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Hoffman, Brando, and Levine: Back in the HABIT

In 1976, a young actor named Dustin Hoffman was performing in the film Marathon Man with a veteran actor named Sir Lawrence Olivier. Hoffman was portraying a character that was under extreme duress having been tortured by Olivier’s character. To prepare for the scene, Hoffman purposely went days without sleep or a proper diet. He was obviously looking pretty rough, and Sir Lawrence, upon seeing him, simply asked, “My boy, why don’t you just try acting?”

I feel like the term “Method Acting” gets a bad rap sometimes—mostly because it’s often associated with stories like that. It prompts people to wonder why actors would push themselves to these levels if the consequences have the potential to be so severe. Most actors would say that the reason is this: “to make it more realistic”

Acting didn’t always look the way it does today. In the mid-1800’s, the adage of the day seemed to be “the bigger, the better”—and acting wasn’t really meant to look like real life. It was meant to look like something bigger…something more dramatic. Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski thought real life was dramatic enough. So, he began to develop a process that would strip away the excess and leave actors simply listening and responding truthfully. The goal was simple: make acting look more realistic. The fad picked up and eventually playwrights like Ibsen and Chekhov were writing plays to be performed in that same vein… plays that took place in real time (no blackouts or scene changes allowed) with actors that ate real food and smoked real cigars… how edgy… how risky… how … contemporary…

This concept of truthful, realistic acting eventually made its way to the United States, where a group of actors (appropriately named The Group Theater) picked it up and ran with it. Now, here’s where it gets sticky: As this “method” spread farther and farther across the globe, it became exposed to more and more interpretations, and quite a few disagreements—particularly over concepts like sense memory/sense recall (the act of recalling a memory from your past and allowing yourself to emotionally respond to it). These disagreements eventually led to a rift in The Group and, eventually, everyone had their own acting school: There was the Stella Adler School, there was the Lee Strasberg School, there was the Sanford Meisner School…and they all had different approaches. To make things even more complicated, Stanislavski himself is purported to have changed his mind on a few key elements of his own original method. But, despite their differences, each method’s goal was always the same: make acting look real. And, to do that, we were left with a few basic rules for actors to follow:

1. Don’t do anything unless something causes you to do it (AKA, the dreaded: “What’s my motivation?”)

2. Live truthfully in the moment—don’t add anything that doesn’t need to be there.

3. Embrace everything that happens, even if unexpected, as part of the world of the play.

And

4. Never break the scene—in other words, don’t stop “acting” until the show is over or someone tells you to hold.

Here’s an example from one of my favorite movies, On the Waterfront. During filming, Ms. Saint was meant to pull her gloves out of her purse and put them on her hands, but one of her gloves slipped and fell on the ground. Watch what Brando does and how Saint reacts:

YouTube Preview Image

Okay, okay, okay. So, what does any of this have to do with David Levine’s HABIT at MASS MoCA? Well, let me ask you: Knowing what we know about how actors work, wouldn’t you want to put them in a house and have them “live” for 8-hours straight in character?

Come on, you’re not even curious?

The concept is fairly straightforward. There is a house, three actors, and a script. Other than that, anything goes. Mr. Levine hasn’t staged the play. Instead, he channels that energy on making sure that his actors understand their circumstances and fully embrace their characters. That way, when those characters are placed within their own four walls, the real magic can happen—spontaneously, naturally, and truthfully. (You watch the situations unfold by peering through the windows and doorways.)

At the end of the day, acting is a game of house. When we were young, we had no trouble immersing ourselves in our own worlds and reacting truthfully to our playmates. Levine is essentially recreating these circumstances to cultivate those same adolescent instincts—instincts that most actors spend their entire careers to (re)develop.

I’ll end with a thought from one of my favorite acting teachers:

Sanford Meisner began some of his classes by asking his students to count every source of light in the room. When they were done, he would have a dialogue that would go something like this:

MEISNER: Did you count every light?

STUDENT: Yes.

MEISNER: Are you sure?

STUDENT: Yes, I counted every light.

MEISNER: But, did you really count every light?

STUDENT: Yes, every one.

MEISNER: And, you were actually counting?

STUDENT: Yes.

…and so on.

Meisner’s point was this: his students weren’t “acting” like they were counting the lights in the room, they were actually counting. He didn’t want his students to “act”, he wanted them to do. There is a line somewhere between “acting” and “doing” that often gets blurred… So, in closing, I ask you this question:

If we ask three actors to live in a house, where they are actually eating, actually napping, actually interacting with each other…when are they actually acting?

