A Closer Look: EgoPo and Rowan Theatre’s Lane Savadove.

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Lane Savadove

Greetings, readers!

This week I had the very lucky opportunity to interview Rowan University‘s own Lane Savadove. The artistic director of EgoPo Classical Theatre in Philadelphia and more familiar to most of you as my Movement For The Actor professor, Savadove and I took a few minutes to discuss a life in theatre, what inspired his own career path, and the acting method of Viewpoints.

Prince Musical Theatre presents: The Diary of Anne Frank, as directed by Lane Savadove.

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T. Charles Erickson photo/Courtesy of Syracuse Stage

Last Wednesday, I took advantage of the opportunity to see the final preview of EgoPo’s latest production: The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Rowan’s own Lane Savadove at the Prince Musical Theater. It was a miserably rainy day and like five out-of-towners, my friends and I did four circles around our destination before ever finding it, but after seeing the show, I will say that it was, and still is, very much worth the trip.

Most of you will be familiar with the story of Anne Frank and her famous diary. In celebration of Jewish Theatre, EgoPo brings to life the story audiences only thought they knew in a new, powerful adaption by Wendy Kesselman. A deeply personal account, filled with first person monologues taken from the pages of Frank’s own diary, the show’s cast and set pull the audience deep into the private lives of the eight main characters.

Before first hints of stage lights dawn upon the set, its intimacy is obvious, even in the dim pre-show lighting. My friends with more set-designing experience than myself questioned how the actors would be capable of moving around with so little space. From my own studies, I acknowledged that it was definitely a fair attempt at thrusting the audience face-first into the unflattering, historically accurate reality of the Franks and van Pels families’ hellish sanctuary.

The show begins with Otto Frank returning to the scene of his family’s arrest after his liberation from Auschwitz in 1945. As he begins to read the earlier pages of his youngest daughter’s diary, the story unfolds around him as the characters begin to ascend the staircase onto the set.

Most of the story is told through the interactions of the cast, which smoothly transition into nightly accounts from Anne Frank herself. Oftentimes writing in her diary by candlelight, she looks up to acknowledge the audience directly from the minimal privacy of her bedroom. In what struck me as a very interesting addition, there were a few intimate monologues given to the other characters as well, proving a variation in perspectives.

The tragedy of the Frank’s and van Pels’ mutual hiding place is thickly evident in every moment shared between them. Tension often occurs as the characters’ individual differences collide in such close quarters. Juxtaposing that, moments of tenderness warm the stage just as frequently in the Hanukkah celebration scene, as the various nostalgic conversation shared between the characters. In one scene, every person on stage rejoiced in the presentation of spice cake, and this paired with their Hanukkah wishes of simplicities such as coffee, dancing, and to hear a lover speak once more, was perhaps even more heartbreaking than the end we all know the families eventually met.

As an audience member, I found the most beauty in the irony of listening to Anne’s character recount the whimsicality of first love and kissing. In the midst of darkness, a fourteen-year-old girl is perhaps the only being capable of finding light. The production ended in expected tragedy, after the Nazis arrest the members of the annex, the stage lights dimly reappear only once more for Otto Frank to conclude his monologue from the beginning of the show. In what was nothing less than perfect, his words reduced most of the audience to tears, as the first person account of the horrors of The Holocaust became gruesomely undeniable.

Viewpoints: Continued.

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To prove that I’m not all empty promises and to shed some more much needed light on the subject of a previous post, I’m going to try my best at capturing the past couple of weeks of Movement For The Actor in a way even Nick Diulio will appreciate.

I’ve listed most of the basics of Viewpoints already, that the concept was created by Anne Bogart (she wrote a book, guys, look into it!) and designed to provide actors with a method of thinking upon acting and gesture, while Mary Overlie reconstructed the idea to better suit her dancers. But perhaps the best perspective I can offer you is my own.

In the four weeks since my last written recollection of the course (not counting the journals I keep for the class itself), I’ve learned at least four new topics worth sharing, I hope it won’t sound equally as confusing.

First: Finding imbalance. Everything, in short, comes down to creating an interesting stage picture. If the curtain were to open on two people standing a comfortable distance apart from each other, the theory is that the audience would automatically relax in their seats; familiarity is only a half step away from boring. The idea of finding imbalance is to match a leveled scale (stay with me): rather than one side being decidedly heavier than the other, a leveled scale is still constantly teetering up and down, at a constant state of tension. Actors are expected to test the distances between themselves and other actors to find the places of the most tension, or, in other words, going where it feels wrong. Now, if the curtain were to open on two people standing nose-to-nose, or at an awkward distance facing away from each other, it would definitely paint a more interesting stage picture.

