Critical Mass


"I have of late, though wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth. Foregone all custom of exercises, and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame the earth seems to me a sterile promontory. This most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave, o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire . . . why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours!"

Any errors in quotation are my fault, done from memory.

I wonder what kind of reviews Hamlet got in the days of its first revival. "Something's rotten in the state of Denmark, and mostly it has to do with the direction by Forsythe B. Fmythe . . .." A Lie of the Mind closes this week, and we got several reviews, but none by major players as far as I know. In fact, we had two from theatre websites, and three from weblogs. None from printed publications, as far as I've heard. And, of course, countless reviews from friends and enemies alike. On the whole, very positive reviews. The best of us got some excellent praise, and most of the harsher critique came of Shepard's script or staging and budget issues difficult to change.

However. How. Ever. I have never counted myself amongst "the best of us" in this show, and in fact had some trepidation early on that I may have been the weakest link--goodbye! The entire group is among the most supportive I have ever had the pleasure of working with, so I got by with my uncertainty and frustrations. Then came my reviews. "...vibrant, but relatively unadventurous..." "difficult time tapping into the vulnerability" "overdone frustration" "seems as though this cast often does all it can to ignore these cues and idle until a scene change frees them from their stasis" And of course a good deal of my friends had nothing but good things to say, and I thank them profoundly. I should thank the ones who have had more critical things to say, too . . . and I do. But these critical reviews have culminated for me, and I am left with questions I need answers to. At first I simply hated myself, and it showed in my performances, I'm ashamed to admit. So questions are welcome, even if doubt inspires them more than curiosity.

If I had to sum up the critical response to my work in this show, I suppose it would have something to do with being too mannered (a common blight of practicing so much physical theatre) yet at once a bit mild, or incapable of accessing that spark of passion so essential to Shepard. To put it bluntly, unbelievable and dull.

Owitch.

Okay, so . . . I'm going to assume from the get-go that I'm not the world's worst actor. That's a good place to start, as it circumvents the otherwise requisite removal of my own eyes with this letter opener, Oedipus-like. So: not the worst. I mean, I've been at this for some time now. Someone would have told me . . . and even if they wouldn't, I know I've worked with worse than me. That having been established, I have to tackle some cause-and-effect. This is tricky territory, as it is essentially excuse hunting. I need to be sure to slay all that what might delude me, and capture that reason most true.

Maybe I just don't relate to the play/Shepard in any kind of helpful way.
Tempting, but no. That excuses having to work extra hard to do a good job, not doing an actual bad one.
Maybe I'm sabotaged by my physical theatre practice.
Less tempting; and maybe I'm just kidding myself here, but it seems to me they should feed one another nicely, and it's not like I'm never in naturalistic plays. In the past year I've done two contemporary plays, dramatic and comic.
Maybe getting older is draining some of my capacity for creativity.
Some people are going to be up in arms over this one, I know already. Nevertheless, I find validity in it. It goes at different rates for different people, but wonder is generally a more precious commodity in older ages, and it takes wonder to be creative. Then again, I invented a whole routine out of getting out the backseat of Heather's car last weekend, so perhaps not.
Maybe being an actor is not what I need right now.

Huh. Could be something to that. At the risk of sounding fairly self-defeating, perhaps the reason I lack luster is that my needs are not being altogether met. I don't mean that in a blame-shifting sort of way; rather, I mean to take responsibility for diagnosing and then fulfilling my own needs. It is not something for which I am historically famous, this actor-heal-thyself behavior. All the more reason to take the idea seriously.

Of course, there is also the possibility that my work in A Lie of the Mind has been very good indeed, and simply lacked good, expressed opinion. It's possible. It's probable that I should just work to please myself--not to the deficit of the audience, but to a high personal standard of constant improvement. I try to do this. It's hard to adhere to, particularly in such a spectator/commentator sport, and especially when you've seen so many examples of actors who seem so blissfully ignorant of just how terrible their work is. The temptation there is to believe your negative feedback to be absolute in its truth, to accept the verdict that you are one of the failed and undeserving. Yet I continue to try to do good work. Why? The show must go on.

Also: The readiness is all.
 
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