Come see for yourself this week:

Thurs, Feb 24, noon- 5PM

Friday, Feb 25, 2PM – 8PM

Saturday, Feb 26, noon – 8 PM

Sunday, Feb 27, noon– 5PM

Written by: Charles E. Jabour

Posted February 21, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Habit, Theater, Work-in-progress
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MASS MoCA is developing a “Habit”

If you’re reading this blog…chances are you are “in with the times” and have seen a reality TV show. BUT have you ever seen a reality show/theatrical production performed in a house built in MASS MoCA? Habit by David Levine will be performed at MASS MoCA on February 24 through February 27.

The Easthampton Star explains, “From the beginning, there’s plenty of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll piled on until the deep, dark secret is allowed to blow the whole thing apart. What is different here is that once it does, the action starts over from the beginning, following the same script but with different stagings, determined solely by the actors’ choices.”

We went into Hunter Theater to see how the project was coming along for the production crew.

The crew was busy installing the walls in which the actors will live within.

The house includes windows and peep-holes for the audience to peer into and watch the story unfold.

When we dropped by the theater the next day- obvious progress had been made!

The doors are real, the refrigerator is stocked, and the plumbing works!

The crew was hard at work! They continued to build the monstrous set throughout the day.

Here’s a pic of Tim, Matt, and Michael diligently working at a team. We love our crew here at MASS MoCA!

Now that you have seen a preview of all the hard-work put into this project come see Habit, an exploration of sensationalism and realism, at MASS MoCA!

Oh! And check out the pics from Rory Scovel! You can also see these pics on our Facebook!

Charles Jabour: Curator of Rory Scovel Comedy Show

Combo Za: Williams College Improv Group

Matt Kelly: Albany-Based Comedian

RORY SCOVEL!

Cheers to Danelle Cheney for the photos! You just rock!

Posted February 11, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Habit, Theater, Work-in-progress
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A Night in the Old MoCA Place

Ladies and Gents, get excited for Frank London’s A Night in the Old Market Place showing on January 22 at 8pm!

(Manu Narayan as The Badkhn)

We were lucky enough to take a peak at the rehearsal yesterday and hear a couple of the eerily beautiful songs from the show.

Walking into the Hunter Theater, we saw a giant projector screen with animations that were taking place behind the actors; catching your attention and making you feel unsettled in the best way.

The band is visible to the audience! Instruments such as the grand piano, an accordion, a tuba, and of course, trumpet by Frank London, will pour out Klezmer-jazz music spelled out in minor key.

Set in a market place in an old rural village, three men are blaming themselves for the death of the young bride, Sheyndele, who hurled herself into a well 20 years ago. In efforts to redeem themselves, the men ask a gargoyle to bring back the young bride from her watery grave.

(Oh! It’s our PA Intern, Charles Jabour, filling in for the Narrator! )

The musical is currently a work-in-progress and is based off of the 1907 Yiddish play, Bei Nakht Altn Mark. The adaptation features music by Frank London (who has worked with artists such as Natalie Merchant, Ben Folds Five, and Iggy Pop) and book and lyrics by Glen Berger (who recently co-wrote the book for the musical version of Spiderman! Yea!)

(Steven Hrycelak-center)

The narrative story features dark comedy and ghoul-ish lighting that will send your imagination into a supernatural spell. Talks of corpses, cemeteries, gargoyles, and wonders give the actors the opportunity to play and tell a story. (The actors are playful. During a “hold” we could hear them singing silly tunes such as “On the Road Again” and “Crazy” by Patsy Cline.)

So be sure to join us on January 22 at the old market place! Visit MASS MoCA’s website for ticket info!

Photo Credits to Danelle Cheney!

Performers
SINGERS:
Charlotte Cohn
Charlotte CohnGargoyle

Broadway – La Boheme (Musetta) dir. Baz Luhrmann, Ovation Award Winner; Coram Boy. Off Broadway – Cheri; Ambivalence; One Hundred Gates. Regional – A.C.T.: Happy End (Hallelujah Lil), Bay Area Critics’ Circle Award nominee; Centerstage: The Boys From Syracuse (Adriana); The Murder of Isaac (Talia). The Prince Music Theater: A Night in the Old Marketplace (Gargoyle); North Shore: Nine (Stephanie Necrophorus). Walker Art Center: Uncivil Wars- Moving with Brecht and Eisler (Nana/Isabella) Film/TV – Dandelion Man; Little Kings; The Danish Play; God in the Machine; Guiding Light. Recordings – La Boheme original cast recording; Happy End A.C.T. cast recording.

