Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conan McCarty On Becoming George W. Bush

Icarus Chronicles, continued…

Back in New York. I’ve got three weeks before rehearsals; and as I have run out of creative ways to avoid actually working on my role, I must buckle down and do some heavy lifting. Or I could just write this blog.

So, the question still stands: Who is this guy? Say what you will, he did manage to get himself elected President of the United States-- twice. So, how do I track him? My trip home was magnificent; and reacquainting myself with that wind swept place and those friendly, stubborn, hard working people reawakened many things for me, and that foundation will be a corner stone in my Dubya. But there is a lot more work to be done.

I know a few of Lee Blessing’s other plays, and I have always found his work to be as well crafted as this one is. It has been a joy to read and work on, and I sincerely hope we can do it justice in our production. It is funny, very smart, pretty dark here and there, and best of all, thought provoking. So…

Every actor has his own way into a play. At the risk of being pedagogic, here is a blueprint of what I look for, what I do when I come to a new script: Read the play a thousand times. Well, try to once a week. Note the verb, ’try.’ I am looking for hints, or impressions, as Stella Adler used to call them. Things that pop out at me as I read. What questions does the play give rise to? My parents were classical musicians; if this play is a symphony, where are the themes, counter melodies, harmonies? If it is a symphony, what instrument am I?

I studied at an acting conservatory in London as a young man; there was a teacher there who was rather dull and uninspiring, yet he managed to give a note of genius level once in class: ’If you’ve got twenty five actors doing the play Julius Caesar, and one actor doing the play Brutus; you’ve got trouble.’ How do I stay with Lee’s play and avoid doing the George W. Bush play?

What exactly is the ’sea’ in the title? I‘ve got an idea. We’ll see if it fits with what my collaborators bring.

This is the World Court at The Hague; what is the history there? Oddly enough, the Justice Department‘s decision not to file charges on John Yoo this past Friday led to a flurry of emails between me and my director, and he forwarded some things that will help me very much on that front.

Every play takes its audience on a journey. Along this journey there will, hopefully, be lessons learned, culminating in one giant AH-HA! Moment. Though I have read enough Anton Chekhov to agree with T. S. Elliot fans that ice would also suffice. As with any journey, a map is a really good idea, because you are headed to a specific point. But what kind of a map do you use on a play?

I am a member of the Actors’ Center Theatre Company in New York. Once a year we bring a brilliant Russian director, Vachislav Dolgachev, in from Moscow for an Anton Chekhov workshop. He has a wonderful script analysis technique that I always run scripts through before rehearsals start. Essentially, he believes that every story must have at least three events, initial, central, and main. This formula holds true for each scene in the play, each act, and the entire play.

The initial event is the spring for the story’s propulsion. Without it, the story doesn’t happen. It takes place before the curtain goes up, though it is discussed onstage. The central event is the highest expression of conflict in the play, act, or scene. It is generally in the center of the story, though not necessarily the geometrical center. My Russian friend says it lurks in what he calls ‘the golden center’ of the story, which is approximately two thirds of the way through. The main event is the last event of the story. It is the event to which the author writes. Without the main event, there is no understanding of the play.

Again, each act or scene will also have these three components, but it is the initial event of the first act which is also the initial event of the entire play. The central event of the whole piece should be in the last third or quarter of the play… we have nine scenes in ‘When We Go…’, which would make our central event in the fifth or sixth scene; the main event of the last act or scene is the main event of the play.

So I will spend some time reading the scenes over and over, trying to find these events. You’d be surprised how long it can take before I am reading for my Final Answer, but when you can line them up, you will find a great deal of weight has been lifted off your shoulders. They serve to ground you and your character to the play and the other characters, and they will set you on the right path for your trip.

That’s not to say this is the only way to crack open a play and its characters. I try to look at the play as many different ways as I can to see how much I can mine from the script. It certainly can be long and arduous work, but the better understanding the actors have of the play, the more will reach the audience experiencing it for the first time.

- Conan McCarty

Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles: Parts I & II

Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

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