooler things but my middle school self is still mad about the sudden switch!)

In the case of The Expanse, this switcheroo happened because they’d been canceled on one network and before they got picked up by Amazon, the actor playing the husband had another gig and was therefore unavailable. A challenge, for sure.

But there are a myriad of other solutions to this problem! Why did they think it was better to try and fool us? The second guy appears to be at least twenty years younger than the first one. (He is! He’s a full 18 years younger! I looked him up! He’s Gen X and the previous guy was a Boomer! There’s a whole generation in between them! The wife was born the same year as the first guy!) The new guy has an entirely different physique. They dressed him differently. AND, most frustratingly, they wrote him a completely different personality.

The first husband wasn’t around much on the show. He was a quiet presence who took care of their grandchildren and mostly offered love and support. He was the character the Earth ruler would send away to keep safe. The new husband was ALWAYS around, always chiming in or criticizing and the grandchildren they’d both been so concerned about were nowhere to be seen. He’d be an interesting character on the show if he weren’t supposed to be the previous guy. As a trusted advisor to Avasarala, he makes total sense – as her husband, he’s baffling. And I spent much of the show distracted by it. When the husband complained that Avasarala had changed, I was like, “Her?! Come on man. It’s you who’s changed! You are a totally different person! In every way!”

I just don’t understand why this show, which is good in so many ways, went so far off the rails with this choice.

They took us to a whole new planet in a whole new galaxy but they couldn’t maintain one logical human relationship? Why? Why? They could have done this EXACT story line if this guy was her gay best friend in an advisory role, for example. He could be her minister of New Worlds who we get to meet for the first time. They could have killed off the first husband, if they wanted to – and he could have been her second. They could have told us her husband was taking care of their grandkids on some other planet for a while and let this whole dumb story line go.

But instead they wrote an entirely new character in the place where a beloved old one was. Honestly, the husband had almost nothing to do in previous seasons but he’s such an extraordinary presence, we worried over him anyway. The new guy is a very good actor – but he’s betrayed by the position they’ve put him in by having him do something so out of line from what we knew the first guy to do.

This show doesn’t do a great job of writing dialogue for personal relationships. Whenever the characters try to have a meaningful talk that isn’t about space or interplanetary politics, it tends to get hilariously cliched and clumsy. Seeing how they seem to think one human can be exchanged with another without any hiccups helps me understand why those personal chats aren’t as good as the rest of the show. They just aren’t that interested in that human stuff. I mean, it’s fine. We watch this show for its space stuff, its alien stuff, its future gazing, interplanetary exploration stuff – not the human stuff so much. However, it just would be nice if they realized that different actors are different people and allowed for the audience to experience people as consistent humans. They can do better.

Unless – maybe aliens are writing this show and they don’t know the difference! Maybe to them those two guys are exactly the same. In the eyes of an alien, we are all alike and infinitely replaceable.

I made a poster of an alternate show title. Hey, if they can replace an actor, I can replace the title, right?

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help make me irreplaceable?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Paulina Forgot to Cancel the Mariachi

When I started watching the Mexican TV show, House of Flowers, I was immediately struck by this one character’s way of speaking. She spoke so slowly and strangely, I thought maybe the actor was a non-native speaker – which would have been odd for a show about a family. I was so curious about this actor’s voice, I looked her up and discovered that, no, in fact, she is Mexican – though she trained in the US and worked at Steppenwolf, no less.

I had no explanation for this voice but I was still intrigued. Then a few episodes in, I had another question about this show, so I looked it up on Wikipedia and suddenly discovered that this character’s voice was a phenomenon. It had captivated people around the world and even become a social media viral sensation.

I learned that Cecilia Suárez, the actor, brought a version of the voice to the show and the writer/director encouraged her to take it further. It is, apparently, modeled on the speech of some upper crust Mexicans they knew. So it traveled from a highly specific population to social media challenges around the world. (My favorite crossover is the actors from the Cable Girls in Spain doing this voice from Mexico.) Netflix based their advertising campaign for Season 2 of this show on the popularity of the character Paulina’s voice. It’s huge, apparently.

