The Book of Mormon!!

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So here’s the scoop on “The Book of Mormon.” It’s fabulous! I was so excited that I was able to get tickets that I hardly had time to think about if it would meet my expectations or not. And boy did it meet them! Hilarious, a little over-the-top and mildly offensive at times, but overall lots of fun, with some great songs to dance along to.

            The story is a simple one. Two “of age” Mormon men, Arnold and Kevin, get shipped off on their mission to Uganda to try and convert the local people to the “true faith.” Kevin is the Mormon “golden boy.” Handsome, smart, and a leader, his dream is to bring the Mormon faith to the people of Orlando, FL. Sorry Kevin.. Instead he is paired with Arnold, the overweight, frizzy haired, Jonah-Hill-meets-Seth-Rogen-type character with a lying problem. From this beginning, this story takes a lot of hilarious twists and turns, ultimately having Kevin confront an African warlord and Arnold making up the Book of Mormon (which he apparently has never read) and preaching it to the local villagers. With songs like, “A Mormon Just Believes,” “Baptize Me,” and “Man Up,” you know they are going to be funny, but what was pleasantly surprising was that the songs were extremely catchy and fun to dance to (dancing strictly limited to my chair, unfortunately).

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            Something that I noticed throughout the play is that there were no white women in the cast. In every scene where a white woman was needed, there was instead a member of the male ensemble dressed in drag. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a subliminal message (I could tell all the way in the back row but my friend next to me needed some convincing) or just another level of humor, but it was interesting nonetheless.

            I have to say, that along with the funny script and the quirky and catchy songs, the stage and costumes and energy in the play really made it quite a spectacle. Everyone in the audience knew (or at least I hope they knew) what they were getting into and that made the audience very responsive to what was going on onstage. Flashy costumes with glittery vests for the ensemble during a number, costumes of hobbits, Darth Vader, and many other sci-fi characters that Arnold loved, colorful native African clothes, it all added so much to the performance.

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            The actors themselves, not to be done out by their costumes, were amazingly funny and super talented. Most were great dancers and all had perfect comedic timing. Sometimes I wonder how they could keep a straight face during scenes, but they persevered.

            I think my favorite part of the play is the metaphor at the end. In the beginning of the play, the missionaries come out in their black and white Mormon “uniform” with a white shirt and black tie, ringing doorbells trying to convert people. By the end, the Africans have joined in and everyone wears different multi-colored ties and there are women missionaries too. Even though “BOM” might be making fun of everyone and everything in this play, the end really captures a more accepting tone then a rejecting one. I loved this play and I would definitely recommend it to all my friends!

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**Disclaimer: material and language is for a mature audience. I wouldn’t recommend for younger audiences**

 Can’t believe the semester is coming so quickly to an end! Talk soon readers!

~A

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Central School of Speech and Drama: The Broken Heart

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Hello again! Here is, as promised, my review of “The Broken Heart”. Since the play was originally written by writer John Ford in the 17th century, I found it a little hard to follow. But, after looking up the available online summaries (admittedly only skimming the first few that I saw), I realize that I pretty much got the gist of it. Basically, there is Penthea who was supposed to be married to Orgilus, but then her brother, the general Ithocles, decides to marry her off to this horrible jealous man Bassanes (who has a really weird old woman servant named Grausis). Also good to know, Ithocles wants to marry the princess Calantha, and Orgilus’ younger sister Euphranea (shout out to the lovely Emily Duncan!) wants to marry Ithocles’ friend Prophilus. It’s a very soap opera-like drama about love that also highlights social assumptions of women at the time. In the course of the play, none of these lovers (save Euphranea and Prophilus) find happiness and two women die of “broken hearts”.

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            First, to comment on the set and costumes of the performance. The set was very simple, with audience seated on three sides and screens covering the fourth side. There were two vents built in the stage that would give off an eerie light and smoke at appropriate times in the story. I thought the actors did a good job using the simplicity of the space and moving around the space to work the angles and give off a great performance for all audience members.

