Leigh develops a script by collaborating with his actors
(including his wife, the extraordinary, chameleonlike Alison Steadman) in an
improvisational atmosphere; then he sets the dialogue and it remains intact. Concerned
with the everyday lot of ordinary people, as well as the eccentrics of the world, Leigh
has created works that are individual and yet, of a piece.
~ Leonard Maltin
Breakfast: Fiber One
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OLD DOG, NEW TRICKS
22 April 2004
What a delightful young woman.
Today I met with a woman named Hester Chillingworth, who is an MFA student in directing at UC Davis. The purpose of our meeting was for me to conduct an interview with her about a play she is directing on campus, "Slag," by British Playwright David Hare. Like the dance article I did recently , this is to be a feature story, which will be presented with photos of Hester interacting with her actors.
When I agreed to increase my work assignments for the newspaper, it was with a bravado that I didnt necesssarily fully embrace. Intellectually I knew I was capable of doing the work, but that insecure child inside me always enters into these things with fear and trepidation, not really sure of what Im doing, afraid Ill look like an idiot, afraid I will get tongue tied, afraid that I wont be able to pull it all together afterwards.
In other words, panic.
I guess I was buoyed by the success of my interview with David Grenke, the professor of dance, recently. It wasnt that I was so terribly brilliant, but that he was so very good at sound bytes. Everything he said was quotable, though I was able to get in a couple of relatively intelligent questions based on seeing the book by photographer Ruth Bernhard in his office.
I attended a couple of dance rehearsals and interviewed some of the dancers, who were all breathless with excitement and gave me good quotes (thank GOD there are dictation machines--I take such rotten notes!)
I slaved over the article for days and figure that if you take into account the time I spent interviewing Grenke, transcribing his interview, sitting through the dance rehearsals, and writing the article, my pay for this feature story will be somwhere around fifty cents an hour, if Im lucky.
Obviously this is something Im doing for love and experience, not for money!
But I felt a little more confident as I approached my meeting with Hester today. For one thing, this is a play, and while my forte is musical theatre, I am at least somewhat familiar with the process of putting a stage show together, and have the same general vocabulary with a play director, where I do not with folks in the dance world.
It was also nice that when she asked where we should meet, I felt comfortable suggesting she come here to our house. Our.....clean....house. A year ago, I would have walked miles to meet her rather than have her see my house, but today it was no problem. Walt had to go off to court to testify against the guy who stole our car (by the time he got to court, after the date had been postponed at least five times, he was told they had accepted a plea bargain and he didnt need to be there after all), so I was without a car and my knee still doesnt want to pedal a bike, so having Hester here was the best way to go.
We got right into it. She is from the UK and I know some stuff about theatre in the UK. She studied in Dublin and I have been to Trinity College. When she began to talk about her vision for this play, I could follow what she was saying. I felt I asked intelligent questions. Heck, I was genuinely interested in her somewhat unusual approach to the work and her different style of both audition and direction.
What was nice was that I could relate it to things I knew about, and use that to ask her questions. For example, she sets the play in one room and was talking about how there was discussion about how objects had gotten into the room if the women never left. I asked if they had a bathroom and that brought about the possibility of these women living not in the real world, but on some higher plane. "Like Sartres No Exit?" I offered. "Exactly!" she responded enthusiastically.
Where did Sartre come from? I havent read No Exit since high school and certainly havent thought about it in at least 40 years. Amazing how those long-unused brain cells fire up when you need them.
She then talked about how she and her actors are developing the piece through rehearsal. I asked her if she was familiar with the work of director Mike Leigh, who directed the movie Topsy Turvey, among others. I interviewed Leigh several years ago, after Topsy Turvey came out and was fascinated to discover that he never works from a script and that his actors study their characters for a period of time (a year in the case of Topsy Turvy) and that the dialog comes out of their "inhabiting" the characters, the period, and the situations.
(Christopher Guest, who directed Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind works the same way, I discovered when watching the bonus features on the DVD of Best in Show, which does explain a lot about those three movies!)
Fun to discuss this with Hester, who seems to be working the same way, though she is working with an existing script.
By the time Hester left, I was feeling really good about how the interview had gone and looking forward to attending the rehearsal of her play next week and watching it all come together.
I dont want to get too cocky now, of course, but I hope that each time I do one of these feature stories, each time I have to get myself to an interview, each time I have to pull all of the information together, I will continue to become a bit more confident in my ability to actually do it.
(I'll find out tomorrow when I interview another couple of choreographers!)
Who says you cant teach an old dog new tricks?
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