The thing that delights me about this story is that the center of it is an actor’s choice. An actor looked at this character on the page and felt like she had a take on it. She tried a bold choice and her writer/director didn’t just approve it, he asked her to take it further.

Another thing I love about this is that she’s about my age. So this celebration of an acting phenom is not of some fresh faced newcomer but an experienced veteran of the craft. She’s a Gen X phenom, not a kid. It is such a good example of why we train. A novice would never even consider such a thing.

And it’s not just a silly voice. It’s a style grounded in the given circumstances of the piece, in the guts of the character- in such a way that it reveals things about her we wouldn’t otherwise know.

I also love that this celebration of an acting choice is happening in a comedy. Usually, it is only drama that draws admiration from the outside world but this comedy performance is shaking up those norms.

I know there are likely many things I’m missing about it. I’m sure if my Spanish were better, I’d catch details upon details but as it stands, I can catch a lot – just from sound and tempo. To even be able to notice a vocal choice in a language I don’t really speak feels extraordinary.

It just feels like the perfect model for collaboration in the dramatic arts. When we teach acting, we are always talking about choices. When we praise an actor, we praise their choices. When we’re looking for someone with some spirit, we choose someone who makes bold choices. But it is very difficult to find an instance where we see this in practice so vividly. Part of the reason awards tend to go to actors who have crying scenes is that it is the most visible demonstration of someone acting. But there are choices happening all the time that are just not obvious.

Cecilia Suárez’s voice choice is clearly a choice and a choice that was developed and nurtured in a collaborative process. Both actor and director took a risk in going with it. It’s odd! A more skittish director would never have approved it and a less bold actor would never have proposed it. It’s a risk for both of them. But they went forward with it and it seems that everyone loved it. There are memes of this actor now. There are videos and tweets and TikToks and Instagrams. This voice is a hit. And I find myself delighted – not just by the voice itself (though it is a delight) but by the worldwide celebration of an acting choice. It’s something this actor is doing, on purpose. It is something she created. It’s not a famous person she’s imitating or a disability she’s pretending to have. It’s a bonafide acting choice. It has become one of those things that would help me explain what an actor does. So many times, acting seems like it’s just a person being themselves in front of a camera saying other things than what they usually say – but Cecilia Suárez is acting. She made a big choice and now we get to enjoy her acting her face off with that extraordinary voice.

This line has become so famous you can buy fan-designed t-shirts of it.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me make good choices?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Should I Quit Acting Because of X?
May 23, 2021, 11:53 pm
Filed under: Acting, advice, art, business, movies, musicals, Quitting, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Since joining the acting subreddit, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts with a similar theme. They boil down to, “Will X prevent me from having an acting career?” or maybe more accurately, “I’m X or have X or did X. Should I quit acting?” In this equation, let X be a quality or physical attribute or life history.

I have such complicated feelings about these posts, mostly from young actors looking ahead at a possible professional life in acting. Because on one hand, yes. You should absolutely quit acting and do something else if that’s an option for you. Absolutely you should, if you’re looking for conventional success, run in the opposite direction of an actor’s life. No question.

But on the other hand, the reason to quit is not whatever you’re imagining. You shouldn’t quit because of your science degree or your scars or your background. It won’t be THOSE things that are obstacles to having an acting career. The obstacles to an acting career are everything. Everything is the problem. The problem is not whatever flaw you perceive yourself as having (or whatever some asshole teacher might have said to you). The problem is that it is a very hard business that almost everyone struggles in, in one way or another. The obstacles to an acting career are being born to non-celebrities or not having access to a generous trust fund. The obstacles are a lopsided system that values money and connections more than talent. The obstacles are a commercially driven capitalistic theatre scene that is not accountable to the public in any way but the question of whether or not they will buy tickets.