When the play began, I was immediately impressed with the costumes. The shoes in particular. Many had perfect historically accurate shoes, even the men! The dresses were all very pretty to the eye and captured the essence of each female character (for example Euphranea the youngest was dressed in a cream to show her innocence).

Now to address the feminism aspect of the play. As I first walked in to the theatre, it struck me that all the female characters were onstage already, basking in the lights, and “in character” whether that meant swishing their dresses or looking up at the ceiling in a dreamy manner. The men sat in the shadows, watching the women and waiting for the performance to begin. Once the narrator started introducing the play, all the female characters lined up in front of the male characters and the men proceeded to hold the women’s necks with their right hand. Weird. But poignant. Showing the male dominance that is obvious throughout the next 2 hours and 30 minutes of the play. Also, there was the fact that both female characters that die, die of “broken hearts” which is sort of unclear. Penthea starves herself to death but the death of Calantha was much more unclear. At the sight of her murdered fiancée, she weds him, kisses him, then gasps and dies. Weirder. Possibly she does die of a broken heart after trying so hard to prove to the court that she is a strong ruler. The play itself is very interesting and led to a lot of action that was fun to watch.

The acting, as expected, was really good. Except for the jealous Bassanes, I understood what each character’s objective was and this helped me piece together the story. Some characters had a little too much hand movement for my taste, (Orgilus literally looked like he was doing an interpretive hand dance at times) but the rest of the movement was really well done. I especially loved watching the actor who played Technicus (narrator/scholar) and Amelus (bodyguard). He had such different mannerisms for both that it was fun to see the changes in vocal tone and posture (the actor playing the King also did a great job differentiating his two characters from each other). The actors all playing the lovers really made me, as a viewer, invested in their happiness. Lo and behold, I was very disappointed with the ending of the play, but really happy with my experience.

Congrats actors of Central School of Speech and Drama!

Till next time,

~A

Interview with a London Theatre Student: Emily Duncan

Hey guys! So just proving once again what a small world it is, a HWS faculty member Professor Christopher Hatch emailed me the other day saying one of his old students was going to school at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. He also went on to recommend the show that this student, a Ms. Emily Duncan, was performing in April.

Obviously, I took this recommendation to heart and decided to not only buy a ticket, but also to see if I could interview Emily and post it for you all to read! Emily was lovely enough to oblige, so we sat down one evening at the Hampstead Theatre (oddly enough where I saw “I Know How I Feel About Eve”) and, as the English say, had a bit of a chat.

A little background information on Emily. Emily always knew she wanted to be an actress. She tried really hard to appease her parents and find a “solid” career out of her theatre major. She tried lighting, stage design, etc, but nothing compared to her love for performing. Emily originally went to school to study theatre at the University of Kent before she traveled abroad to the University of Indiana Bloomington (where she met Prof. Hatch!). After completing her undergrad, she took a year off and landed her first professional acting job, playing a ‘mean girl,’ in the production “The Dark Room” at the New Diorama Theatre. Once her year was up, Emily started applying to Drama schools and ended up at Central School of Speech and Drama; a one year MA program. When I sat down with Emily, she was a few months away from graduating and was working very hard on her role in “The Broken Heart.”

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A: What is your dream role?

E: I used to relate more to roles like Juliet. But now that I have been studying and exploring different roles that are out of my comfort zone, I would say I’d want to play something like Lady Macbeth.

A: What is your favorite show you’ve seen and why?

E: War Horse. It has a lot of physicality and movement. I also like the storytelling element and use of puppetry.

*(We discussed this question further and I learned that Emily is trained in dance and gymnastics and that is why she relates to well to the movement in performances)

A: What is your favorite genre or role of theatre to play and/watch?

E: I like shows that are so human that you go, “oh fuck.”  You can feel that. I like to be able to see where actors find things in the role; strength vs. vulnerability, etc. There’s this one show on the BBC called “Business Wives” and there is this mother of a son in prison. Her emotions are typically locked in. And then there’s this scene in a car with her next-door neighbors son, talking about husbands memory and all of a sudden her face is lit up. I like all roles, no particular one. It just needs to be a good performance.

