Archive for the ‘Acting’ Category

No Child

November 29, 2007

Have you ever gone to see a performance that received a standing ovation? Usually there is some hesitation. First you wonder, “is somebody going to stand up?” Then you wonder, “is everybody going to stand up?” Well, have you ever seen a show where there was no doubt, and everybody jumped to their feet at the end? Last night’s opening of “No Child” at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the no-doubt kind. It was a first for me, I think.

“No Child” is a one-woman show by Nilaja Sun. It is a fictionalized account of Sun’s experience teaching theater at Malcolm X High School in the Bronx—sort of a modern-day, female “To Sir, With Love.” Sun plays all the characters, from the children to the Principal to the parents and the janitor. She switches from role to role in an amazing rapid-fire Robin-Williamsesque style. But unlike Robin Williams, each character takes over Sun’s entire body. You can tell who is talking from his or her posture and body language alone.

The performance was astonishing. I’m glad I saw it. I’m going to cherish it like a trophy. I’ve always been envious that my father actually saw Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady on Broadway. Well, I saw Nilaja Sun in “No Child.” Yeah, that was awesome.

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Impro

October 30, 2006

In 2003, I was telling my friend Matthew Bernstein about my troubles creating a story for my upcoming video game. Matt gave me a copy of Impro by Keith Johnstone. He thought I would like it and it might help.

However, I was doubtful. I had taken Robert McKee’s Story seminar and had read McKee’s book. I had read a dozen books on screenwriting and story writing, and none of them had helped. Impro had an ugly cover, and it was about acting, so I postponed reading it for weeks.

When I finally picked it up in July, 2003, it instantly changed my life.

That might be an odd thing to say about an acting book, but I don’t care. And I am not the only one who says so. Several reviews on Amazon say the same thing.

Impro is ostensibly a book about acting—improvisation and mask work. However, it is also a great book—an important book—about creativity, about psychology, and about education. To me, it was a mind-blowing trip.

Mainly it was useful. Whereas McKee explained how to analyze a story (and tell a good one from a bad one), Johnstone explained how to create one. My Cecropia story team had been collectively banging its head against a wall for months. Johnstone’s ideas helped us blast through that wall and become a prolific, productive machine.

Impro was a huge help for my writing and directing. But the life-changing part was that it opened my eyes to the “status transactions” in every human interaction. Also, just as my children were entering the formal education system, Johnstone’s ideas about education stunned me. (Johnstone was an elementary school teacher before he was a playwright and director.) Here is a small exerpt:

“People think of good and bad teachers as engaged in the same activity, as if education was a substance, and that bad teachers supply a little of the substance, and good teachers supply a lot. This makes it difficult to understand…that good and bad teachers are engaged in opposite activities.”

After reading Impro, I was lucky enough to take one of Johnstone’s acting seminars. I sucked, and he was not quite as sympathetic to the talent-less as he claims to be in his book. However, his every word was gold.

If you are an actor, you should read this book. If you are a teacher, or thinking of becoming a teacher, you should read this book. But if you are a story writer or director, you really must read this book. Then thank me, as I thank Matt Bernstein. (Thank you, Matt!)