One thing I did not understand as a young actor is what an ongoing hustle working in the theatre would be. I imagined that I would get one acting gig and it would lead to another and that would lead to the next and so on until I ended up on Broadway. And once I was on Broadway, that would be it! I would have made it and I would be on Broadway until I died.

I think the moment I fully understood this wasn’t so was when my friend (and acting colleague) closed her show on Broadway, the one featuring several movie stars, and the next day went back to her catering gig. It’s possible there were a few actors in that show who went straight to another acting gig. There may have even been one or two that were slated for another show on Broadway. But for most of them, they closed the show and then went home to hustle up the next job. Possibly even the movie stars had to do this. (Though they surely had a lot more help from their agents and their next job wasn’t food service.)

Any acting career is a cycle of working and not working and an acting career is full of dumb reasons for not getting a gig. Mostly, you will never know. Sure – you could lose a gig because of your hair. But you could also GET a gig because of your hair. You cannot know. And while casting directors or agents may tell you some opinion about your appearance or your background, it’s not actually the casting director or agent who gives you the job. They are gatekeepers. And they are not always right about what the people inside the gates actually want. They might tell you a person with glasses like yours will never be cast but then you meet the director and the glasses spark their imagination and you get a call back because you were that interesting one with the glasses. So much of casting talk is about making people more average, more like the conventional but in my experience of running auditions, I have much more often cast people because they were fully themselves or quirky in a way that captivated my attention. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Sure, there are those who have no imagination and just cast the person like the last person who played Juliet so they’ll fit in the costume from ten years ago. That’s a thing, sure. But the artists out there, the visionary directors and writers, are looking for something more. After a full day of looking at people who all look the same, you, with your X walk in and maybe you change the view.


On the subreddit, it feels important to be optimistic and supportive of these young people’s dreams and just answer the question they asked. Should they quit because of their appearance? No. Absolutely not. They should quit because it’s a heartbreaking business but not because of whatever their imagined obstacle is. Is it possible that their obstacle, their X, will make it even harder? Very possible. But, I know some people with all the advantages. They are Adonis-looking white dudes who have talent to burn and no obvious obstacle, who gave the business their all for decades and are hustling now just like they were at the start. There is no guarantee. Not even for the children of movie stars, who generally have the most legs up of anyone.

Should you quit if you’re not the child of a movie star? If you’re looking for security, then, yes, you should quit.

But will you? That’s the question. If you’re tenacious and determined, no cold water of reality will stop you – and that is what you really need in this business. Not the “right” hairstyle or the “right” body or the “right” background but just some talent and ability to keep showing up and giving it a go. But still – I will only say these things here. In conversation with these young aspirants, I will only give them all the examples of people who had “X” and did it anyway. This is partly because I feel that whatever X represents, it is always something we need more of in theatre. We need more people with X, whatever it is, because they don’t see that represented onstage or onscreen and think they would not be chosen because of that. That’s a sign that we’re failing in representing the diversity of humanity well. So, if that person – with X – can ride the roller coaster of life in the arts, then they should not quit. They should get in here and make things better. Are there possibly fewer opportunities for them? Yeah. Possibly. But there are few opportunities period. Get on in and ride the roller coaster and don’t let X stop you.

Each generation re-makes the business. Your colleagues now can, and will probably, be your colleagues later. If you all have X and you want to get together and make an X movie or an X play, that’s good work! No one with X will worry about X in the future because you kicked open the X door for yourself and made room for those with X behind you. That’s what I want you to do, instead of quitting.

Someone told these actors they should quit because of those Xs. That someone is very silly.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me keep making stuff so I can hire people with X?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Men Crying

Disculpe, pero – I cannot stop watching Spanish television shows during this pandemic. This is the third time, I know, but I’m on my fourth Bambú show and watching it (and the others) has made me think about something I had never really considered before.

It was during the finale of Season 2 of Velvet (a show about a high fashion couture store in Madrid in the 50s) that I thought, “watching that character cry is one of my favorite things onscreen. I could watch that guy cry for five more hours.” And that reminded me of how much I enjoyed the crying of another man in another show by the same production company, Gran Hotel. These creators show men crying in a way I have never seen in American media.