www.charlottecohn.com

Photo Credit: Hoebermann Studios

Manu Narayan
Manu NarayanThe Badkhn

Manu Narayan is a New York based artist who crosses all mediums of the performing arts.In his career, Manu has performed in straight plays, musicals, on TV, Film, and in concert. Last Summer, Manu co-starred in Mike Myers’ Paramount Pictures comedy The Love Guru. In the film he appears as Mike Myer’s sidekick “Rajneesh” – the Love Guru’s assistant/ “Moral Compass”. Manu has just wrapped, Wall Street 2 (Oliver Stone), The Last Airbender (M. Night Shyamalan) and the independent film It’s All Been Arranged (Shailja Gupta) and can be seen starring in Quarterlife Crisis (with Russel Peters and Lisa Ray), Hiding Divya (with Madhur Jaffrey) and Two Men in Shoulder Stand. On TV, he has guest starred in the pilot episodes of Cashmere Mafia, Lipstick Jungle, Spike Lee’s Mayor of N.Y, and Geena Davis’ Exit 19. Other credits include: Nurse Jackie, As the World Turns, All My Children, Law and Order SVU, The Sopranos.

On stage, Manu is most widely known for originating the “hero” Akaash in the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber/ A.R. Rahman musical Bombay Dreams on Broadway; the Drama League recognized him for his work. Off Broadway, he was in the revival of Eric Bogosian’s subUrbia, and in Getting Home, both at Second Stage Theater. He also was Whizzer in NAATCO’s Falsettoland at the Vineyard and originated Siddhartha in SIDD: the musical at the Dodger Stages. Manu was in the world premiere of Pulitzer prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Park’s Fucking A with Mos Def and S. Epatha Merkerson at the New York Shakespeare Festival/ Public Theater and has starred with Cyndi Lauper, Fisher Stevens, and Garth Hudson (from “The Band”) in New York Stage and Film’s workshop production of Largo.

As a concert artist, Manu has been asked to sing and has performed for many distinguished dignitaries including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, George W. Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton. With Radovan Jovicevic (founding member of the hit European band Zana), their band Darunam (www.darunam.com) brings together the melodies and rhythms from three homelands: America, India, and Serbia creating a Neo-world-pop sound. Their new album of Electronic Lounge/ World music with Canadian Clarinetist Milan Milosevic is “The Last Angel on Earth” and performed live in Vancouver for national broadcast on the CBC.

Manu grew up in Delmont, Pa a little town outside of Pittsburgh and in Chennai, India. He showed an affinity for music, dance, and drama at a very young age. Manu is an award winning classical saxophonist both in the western style – he has performed the Glazunov Saxophone Concerto with orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh- and in the Indian Karnatic style – he won the All India Radio music competition in Mangalore, India. He is the Karnatic saxophone student of Sri Kadri Gopalnath and is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. From 2001 to 2005 Manu was a founder and co-Artistic Director of Rasa Theater, Inc. Rasa Theater was established to help develop theater artists of the South Asian Diaspora.

Photo credit: Vlad Voloshin

Steven Hrycelak

Posted January 19, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Frank London: A Night in the Old Market Place, Theater, Work-in-progress
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Katie Bullock is Fantastic

It is always such a pleasure to meet with Sean Foley and discuss the progression of his new installation, Ruse, at MASS MoCA.

Ball State University professor, Hannah Barnes, arrived at MASS MoCA to assist with Sean’s giant project which will cover our 100-foot long hallway!

Sean Foley & Hannah Barnes

Sean said he’s always wanted to do an installation like this, but he needed the space to do it! (And that’s exactly what MASS MoCA is here for!)

Sean, and his assistants were hard at work when we stopped by. They were taping up stencils when Sean suggested that we take the time out to interview his studio assistant, Katie Bullock.

Katie is a third year painting and drawing student at Ohio State University.

Katie Bullock

Katie is a very genuine and hard-working young woman. She told us she has always loved to draw and be active.

She never considered a career in art until high school, when her teacher suggested that she participate in a summer art school in 2007. She decided to major in painting and drawing at Ohio State University. She still felt very unsure of her position and choices, but after taking one class with Sean- she knew this is what she wanted to do.

“It’s been incredible,” said Katie about her experience at MASS MoCA. “I’ve learned so much by working with Sean.”

We asked her what is the most valuable lesson she has learned since she came to Massachusetts. Katie said this experience has made her dreams seem possible. “If you’re passionate about it, you can do it,” she said. (She also mentioned that she REALLY enjoyed the delicious food from The Hub!)

But the real reason Katie is here is to assist Sean with the installation of the “monster painting”. Sean described the painting as camouflage/amorphous/invisible man art. The 3D mural will resemble camouflage chaos but when viewers stand in the “perfect spot” they will see the hidden face or “invisible man”. It’s-gonna-be-craaazy!!!!