A: Tell me about your school here.

E: Central is a school well known for speech training. It has kind of always been a school I wanted to go to. I’ve been looking since I was 16 years old and applying to University of Kent.

A: What are auditions like?

E: The Central audition process was welcoming and really put you at ease with warm ups. The tutors were nice and worked with you on your monologues. Central asked for two monologues; one classical and one contemporary. There would be a warm-up in the morning, they’d have us do our monologues and then they would give us direction and have us do it again. Then later on they interviewed us.  Most schools will have you pick a modern and classical piece, but not all will work with you on them, or make you feel as at ease that Central does.

A: Any advice for the audition process?

E: You have to know why you are there. The programs are very tough. The pace is fast. There is a lot of learning about how to self-reflect and its both physical and emotionally draining. The benefit is that you become really close to your company. Acting isn’t pretending, it’s being as honest as you can. You have to engage in political and social issues and you have to care.  Also, choose a piece you love doing so it is easy to work with and fun to do. Most importantly, be yourself.

A: What was the process of getting your first agent?

E: I got an agent before applying to Central. It was actually right after coming back from studying in America. I did a lot of research and some agents have open books so you contact them. I emailed them with a headshot and letter. Then I auditioned for them at Spotlight’s headquarters in Leicester Square. They must have liked it because after that, they accepted me as their client.

A: What type of things are you studying?

E: The first term is very intensive. You have movement, voice, and acting classes from 9-6 every day. We’ve also learned period dances like the Jive and the Merenge and useful tools like stage combat.

A: What’s the play about?

E: It’s called “The Broken Heart” and it was a play written in the 1600s. It is a renaissance piece with a baroque style. It was one of the first feminist plays. It’s all about repression of women in that society. Basically, the King is dying and the story focuses on the political marriages that happen during this precarious time. One of the women is the ‘Broken Heart.’

A: Tell me a little about your role…

E: I play, Euphrenia, the daughter to advisor of the king. She is married off in a political move by her brother and father. She is the youngest in the play, at only 14 years old.  I think she is a really repressed character.

A: How much time was involved working on this play?

E: A lot. I even do more reading at home after rehearsal to go over things and think about what has happened during the day’s rehearsal.

A: What was a particularly hard/easy scene to work on?

E: I have one big scene when Euphrenia sneaks away into the garden to meet a soldier. Me and the other actor are playing all the time with how they feel about each other. There’s also an added funny element. There’s a lot going on.

A: What are your plans after this play?

E: The Company has one week off, then we come back and go into more classes. In May, we have a showcase where we perform a 4-minute scene for casting directors and agents. After that, we have our last show and we’re done with classes by July.

A: A lot of the times we hear about actresses under pressure to be thin and perfect looking. How does this affect you?

E: I definitely see the pressure to be thin in London. In this business it helps to be beautiful and physically attractive. Acting is a lot of movement work, working on your body, letting go of habits and learning why you have these habits. It’s about accepting yourself. I’m never going to be the blonde model, but I can do parts that she can’t do.

A: Do you feel these pressures from your professors at school?

E: Professors wont bring it up. It’s not about looking good, it’s about acting. Drama school is not training people to pose in front of cameras, it is teaching people how to act.

A: What are your plans after graduation?

E: To get an amazing agent and work. Maybe earn money at home while working with an agent. I hope to move to London permanently and work here. Me and a couple of friends from school are also starting a theatre company and are planning to do a show in the fall.

A: Any advice for young actors trying to figure out what schools to go to or whether to forego school and try their luck in the city?

E: I highly recommend drama school. It’s great to learn about acting, and yourself, and life and everything, because you’re around such wonderful teachers. Some people at the school might not even want to be actors. But it’s still a great place to be and learn things about yourself as a person.

Review of the show to follow!