I’ll start with my favorite crying man and the one who inspired me to think about this. On Velvet, Pedro is often the comic relief of the show. He’s a man who cannot stop talking, especially about the woman he loves, to absolutely everyone – strangers on the train, his boss, anyone who will listen. It’s very funny and a little ridiculous, but heartfelt. And this character also cries fairly often – almost always from joy. We don’t really see him crying from sadness or despair.  He cries, tears streaming down his face, from love and affection. He cries with love for his son, for his friends and for the woman for whom he pines. I find it quite beautiful and I do not think I’ve ever seen such a thing on American TV. I’ve seen it in real life, I’m grateful to say. But on screen? Never before.

Anyway – the tears that really made me think about this were not Pedro’s love-sick tears. They were his tears of empathy. Pedro (played by Adrián Lastra, by the way. I shouldn’t ignore the extraordinary skill of this actor in this.) expressed his sympathy to an older man who had lost the woman he loved and Pedro’s eyes filled with tears and so did mine and damned if we didn’t all cry together. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. Two men crying together is apparently my jam. Attn. American media producers: I think you can start to make a dent in your toxic masculinity machine by putting more crying men on your screens!

Which brings me to the other crying man – the one from Gran Hotel. Unlike Pedro on Velvet who is pure clumsy goodness, Diego on Gran Hotel is the bad guy. We know he’s bad from the minute we meet him. He’s manipulative and dangerous and from the start we are worried about the female lead who is being compelled to marry him. He is trouble with a capital T. And, as the show goes on, he turns out to be a crier. He cries about genuinely difficult stuff. He cries over his troubled personal history and over his feelings for Alicia, the female lead. In fact, I think it is only when he is with Alicia that we see him cry. He sometimes seems to be genuinely distressed and sometimes seems to be using his emotions to manipulate her. I found it really extraordinary to watch a villain authentically cry. I feel like I’ve seen villains perform tears before – usually in a mocking way like, “Boo hoo hoo, Batman. I’ll get you later.” But I have never seen a bad guy use his own real tears as a weapon in his arsenal. I found it extraordinarily compelling. Because Diego’s tears are successful at shifting the tone of the room he’s in, in the fiction – but also in my response as an audience member. He evokes my sympathy, too, even though I’ve seen all the bad things he’s done. He shifts the needle, if only for a moment and makes us sympathize with him. I’ve heard about women weaponizing tears (and seen it demonstrated in Amy Cooper) but I’m not sure (again except with Amy Cooper) I ever really saw how that worked. But with Diego, I understand how he’s weaponized his tears, just like he’s weaponizing everything else. I’ve never felt such a contradictory set of responses to a (really terrible) villain getting their just deserts before. I was mostly cheering but also feeling sorry for him. It is masterful both from a writing side – and from a performance perspective. (Again, the actor should get so much applause. Thank you, Pedro Alonso.)

Thinking about this range of men crying within a small sample size of Spanish TV produced by Bambú Productions, I realized how limited my experience of this in American performance has been. We fetishize tears here, of course. Actors who cry (and snot!) win awards – so it’s not that we never see men cry. But the context is so much wider for crying than what ends up on American screens. I feel like there’s a door to open here. There’s a way to both expand our emotional vocabulary onscreen and, because things that happen on our screens impact our lives, it might spread out into our world, too.

I feel like a world where more men might be allowed to be like Pedro and cry for joy and for love and for empathy would be a better world, one in which I might be able to stop watching Spanish TV exclusively.

Pedro (Adrián Lastra) hugging Don Emilio (José Sacristán) on Velvet * I could watch these guys crying for days.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Help me make men cry (in a good way!)

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Snot Acting
January 13, 2021, 12:40 am
Filed under: Acting, art, Creative Process, movies, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m going to talk about snot today. I’ve been trying to formulate thoughts about this abhorrent coup attempt that just happened but snot is a lot less disgusting so I’m going with snot right now.