Today the artists were taping on the stencils cut out by lasers and will be working long into the night with loud music.

Hopefully Katie, and other dedicated students, will inspire you to continue to educate yourself everyday. Read a play! Draw a picture! Wikepedia the word- Szczecin!

We’re going to keep you updated on Ruse, which is scheduled to open on January 23!

(Danelle Cheney rocks at taking photos. Thank you!!)

Posted January 18, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Sean Foley: Ruse, Work-in-progress
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Quiet Time with Sean Foley

It was getting dark in North Adams when we found Sean Foley, Katie Bullock, and MASS MoCA curator, Denise Markonish in Hunter Hallway – working on a new installation. We asked them if they were tired and Sean shook his head no…then shook his head yes…then shook his head no…and yes.

We began talking logistics about Sean’s new installation, Ruse, at MASS MoCA. Sean seemed a little exhausted when he was talking about work so we decided to ask him, “What advice do you have for a young person who aspires to pursue the arts but lives in an area where art & culture is not easily accessible or accepted?” After that, Sean immediately lit up and showed us why he is a perfect candidate to be an art teacher at Ohio State University.

Sean Foley

Here is some of advice directly from a successful 21st century artist who grew up in Indiana…

1) “Do what you like. You have to care so deeply that you’re not embarrassed when people tell you, you shouldn’t do that.”

2) “Let it be the thing that motivates you.”

3) “You have to constantly develop your intellectual curiosity.”

4) “Make your world,” he said. “Look at art.” He said artists must articulate the experience they have with the piece THEN read about it to develop the secret language and understanding between artists. He explained this language is silent and then compared it to “sniffing like cats.”

Curator, Denise Markonish, and Sean Foley

He spoke very highly of his studio assistant, Katie Bullock, and said she is constantly developing her ideas and ways of thinking.

Katie Bullock

Sean also mentioned the Indie band from Dayton, Ohio; Guided by Voices. They had humble beginnings, recording in a garage for fun. The band started gaining recognition and listeners were amazed by their uniquely developed sound. “You get time in the Midwest to do things wrong and develop your position…Sometimes you think you’re doing it wrong but it could be right. But if it’s right, chances are, it’s been done before,” he said.

We wrapped up the interview by asking him why he chose art for the direction in his life. He explained that he always knew it was what he was going to do, even when he was a kid and fellow classmates teased him for it. “It’s how I make sense of things…I paint to see stuff I’m curious about. It’s the language I speak.”

I hope this particular post inspires young students to develop a relationship with someone they admire. Find a mentor. Stop by your favorite professor’s office. It’s the best way to develop your skills and link them human connections.

Thanks again to Miss Danelle Cheney for the photos!

Make it a good day =]

Posted January 14, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Sean Foley: Ruse, Work-in-progress
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Sean Foley/Exchange with Sol LeWitt on the Snow Day

We wanted to track down Sean Foley today for an update on his new project, Ruse, which will appear in the 100-foot long Hunter Hallway at MASS MoCA.

We asked him how he felt about the crazy Massachusetts weather and he said, “I love it! I grew up on the east side of Lake Michigan!” …So he’s pretty used to it. Sean said this weather gives him an excuse to stay inside and work all day!

Sean and his crew were spending time in the shop building, priming, and painting site specific wall-pieces that are made out of MDF (which is basically saw-dust and glue).

They were also cutting brackets for the pop-out pieces of the mural (made out of PVC).

Although Sean is very busy, he is extremely grateful for all the help he is receiving. Studio assistant, Emily Martiny (sadly) had to return to school. Luckily, Sean still has Katie Bullock on his side! “I couldn’t live without Katie,” he said.

Sean is waiting for his former student and current Ball State University Professor, Hannah Barnes, to show up for extra help. She is a painter and “a part of the family” according to Sean.

Sean and the team are planning on knocking out the wall painting and continuing to construct and reposition the pop-out pieces of the 3D mural.

“We’re all very happy. I feel the momentum is behind us today,” said Sean.

…After talking to Sean we went to check out the OTHER exhibition in progress- An Exchange with Sol LeWitt.

LeWitt consistently traded works with admirers and friends. This exhibit is giving artists the opportunity to answer the question, “If you were to exchange a piece of work with Sol LeWitt- what would you do?”

Cabinet and MASS MoCA had an open call for works for the exhibition. The display is scheduled to open on January 23!

Stay updated with the blog and learn more about these AWESOME additions to MASS MoCA!

Special thanks to Danelle Cheney, MASS MoCA’s graphic design intern, for the lovely photos.

Posted January 13, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under An Exchange with Sol LeWitt, BLOG, Exhibitions, Sean Foley: Ruse, Work-in-progress
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