~A

“Once” upon a time, an American girl went to London…

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             Good evening/afternoon readers! So today I want to talk about the hit new musical “Once.” Once takes place in Dublin, Ireland, (I’ve been there whoohoo!) and is the typical “boy-meets-girl” story except the boy has just had his heart broken by another girl, and the girl has been abandoned by her husband and forced to raise their 12 yr old daughter… Kind of heavy stuff, but as in all musicals, the heavy stuff doesn’t seem so heavy juxtaposed with the upbeat music and optimistic attitudes of everyone onstage.

            I arrived probably 5 minutes before the show was about to begin, and as I took my seat (front row again, yes!) I realized all the actors were already onstage singing songs and playing instruments in what I would describe as “hoe-down” fashion; stomping their feet, and clapping their hands. The stage was decorated to look like an old Irish pub with a bar in the back center, but instead of pictures on the walls, there were mirrors of all shapes and sizes. These mirrors were a great addition to the set especially later in the play when characters would have solos with a spotlight turned on them. When this happened, I could see myself and the entire audience in the mirror and it almost felt like I was seeing the stage from the actor’s perspective (which, being an aspiring actor was obviously really exciting for me). With the different lighting techniques and the use of mirrors, the aesthetic effect it had on some of the performances was amazing.

            Another element to this play I noticed almost immediately: every cast member was extremely talented at singing, and playing some sort of instrument. There were banjos, violins, cellos, guitars, and pianos all playing together live, which was a great thing to see and hear.

            I noticed as well that the entire cast was on stage at all times. Some would help move props, but when they weren’t in the scene, they sat and stared intently at the action. Take it from me. This is no easy feat. I remember having to do it myself and almost falling asleep at some points towards the end of the show I was in. So, the fact that they were so present in the story, even while on the sidelines, was really impressive.

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            One reason why these actors were so avidly invested in the action is the fact that they had very subtle cues to pick up on. During some songs there were weird choreography/dance movements going on, sometimes all the characters moved simultaneously and sometimes they had different motions. Either way, the motions were not effective for me. I understand a need for more stimulation during slower songs (and this was a musical for crying out loud, they must have dancing!), but the choreography seemed amateurish and uninspiring. Other cues involved in songs had to do with musical cues where a violin would start its slow harmony with a singer. This was a really great part of the play because all of a sudden one of the dormant characters would start magnificently playing this great piece of music. And the music really was great. There’s a reason this play has won so many Tonys.

            Something not really too much to do with the play itself but more to do with the experience is the fact that the bar on stage doubled as a real bar during admission! This may be a normal thing, but I certainly have never seen it, and I’ve been to a lot of theatres here! Very cool and a great added touch to a wonderful night out at the theatre. Honestly folks, this one is a must-see. If you like music, love, and having a good cry, this show is for you. Not exaggerating, the man next to me was openly weeping at the end. This one was truly a pleasure.

Till next time!

~A

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, “GREED”

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Hello avid readers! So today I have for you another exciting interview with Liam Hughes, an actor/model/writer/director studying and working in London! Liam has a pretty interesting background being born in Scotland and then brought up in the US in the San Francisco Bay area. Liam studied undergrad in Scotland at the University of Edinborough, He decided to apply when his father and him were attending the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Liam unfortunately did not get in to his top school choice in the States, so off he went to study in Scotland! Liam studied in Edinborough for 2 years, studied Spanish in (where else) Spain for 1 year and graduated early with a bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Social Sciences.

After earning his bachelors, Liam went back to San Francisco and began performing. Liam had studied acting all throughout High School and has been in some productions in Scotland as well. Coming out of Edinborough, he knew he wanted to be an actor so he began looking at different acting programs. He finally decided on Drama Center London. I met up with Liam this past week, to ask him a little about his experiences studying in London and to talk about his most recent project: a short film by the name of “GREED.

A: So you’re going to Drama Center London, What made you pick your specific school?