Why am I writing about snot? Well, I was reading an article about the best movie performances of 2020 and they were talking about Viola Davis’ work and said, “Davis has never been hampered by vanity, as past scenes of snot-dripping emotion attest.”

I have thoughts. Not about Viola Davis. (Aside from she’s amazing and we’re lucky to have her and she came from the stage so, also, we miss her.) I have thoughts about these kudos for snot acting.

Here’s the thing about snot pouring down an actor’s face when they’re crying. It is NOT a lack of vanity on an actor’s part. It is bait for awards. Because of responses like that article. It is, in fact, a kind of showmanship – an expression of pride in one’s ability to cry real tears and snot real snot. One might call that a sort of skill-based vanity. Or maybe it’s just something encouraged by those watching.

Anyway – the reason I am not impressed by it is that I have seen people cry in real life and have also cried myself, believe it or not, and real people generally do not let snot stream down their faces when they cry. Children do, up to a point – but grown-ass adults will almost never just sit somewhere with snot on their faces for minutes at a time. Likewise, most people watching someone cry are unlikely to just sit there watching snot drip all over their face without handing them a kleenex or a handkerchief.

To snot is human but only an actor will leave it there on their face as a sort of trophy of their tears. Most of us wipe away snot and tears when we cry. Not because we are vain or even ashamed but because….we just do!

Why do I care what those screen actors do to earn their awards? I don’t know. I suppose I chafe a little at the way actors on screen are praised for realism when things like snot acting are not, in fact, human behavior. It is a choice. Maybe it’s the actor’s choice, maybe it’s the director’s, maybe it’s the awards committees, maybe it’s a ploy for Oscars and Emmys – but it is a choice, a stylistic choice and I feel like it should be acknowledged as such. In my house, it’s become a performance category and we laugh every time we see it. While someone is acting their snot out, trying to show us tragedy or pain or something, we can’t help giggling and saying, “That’s some high-powered snot acting right there.”

I’m not saying an actor can’t snot on screen. If you’re crying and you snot, that’s normal – just, you know, treat it like you would if you snotted in real life. Pull out a kleenex or something. Use your sleeve! The back of your hand! Anything.


We don’t fetishize crying in quite the same way on stage so it’s not something I’ve encountered in the theatre. Actors crying on stage just try and clear their faces so they can keep acting. They’ll get it done any old way they can so the show can go on.

But on screen, they’re probably waiting for someone to call cut before they can deal with tears or snot or whatever on their faces.

Hey – being an actor ain’t easy. Crying for a living isn’t a walk in the park. I’m not trying to make it harder for folks. But critics and awards people might want to slow down their praise for snot acting or we are going to be looking at a lot of people’s snot for years to come.

You know what this crying girl in Pietro Rotari’s print would do if her nose started dripping? She’d use that handkerchief, of course!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me identify new trends of acting?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



What I’m Built For
February 16, 2020, 1:54 am
Filed under: art, theatre | Tags: , , , , , ,

The experience of being back onstage after many years away has not been quite what I expected. I’m not getting the major highs or the “Do they like me?” lows. The major feeling is a sense of being built for it. In performing again, I feel a sense of relief at doing what I’m built for. It’s a strange feeling actually, because I have largely set acting aside to focus on other lanes of theatre, as well as other arts – and to suddenly realize how much I am still made for performing is disruptive.

It’s like I’ve realized I’m one of those Lego kits that are designed to make one thing. I’m the set that makes, say, a helicopter and when I’m in helicopter form, it all makes sense. I know what those blade pieces are for and where all the window panels go. It all goes together. Like just your regular Legos, you can put the Legos in a set together in unexpected ways, but really, they’re created to do one thing. The Legos in a helicopter set are built to make a helicopter.

It occurs to me that when I’m doing other things – things like writing or directing or podcasting or whatever – I’m still a helicopter set. I’ve just rearranged the Legos into some other form. The blades aren’t helicopter blades, they’re swords or skis or something. I’m just a deconstructed helicopter. I’m an abstract helicopter. I’m a director, sure, but I’m a director made out of performer Legos.

