Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Talking to Raymond about his play, "Bohemian Cowboy"

The most significant thing I did yesterday was to talk to Raymond by phone about the play, and I was able to give my imput and some suggestions about what he might be able to do to strengthen his performance in different places and really start to settle in and enjoy acting in this work he has created.
This is of course what I cannot do with Doc, why I stopped trying to do my plays with him after doing three of them in an improv style on Youtube. I just had to let him run in whatever direction came to him, because his alcoholic impairment keeps him from doing the hard work of fine tuning a performance. He cannot memorize.
Where as when I went to LA I knew I would see a work that was raw and new, but which had been reworked and would become more polished with every performance.
Sunday night I knew Raymond was nervous with the prospect of a reviewer from the Los Angeles Times, likely to be the most difficult critic of all, which kept him from really being able to gauge how well it might have gone. I know from experience that the nervousness from being 'judged' by a theater critic is like no other.
Watching American Idol last night and listening to Simon Cowell rip several of the performers made me realize once again how ferocious a really savage critic can be. Although we have gotten used to him I think Simon Cowell is one of the meanest. He said such devastating things to several of the performers, 'worst performance, 'boring,' 'awkward,' and 'I hated what you were wearing,' that I figured those unlucky mortals will probably be traumatized for life. I think he and the producers think Simon makes the show. Well, maybe for those who would love to see the lions eat the Christians in the arena, he does. Poor Paula Abdul then goes over the top trying to make up for Simon I suppose by promising performers they have a great career ahead of them in show biz, their performance was mind boggling, and she has never in all her years seen anything like it. I thought the criticism last night was a mess, because Simon started off by being so critical of a contestant I think is a great performer by saying he hated what she was wearing. I think he was really saying he hated her figure and she needed to cover it up better, and that is just not acceptable. From that point on I only half way watched the show because he turned me off first thing.
However, I love it when I think I can say something to an actor who is dedicated to his craft like Raymond which will make a light go off in his mind and give him a sense of excitement about how he can make this performance even more dynamic than it already is. Raymond loves Hamlet for example, and during the time when his dad disappeared and when he started writing the play he 'just happened' to see three productions of Hamlet, so the parallels between the ghost of Hamlet's father haunting him, and his own father's haunting him were so striking that he made Hamlet a character in his play, riding beside him as he drove out to the road where his father got his truck stuck and then disappeared, talking to Hamlet about the ghosts of their fathers haunting them, and them unable to rest. Raymond also has an Ophelia in his life who disappears too, compounding his loneliness. I know Raymond loves the words of Shakespeare and I suggested that he show his love for the part with more of a suggestion of performing Hamlet. So that the actor in him comes more to life. He has also written a beautiful song about the death of Ophelia in his life, which he performs very well in the show. A song about loss.
An actor is a finely tuned instrument, and I feel you must respect that if you say anything, so you will not risk throwing him off or in any way attacking his confidence. If you do that, you have defeated your purpose. But I felt Raymond was up when we finished our conversation, looking forward to doing the play again this coming Thursday, and eager to bring out more nuances. Thus a performance can grow more complex and satisfying as the run continues. He is fortunate to be performing it three more weeks, before he heads home and then to Austin, Texas where he is setting up another engagement.
His acting will evolve I know to a thing of beauty, which is why so many of us love theater!

P.S. The saddles above are ones Raymond gathers from their owners every summer for the Festival in Boulder, as he listens to stories of who rode these saddles for a life time, some times. My father's weatherbeaten saddle is in front with his name on it. This is the kind of attention to details that gives Raymond an authentic feel for the characters he creates in his plays. The photo is of my dad on his horse he was riding bareback to tend the water. This was a photo Raymond blew up to show in his play, where he talks about my dad as being his father figure after his own father disappeared with the divorce.


DB said...

Gerry, it is a shameful fact and a thorn in the side of theatre that drama critics in the major cities, New York, Chicago, LA, have power beyond their ability to perceive and be objective. One evening, in a group conversation with a major NY drama critic, he was asked if he didn't feel he had some responsibility to American theatre. He said no that his major responsiblity was to his editor, that his job was to sell the newspaper. My pattern was that if I got a good review I would copy it, or part of it, and attach it to any resume I sent out I made up a list of all the good mentions I got and attached that to a resume or any other mailing. If I got a bad review I would put it in the trash and get on with life. Even though we can't ignore the critics, they are to be ignored.


Ann said...

When an actor has put his life's blood in both a script and performance, it is sad to have to rely on a critic to say it is good...especially one that is habitually nasty. Critics are valuable only if they give thought and insight for a creative work.
I do hope these critics can be generous.
Raymond's work with writing and acting will stand for itself. After all, critics are still trying to criticize Shakespeare! His work will be his gift to the world.
I enjoyed very much hearing about the play and your trip.

Connie said...

Look how many great book manuscripts have been turned away and then one editor loves it-and it's a big hit.A critic is giving their 'opinion' and maybe it's an educated opinion-but it is still that.It's the people who line up to come in and see the play that count..without them there is no sense in standing on stage.
Loved the saddle pic..wish I would have kept mine when I sold my dear Socks.

Cathy said...

What fantastic saddles! Brings back sweet memories. I agree about actors, and they seem countless yet each is so unique in their gift. I wish all the unknowns could be given just one chance so WE could decide who we want to see plying their craft. Thank you for your recent comment Gerry, I feel you see exactly what I'm trying to get across, and it's not easy to do w/o making some folks a bit angry. I appreciate the thinking process you use before speaking your peace!


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