Second: Levels and Kinesthetic Response. Architecture and shape are two things to take into consideration when learning and understanding Viewpoints, and week five involved putting speeds 1-10 and our experiences with finding imbalance to work with more than just one person. In groups of seven, we stood in a circle around each other and played around with four levels: Standing upright, squatting down, kneeling on all fours, and lying flat on our backs. The idea was to transition between the levels with as little effort as possible, eliminating our core muscles and relying mostly on gravity. With the professor’s directions and the other half of the class chiming in with “Yes”s if something interested them, each student, acting on impulse, would transition from one level to the next. Before anyone knew it, we were picking up each other’s most minuscule ejections of energy, matching each other’s movements without trying, or moving and stopping in synch without ever meaning to. For fun, the exercise would stop, each of us in awkward mid-level positions, and the professor would say, “Look at that. Interesting stage picture, is it not?”

Third: Floor Patterns. If you were to step in paint, and a bird were watching, what tracks would you leave? When interacting with others on the street, in the supermarket, on stage, what is your walking pattern? Again, in groups of seven or eight, we stood in a chorus line of sorts while each of us created our own floor patterns. I will say that there’s only so many basic patterns one can think up before your’s is just made up of another’s, but, for example, walking in a straight line is a floor pattern, as is walking in circles, squares, zig-zags, etc. After we established our own patterns, each was matched with a number, and as Prof. Lane called out numbers, the students did their best to match it with the appropriate walk without thinking. Not completely successful, as we’d all find ourselves freezing for a couple of seconds after “3!” or “7!” to remember what the pattern was, but eventually they all blended into each other, as expected.

Fourth: Incorporation of the three into practice. From here, we’d go back into inner focus, sight to the far horizon, eyes in the backs of our heads. Continuing with floor patterns on our own, we were encouraged to start working off each other’s impulses, to feel the group on our skin rather than look for each other, and, when possible, to find imbalance. Eventually we threw the four positions into the mix, as well as moving in speeds 1-10. If this sounds weird, it probably is, but if it’s done right – if you’re not in your head and concerned with how you look with what you’re doing – it creates a fascinating dance of fluid movement.

Oh yeah, we also do yoga.

Rowan University Musical Theatre Company’s final dress rehearsal for “Seussical The Musical”

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Pre-show tension and vocal warm-ups fill the backstage atmosphere for Suessical The Musical’s final dress rehearsal tonight. Much thanks to director Brian Gratziani for allowing me to photograph the final moments before opening night, as well as the performance itself. I look forward to updating this post throughout the night as the rehearsal process and show goes on.

The Wickersham Brothers (left to right: Andrew Spinosi, Tyler Garamella and Anthony Magnotta) practice "Monkeying Around" with choreographer Jessica Evans.

Make-up designer Mandee Ashley prepares Alexandra Reggi for her role as Mayzie.

Horton The Elephant (Bryan Neel) in "Solla Sollew."

Wickersham Brothers Andy Spinosi, Tyler Garamella and Anthony Magnotta in "Horton Hears A Who."

Jojo (Katie Knoblock), The Cat In The Hat (Nikole Lee Zane) and ensemble in "I's Possible (McElligot's Pool)."

Shameless Plug.

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Come see Rowan University Presents: The Laramie Project in the Westby Black Box on one of the following:

Friday, December 9th at 7:00 PM

Saturday, December 10th at 7:00 PM

Sunday, December 11th at 3:00 PM

Tickets available at the door, free of charge. Space and seats are limited, so get there early!

An emotional story with a powerful message. And this is the last time I will mention this show, as I’m evidentially biased towards the awesome cast. See you all there!

 

Why Do You Do Theatre?

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I started this blog as a way to justify my major to other people, but today I’m finding that my biggest challenge might be justifying it to myself. In light of recent events, and some assigned soul-searching in Movement For The Actor, I’ve been tossing some questions around all week: Why do I do Theatre? Why does anyone?

Monday’s class of Viewpoints began with a routine breathing exercise, and something new. While we settled down in a circle, Lane Savadove posed a relatively simple question. “I want you to give this some thought. I don’t want any deep, spiritual garbage, I’m asking for your honesty. Think about it a little, and speak when you’re ready. Tell me, why do you do Theatre?”

The answers were surprising. Were there some garbage answers? Of course, but there were a lot more “I’m afraid to be alone”s, “It fulfills me”s and “It’s the only thing I’m good at”s. It’s the only thing you’re good at? You’re doing this because everything else kind of just failed you? That’s one ugly answer, but it’s definitely honest.

