Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Crushing of The Soul

I spent the better part of Monday listening to my favorite radio station Air America Radio. It being a holiday (Cinco de Julio?) The O'Franken Factor was on vacation and it was an old chestnut of a rerun. After Al's regular features, "The Oy Oy Oy Report," the daily visit with Dittohead Mark Luther and a great segment with Calvin Trillin, there were about eight minutes left for open lines. Since Trillin had touched on Bush's misuse of the English language in his new book, "Obliviously On He Sails : The Bush Administration in Rhyme", the calls started streaming in with complaints about how Bush says "newcular," "amerkan," "abu giraffe," etc. You could hear the frustration rise as hosts Al and Katherine hoped to get to something a little more substantial. Finally Al had to say that yes, W. talks funny but there are so many more important issues that are facing us today.

And that is how I'm feeling right about now.

This little play that we're working on, ya' mighta heard of it somewhere else on this page, started off with such great expectations. I'm not exactly sure how I can say that since when we signed on the script wasn't completed, but what we expected is not what we're working with now. And there lies the rub. As actors we're expected to shut off our brains, paint our asses red and dance, monkey, dance! Right?

But acting in theatre in Hollywood is not like acting anywhere else. In this town, theatre is the ugly stepsister to the true Cinderella that is the film industry -- and god knows there're way too many enchanted rats running around to give this story a happy ending. The protections for union stage actors in Los Angeles are worse than any other major city. But in LA, actors will do it. (Along with folks who call themselves actors.) They will work for free since they believe this is their way to get kissed by the prince. No more pumpkins for me! Meanwhile, people who make their money OFF actors -- and that has to be the second major industry in LaLa land -- are raking in the dough.

Which brings me to my current dilemma. I call myself a theatre atheist. I do theatre for the moment. I am not in it for some magical afterlife of milk and honey where I will call the shots and own everybody. I don't do it to lead to something else, like an agent or a movie career. When I choose to do a play for little or no money, I have to be willing to perform the written words for an audience of NONE, since that is often the case in this town. I only do theatre in which I believe. And I mean it. Why in the hell would I do some piece of crap in NoHo where the "actors" don't even know when to start the play (uh... that would be when all the lights go down and come back up again) and no one is going to show up except for other actors who owe us a favor because we saw their piece of poop at Masquers for free but had to pay $30 for crappy pizza and two diet cokes?

So here we are doing a play for "the message." And what is that message? Well, it was hard to know up front when the script wasn't delivered until two weeks after rehearsals began ... but it did start off promisingly. There was a "workshop" with input accepted from the cast and discussion of the issues. But maybe that's where things went terribly, terribly wrong. Because what we have now is a cartoon. And that cartoon is about things like Laura Bush killing Condi Rice and Dick Cheney trying to kill W. so he can become president. WHY WOULD HE NEED TO DO THAT? HE ALREADY IS THE PRESIDENT!

Look at this picture! Who is in charge here?

And now that the question has been raised by the 9/11 commission about whether Cheney really even consulted Bush when he ordered planes shot down over D.C. I propose that he was talking about himself, Dick Cheney, when he said "Pursuant to the president's instructions, I gave authorization for them to be taken out." The reason Bush sat in that classroom in Florida for so long is that he was waiting for instructions from the President, Cheney. And the reason they didn't come is because President Cheney was busy shooting down planes.

Come on. Doesn't this make as much sense as anything else? Cheney is the evil uncle in this scary tale. Bush has obviously been rejected by Bush the Elder and has been adopted by evil Uncle Dick, Uncle Dick who served in Daddy's cabinet. And why would the Evil One show his face if he can hang little Georgie out for target practice?

But back to this play that I'm a working on...

This thing has Cheney plotting to kill Bush and Laura killing Condi. Now I happen to play Laura and I happen not to care for her one whit. But I'll be damned if I'm going to make shit up about her killing someone when there's truth to be told that's so much richer. And who in their right mind would make up some ri-goddam-diculous theory about the First Lady of these United States murdering someo- .... oh ...uh... nevermind. However, just because the rightwingnuts did it, doesn't mean I will. So screw it. For the first time in my career I'm going to refuse to say a line or depict a character the way it was written in the script. However, if the script had been presented to me in this form before I agreed to do the damn thing, I wouldn't have taken the role. So we are at a standstill...

And yesterday, when I was talking to my wonderful friend Joe Q. about this funk that has descended on me and why I'm eating my insides out, slowly, one bite at a time, what did he say? He laughed and said "There's no way you can do something you don't believe in. It's just not you. Your integrity won't allow it." I was gratified to hear that since in the middle of this I am of course filled with self doubt. Is this some weird ego trip? Am I somehow freaking out way beyond what it's worth? Is this just part of the painful birthing process that we call creativity and/or tech week? (a distinct possiblity ... read: if the reviews say I'm "perfect" again, then all bets are off ... bad actor! bad actor!)

But just like Al Franken said, "There are enough scary things about this administration." We don't need to make shit up.

Cassandra Prophetess of Doom Updates #1 and #2
It's not easy. We tried. See comments.


Blogger Cassandra Complex said...

Just a quick addendum. (Thought about making it another post but didn't want to call any unnecessary attention to my unnecessary bitching.)

We expressed our concerns early in the process to the director because we trusted him to continue to fortify the script. Not sure that was the absolute BEST thing to do, but it was the PROPER thing to do.

When our concerns weren't addressed as late as the next-to-last dress rehearsal, we had to make a bit more noise. We chose to talk over some of our issues with a producer and s/he seems to have passed them on to the writer.

The writer has always been on the same page as us politically. That is the reason we got involved in the first place. Luckily, we are still on the same page and we were able to have frank discussions about what was really eating us. (and believe me, as tyranical as we may sound to the outside world, the tyrants in our heads were much worse) With a few nips and tucks here and there, the main concerns were solved as well as could be.

Of course, we can really only address our own characters' thru lines and this is what we were able to do. I have to say that after watching the close-to-finished product, it may be that our characters are just carrying less of the political load this time. There are some really strong moments. (I'm thinking of some Colin Powell and Jesus moments right now.)

So that's that. As I get older, I learn more and more that it's best to speak up soon and often and not let things fester. We did try to do that with our initial meeting, so we did the "soon" thing. Guess I'll just have to master the "often" part now.

July 12, 2004 4:02 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home