L: My first show in San Francisco that I did was called, “Almost Maine” and I had a cast mate and really good friend who knew I was applying to drama schools and asked if I had looked into drama schools in the UK. After that suggestion I began visiting some school’s websites and saw that Drama Center had a screen-specific program and started in January. So, it was partly a timing thing and partly based on the high recommendation from my friend, and partly the screen-specific course that got me interested.

A: What was the audition process like?

L: The audition was one day. First thing was the actual audition and then the interview in the morning. It was a very informal chat-type interview. Then in the afternoon, they had recalls, and the recall was a bit more challenging. There were groups of three. We had to take our monologues and deliver it to the other people in our group. The other people could improvise and interject, but we had to stick to our lines. During this they had the students on camera, seeing how we played to the camera. There were also writers and directors that had to go through this process because Drama Center really believes that writers and directors should know how actors work and vice versa.

 A: What are your classes like?

L: The program is technically two years but it just continues throughout the summer with 4 breaks. For the first 20 weeks, the structure of our classes consisted of intense core training. Themes like movement, Meisner, Stanislavsky, voice, speech (accent work), screen technique, improvisation, movement psychology, and a critical studies class where we made our short films. Classes generally started at 9:30 and could go as late as 8:30. It was a lot to take in, in 20 weeks. They tried to teach us everything that the BA Actors learn in 2-3 years in just 20 weeks. You could say they were skimming the surface to give us different tools that we could use. Drama center has a rich history of what they teach and how they teach it “try this and if it works for you use it, if not, that’s cool don’t worry about it.”

A: Any tips for people applying to drama schools?

L: Be very open. They want people that they feel they can train. Training as an actor you have to be open. There’s this stereotype of drama schools. That they want to break you down so they can build you back up. I’m not necessarily saying that needs to be done, but they want to see that you are open and direct-able. For example they will take your emotional monologue and tell you to spin it in a totally different way. They want to see that you are willing. My three best bits of advice I can give are…

1)   Choose your audition monologues well and have people help you choose them. Cast yourself in monologues. Don’t do a monologue that a 60 year-old woman traditionally does. Be you

2)   Be bold with your choices

3)   You want them to remember you. It’s about coming in and “wow-ing” them

A: Studying and living in the UK, Have you noticed any prominent culture differences??

L: My dad is from Scotland and my mom is from England. Because of this, coming to the UK wasn’t much of a shock for me. I’ve been over here traveling and what not. That is a hard one for me to answer.

A: What inspired you to write GREED and then produce/direct it yourself?

 L: This course has demanded so much more of us than being an actor, that I’ve done things and learned things I never expected. In my critical studies class (project class) over the course of 15 weeks, we made 4 short films spanning from 2-9 minutes long. We’d get into groups of 5 with a writer, director, camera guy, art dept. etc, and were asked to make short film. I wasn’t just an actor in them either; I filled other roles like writing and directing. By the end of this, I had learned how to edit in final cut pro and a bunch of other skills.

From day one, I learned so much. In the fall, we had certain time aside for independent study and I got idea for a short film and asked a fellow writing student if he would work on it with me. Before Christmas, we had a solid draft. Originally, I was going to play one of the parts, but as it progressed, I felt the character needed to be older and so I just directed and produced it.

At Drama Center, we had people coming in telling us to be prepared for an ultra competitive business. We were really encouraged to go out and make our own work. So I guess I took that advice.

A: Do the characters or events in “Greed” relate to any real people and/events in your life?

L: No. My original idea came from an add on the back of a metro newspaper. There are always ads for the lottery in newspapers and this one was for a 95 million pound jackpot. I was intrigue so I went on the website. I noticed a post that said there was a 65 million jackpot still not claimed. Apparently a winning lottery ticket had been purchased in the spring. Someone either lost it or it had been stolen, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t claimed. I remember thinking that would be the worst thing that could ever happen to you. It would just be crushing. Then I thought, what if it was stolen? And the idea grew from there

A: Can you describe the process you went through to put together this play?