I realized everybody was listing the reasons why they first got into acting, so I played along. “I was fifteen, my parents hated each other, and I needed something to do to get away from both problems. And I just wanted people to see me.” Pretty ugly.

We’re often reminded to hold on to these answers, and the ones that later develop, for the tougher times. I’m looking forward to finding more depth, but until then, I’ve been pondering my own dedication. In all of this mess, through all these tough times, still, why Theatre? Here’s something I realized: you have to love it.

I’ve met some of the greatest people in my department, and I’ve met some of the worst. I’ve come face to face with the most cutthroat comments and actions that I hope I’ll ever witness. Does everybody live by an actor’s code of ethics? No. Is everybody going to judge you fairly based on your talent alone? Of course not. Will you be back stabbed? Unavoidably, yes. But if you love it, you’ll find a reason to pull through. You remember the compliments, you remember the thrills, you remember how nothing else makes you this happy. You turn failure into motivation, and you keep going until motivation turns into success. It’s not always this bad. And when it’s bad, it’s worth it. Because you love it.

I asked a few others the same question – “Why Theatre?” Sophomore double Art/Theatre major Joe Napolitano answers, “It encompasses so many mediums of art and blurs the lines between them.” Junior Tyler Garamella contradicts that with, “It’s a medium of art that has a unique ability to keep people in the moment, as opposed to transporting them elsewhere. It’s storytelling, and it’s self-expression.”

All this brings me to one question: How much do you love whatever it is you’re doing? Would you fight for it if it didn’t love you back?

Viewpoints: Introduction.

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Photo Credit: David Cimetta

http://oliszewski.blogspot.com/2008/10/anne-bogart-viewpoints.html

As promised, I’m really excited to be writing about what I consider to be one of Rowan Theatre’s golden opportunities: Viewpoints. Labelled on the Add/Drop list as “Movement For The Actor,” (It’s open to non-theatre majors, please read on and consider!) Viewpoints is a little known performance technique designed to provide actors with a method of thinking upon acting and gesture. Undoubtedly, this post will find some disagreers or nitpickers who may want to correct some of my descriptions. Disclaimer: I’m writing from my experiences with Prof. Lane Savadove, the East coast’s primary Viewpoints coach. I understand it’s taught a little differently on the West coast, and probably throughout schools and workshops in general.

Before I make this sound like some undercover conspiracy project of rogue actors, I’ll explain that it’s a contemporary, and relatively fledgling coaching method originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation. The theory was soon thereafter adapted for stage acting by director Anne Bogart. Bogart and Overlie were both faculty members of ETW at NYU in the ’70s and ’80s, at which time Bogart was deeply influenced by Overlie’s work. While Overlie’s Six Viewpoints (space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape) are considered to be a logical way to examine, analyze, and create dances, Bogart’s Viewpoints are considered more practical in staging actors.

But that’s enough facts for now, because, let’s be real, even I don’t want to read all of that. Anyway, your favorite professors were never the ones who shoved facts down your throat, but the ones who found ways to relate the subject matter in a way that was relevant and exciting. And I’m so serious when I say that there is nothing more exciting in my life than this class (that might be proof how boring I’ve gotten this year.) Too keep it short and painless, I was ready to throw up when I walked into dance studio my first day. Theatre major or no, I suddenly redeveloped stage fright; this isn’t a class filled with smiling parents, it’s a large group of very talented fellow students. For the most part, however, I have a very supportive class, and these were the same people I survived two semesters of Dance Improvisation with last year. (Rolling around the floor and getting in touch with your body while Prof. Leslie Elkins makes sexual breathing noises, anyone?)

Savadove quickly prepped us on the basis of Viewpoints. Over time, we’ll learn to dissolve our ego (Actors without egos? Good one), live, move and be on impulse, as well learn the place of our body in relation to time in space. Me being me, my mind is blown, but I’m still all, “Wait, what” just as he introduces “Pass The Clap.” A simple game, often performed as a backstage energizer, but this time, intensified with the idea of not looking to one’s left or right, but staring past the room to the far horizon, eyes in the backs of our heads, while we passed energy manifested in a clap around a circle of classmates. I don’t know where I zoned in, but amidst a frenzy of claps, pauses and yells of “Pass this clap with your entire soul! Every reason you have for living is in this clap! You are just a temporary manifestation of a greater energy flying across the room!” I went so crazy, I burst a blood vessel in my hand. THAT’s focus. That’s Viewpoints! Not really, there’s more, but I’ll post those details in the next blog after I’m sore from all the running we’ll be doing tomorrow.

Until then!

Catherine.