There’s something unsettling about realizing how built for performing I am, how much of a helicopter. It makes me wonder if I ought to return to it. Should I get headshots taken? Start combing Backstage again? And yet – as built for performing as I am – as much of a helicopter I am – I am not built for the business of performing. It’s like, I’m built to be on-stage and in a rehearsal room but not built for any of the mechanisms that get actors there. I’m a helicopter – for flying through the air of performance and rehearsal – but auditioning and marketing all take place under water and I am not a submarine Lego set. My helicopter set doesn’t rebuild for submarine shapes. Those blades that serve me as a helicopter cause big trouble on the submarine.

I learned I wasn’t a submarine a long time ago – but I’d forgotten how natural it is to be the helicopter I was built to be. It is easier to be a helicopter in helicopter form than to be the creatively put together expressionist helicopter in some other form.

I think this is probably true for many artists – that there are things we are built for – and even if we do other things, we are still made for the art. Most actors are built to be actors and even if they quit, because they’re not submarines or whatever, they’re still actors – just an actor Lego set in a lawyer form.

What I’m pointing at here is something much more fundamental than enjoyment. I feel like – outside of the arts – people think we do these things because they are fun and we enjoy them. Sometimes that’s the case, sure – just the way a pilot sometimes finds it fun to fly a plane – but doing something you’re built for is not as simple as doing something you enjoy. It’s feeling like all your pieces align into the thing you were made for. Sometimes it’s not even fun. But when you’re a helicopter Lego set, that blade is to get you off the ground. Each piece is there for a purpose – and that is to fly.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me find more helicopter moments?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 



O God, that I were a man!

The interviewer had asked me about my early career as a classical actor. I was explaining the math I did after a few years of acting wherein I realized how terrible the odds were for me in classical theatre. I’d realized I had little interest in performing in contemporary work and that the jobs in Shakespeare for women were so few that I had really very little chance of continuing to work. Then she asked me, “Do you think it would have different if you were a man?”

I did not hesitate for even a second as I said some variation on “Absolutely. Definitely. No doubt.”

And it’s interesting how this question caught me by surprise. I have written streams of words on sexism in theatre and sexism in Shakespeare. I could lay out structural and institutional bias and break down a host of examples.

But somehow I had never before considered what my life would have been like were I a man. Like, if I were me and I had all the same ambitions, desires, interests, personality – all of it and I just was a man instead. And there is no question that things would have been very different for me if I’d come in with a different gender.

It’s like the story Dustin Hoffman tells about his first encounters with being dressed as a woman to work on Tootsie. After the first test with the make-up and hair designers, he asks them to make him beautiful and they tell him that what was there was as good as it was going to get. He describes becoming very sad at realizing that he would never have talked to the woman version of himself if he’d met her at a party. It wasn’t just that he, as a woman would never have had his opportunities, it’s that she would have been entirely overlooked. It’s a very moving speech. (Unfortunately, the speech is now undercut for me by another story about 17 year old he sexually harassed – but that’s another subject.) I feel a little like I had the reverse experience as Hoffman when the interviewer asked me that question. I don’t think I’d have been Dustin Hoffman – but I bet I could have worked for much longer than I did.

I knew from the beginning that I had a very limited window for working. It’s partly why I was so on fire to do it. The women’s parts in Shakespeare tend to be mostly young women – young wives and love interests. There is very little middle space. Maybe Lady Macbeth, Regan, Goneril, Paulina, Tamora and Emilia. But often they’re played by young women, too. You don’t really graduate from Juliet into something juicy. You age out and hope to play maybe the Queen in Cymbeline? You won’t be the lords, the thieves, the politicians. You won’t be the kings or the emperors or the princes. Men age into these sorts of roles and they are the bulk of the jobs. Maybe a guy gets too old to play Romeo but then he’s Hamlet-age and Macbeth age and then Lear and if not Lear, there’s Gloucester, Wooster, Egeus, Egeon, Claudius ,etc. No such journey awaits women in the classics. You go from ingénue to maybe a queen, if you’re lucky.