(Hiring actors, directors, securing spaces, etc.)

L: First, before anything, I hired 3 different credited script consultants. I think before you do anything, it’s important to have your script as close to perfect as you can. Then, I got a casting director on board. I sent out emails to a bunch of agencies and got 0 responses for my character breakdowns so I realized I needed a casting director. I emailed twelve casting directors and out of the twelve, I got one positive response. A week later, I had 45 suggestions just for one of the characters. It was frustrating in a way to see the necessity of middlemen. That was the first thing I learned; you have to use the middlemen.

Next I got a director of photography named Anthony Dias. I had worked with him before on a previous project for school. He is a really good DP, was super into the project and had really good ideas. He also got some crew members on board and recommended an editor that I ended up using. I also hired a sound recordist who had worked on previous drama center projects.

Then there was the casting session. The casting director I worked with, sent 45 initial suggestions for protagonist. I went on spotlight and saw the show reels. I initially wanted James Darcy (actor recently in ‘Cloud Atlas’) who wanted for the role. Made a straight offer to him for Lloyd (main character), but he couldn’t do it. I also sent an offer to Leo Gregory that didn’t work out. I eventually saw 3 actors for the role and casted Stephen Beckett as Lloyd.

It got to the point where I had all the people I needed, and no locations. I had a production designer on board to create a set for the office scene, but didn’t have an office. I looked into office rentals and found one. Just a bare room with a desk and phone. Then, for the car scene, I wanted to avoid an overnight session so I started looking around for an underground car park so I could do the shoot in daytime. I finally found it at the last minute. It was a NCP car park. I called the park and haggled with the car park people for a great price. That’s another thing I learned. If you ask the right way, there are people out there who are willing to help. So it all fell into place in the end, with a little bit of hustle and a bit of dumb luck.

The actual shoot took 3 days. I sent out call-sheets before shooting, to map out how things were going to be carried out. It all went surprisingly smoothly once we got to the shoot. Most of the crew, especially the veteran actors, were all very surprised that we wrapped on time every day. Then I just sent it to the Post Production House to do finishing and it was done. The pre-production started in the beginning of January and the film was finished by March 5th. It came together pretty quick, but it didn’t feel that rushed to me.

A: What are your plans after you graduate?

L: We have our Graduation Showcase coming up, where the school sends out invites to casting agents, and we show a screening of our short films. Then it’s just taking my show reel and sending it to 15+ agents to get some meetings asking them to represent me as an actor. First step is agent; second step is getting a job. I’ll stay in London initially. I’ve met a lot of friends and working connections here that I wouldn’t want to leave right away. I’d say I’ll stay at least through Christmas.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing some more writing and developing projects. I’d like to shoot at least one more short film before I leave London. Also, in a couple of weeks, I’m Going to Canne with a student program called ‘Creative Minds in Canne’ for film students. Hopefully it will be a great opportunity to network and if everything works out “Greed” will be there too.

A: Let’s talk a little bit about current films and TV. What are some of your favorite shows and films out there now?

L: Hmm.. T.V. shows. Lost. Lost, changed my life. My roommate and I watched the finally episode together and at the end it took us a moment to realize we were both crying at the end. I also like Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and I’m just about to watch season 1 finale of Homeland.

For films, I generally like drama and thriller genres. Heavy drama like, “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Fight Club,” and “Grand Tourino.” I also like Martin Scorsese old films like “Mean Streets.”

A: Any favorite actors/directors you look up to and why?

L: I love Brad Pitt. Not only is he my man-crush but also I think he is one of the most under-rated actors of his time. Also, I like early days Nicholas Cage (Raising Arizona). I also like Alan Arkin, and Ben Affleck.

If you got to the end of this interview phew! good for you! A lengthy read but totally worth it! Thank you Liam!! Also, if you are so inclined to read more about the making of the film, check out Liam’s blog @ http://greedfilm.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/meet-the-filmmaker-liam-hughes/

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Till Next Time!

~A