Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Unless you've worked with the actors before, auditions are the standard recruiting process. To a director obsessed with creating stage beauty, this is an excruciating experience. Off-Off Broadway auditioners include recent college graduates with B.A.s in theater arts, though it have no idea what they spent 4 years doing. They don't know plays, theater history, minimal skills and fervently believe they worked hard in college. They are mostly middle class with no concept of the original nature of the actor, a low life with upper class mobility. These hot house blossoms do not understand that performing serious theater is done with life and death like intensity, but the audience should only see the result, not the struggle. I often felt that if I sent out a press-gang, the recruiting method of the British Empire in the 18th century, I had as much chance of finding capable bodies,
Then there were the retreads, the ex-insurance company executives who retired and suddenly wanted to be actors, after 20 years of misleading the public about their benefits. A few were suitable for institutional tv ads, but classical theater? It takes a long time for the true actor to develop his/her craft. These characters who last week were conning joe client on the golf course, now want to do Shakespeare. It's ironic that many of them are bright, competent people in their other life, but they're attempting a profession that though undisciplined compared to ballet, or classical music, nevertheless still has requirements that take years to master. Their redeeming virtue is unlike the middle class kiddies, they seldom snivel.
The most promising pool of talent has the misfits, the neglected, the rejected, all the types that don't fit in to the college trained directors,who mostly seek the college trained actors they were exposed to at good old Shelter U. But these oddballs are the most deceptive, since many of them have been justifiably rejected due to unacceptable qualities. Yet this is where I hoped to find the born actor who hadn't fit in anywhere else.
It's curious to consider the nature of theater historically. The Ancient Greek theater wasn't theater at all, but a social-religious enactment more similar to the Christian mass, then Hamlet. The playwrights were distinguished citizens. Aeschylus fought at the battle of Marathon, that saved Greece from the Persian invasion. But the actors were unknown amateurs. Who performed once a year in the Thesmophoriazeusae, a 4 day festival, 3 days of tragedy, 1 day of comedy. The Roman theater wasgenerally performed by upper class amateurs for the amusement of their peers. It wasn't until the Commedia actors earned their living by their craft in 16th century Italy and France, that professional theater evolved. Commedia actors did high and low comedy, tragedy, dance, that delighted the audience, or they didn't get paid, didn't eat. Mommy and Daddy didn't subsidize them. They didn't work as waiters. It was a mystery in the television age how to find actors willing to exert the effort to earn a living by the sweat of their brows. Did these people still exist in an era of low cultural values, but high cultural pretensions?

Gary Beck

Monday, November 10, 2014

Someone in the 60s said it took ten years to build a theater company. When I decided 
to start my own company in the 70s, a most peculiar commitment for me since I was
the quintessential loner in an art form that mandated group interaction. Well
some of us make questionable decisions occasionally. I made a ten year plan to
build a classical theater ensemble that would start with Commedia del'Arte,
transition into early Moliere farce ( he performed Commedia, then evolved to
Baroque comedy) and we would do our first sophisticated performances in the
latter stages of the Moliere period. I would translate, direct and even
perform. The next period would be ancient Classical Greek comedy, Aristophanes,
which I would translate with a Classical Greek scholar, direct and perform.
This would take us into the seventh year of the company, when we would have our
first hit show that would transfer to a 299 seat Off-Broadway theater, the only
venue that could make money, which was the only way to produce art. 
This was an ambitious plan, especially considering my lack of negotiable currency. My assets were my skills, abilities and experience, and my brother, Robert, a highly skilled techie with many other abilities. At this time, Off-Off Broadway was flooded with a few serious theater practitioners, and hordes of college graduates with degrees In theater, gained in a hothouse protective environment. Young enthusiasts who worked in state of the art theaters in college, left the comforting confines of school  with their talanted fellow students and determined to stay together and build their own theater company. Of course, none of their instructors informed them that almost all post-collegial ventures lasted less than three months. The necessity for fund raising, rehearsal space, publicity, promotion, the endless management tasks were so beyond the reach of these eager youth who just wanted to do a show, that it was almost criminal negligeance that the institutions that churned them out, didn't prepare them for harsh reality. You really have to wonder about the deficient mentalities of their professors.
So if these offspring of the arts managed to get past the endless arguments and debates that they went through in college while preparing to do a show, without the nurturing professors to move the herd along, or a prosperous institution that provided a theater, scripts, costumes, in short, all the necessities of production, they found themselves in the wilderness of Off-Off Broadway, ratty store fronts, filthy lofts, dinghy apartments, unless Mommy or Daddy owned a barn.
To be continued.
Gary Beck