I played a fair amount of men in my time. Not just the “pants” roles – the Violas, the Rosalinds, the Imogens – but actual male characters: Poins, Quince, Vernon, Holofernes, Feste. And I was grateful to be able to expand my repertoire beyond being in love.

But I knew if I wanted to play Hamlet, for example, I would have to make that sort of thing happen myself. If I’d been a man, it might have been just as difficult to get someone to see me as Hamlet – plenty of male actors don’t get to play Hamlet either. But their gender would not have been one of the obstacles.

Classical acting is a tricky business no matter what your gender is. The men I know from my time in it have quit in the same numbers as women. They mostly just quit later. They got a few more years in.

The male version of me probably would have moved on to writing and directing just like this lady version of me did – but I suspect he would have had longer to build up his contacts. He’d have been given some pats on the back, gotten some brotherly advice, received some introductions that I never had a shot at.

If he’d started my theatre company, he’d have had some donors lined up or some mentors in the background. He’d have portions of the road paved for him before he ever set off driving on it. I had to build the dirt road and, also, the car.

Let me just state for the record that I am very happy to be a woman and have no desire to trade my gender. But this thought experiment got under my skin in a way that I have not been able to shake.

It is somehow easier for me to look at all the systemic blocks and institutionalized sexism as not personal – to feel like those things have been blocking all of us, not me specifically. But they HAVE blocked me specifically and I find that I envy the man version of myself who would have had a few more years on the boards – who, even if he never got to play Hamlet, would probably have gotten to kill him as Laertes, or be killed by him, as Polonius.

The thing, too, that I find upsetting about my particular experience is that it will never be better for anyone else. If you are a woman who loves classical theatre, it will always be thus. The plays will always have way more men than women. They will always have screwy old fashioned gender roles. There will never be new full exciting roles for women in Shakespeare. We’ve got some great ones. But not a LOT. And it will always be thus. Always.

That frustration led me to write plays, which is ironic given how little interest I had in new plays when I started. But…like me, our theatres are obsessed with Shakespeare. They’d rather produce Hamlet than some new play no one ever heard of.

When I came to grad school, Macbeth was the first show I directed and many people told me how happy they were to be doing Shakespeare instead of all those other plays that no one had ever heard of before. (I showed them. The next year, I directed my own play which, for sure, no one had ever heard of.) We have a major underlying problem in our field. Theatre is in love with Shakespeare and it means there are never enough jobs for women. I also am in love with Shakespeare so I get it. I understand, truly. Ask me to recite a speech, it’s going to be Shakespeare. Partly, it’s that I don’t remember any other ones but also, I love it. I’m guilty, too.

This problem has hit me many times in my positions as a Shakespeare educator as well. I have often been in the fortunate position to introduce young people to their first Shakespeare and when those girls light up with love and tell me how they’ve found THE thing they want to do – I start to worry I’ve not done QUITE right by them.

But this question…this “would it be different if you were a man?” – it has to change. There has to be a future for theatre where it WOULDN’T make a difference.

I don’t know what the answer is. It’s probably a combination of things. Maybe we call a Shakespeare break for a decade. Or increase the numbers of women’s Shakespeare companies. Or increase the funding and profiles of already existing women’s companies. Or just exclusively do reverse gender casting for a while. Or maybe we could, as a society, just really chill out about gender and let the fluidity run through the plays so gender wouldn’t matter at all anywhere.

I want a future where a Shakespeare loving person could have the same opportunities, the same road, no matter their gender.

In the end, Beatrice’s line from Much Ado About Nothing, “O, God, that I were a man!” continues with, “I would eat his heart in the marketplace.” And I guess I feel pretty strongly that if you want to eat a man’s heart in the marketplace, you should be able to do it – even if you’re not a man.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me build the road from here.

Become my patron on Patreon.

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis




%d bloggers like this: