Friday, May 24, 2013

Ham on Wry

There are a number of ways of considering a group of actors or characters.  Ensemble is a large enough umbrella to accommodate enough of these definitions with enough shelter to keep them from being rained upon by some possibiity you've forgotten or not considered at all.

You're particularly fond of a definition that would include a consistent group of performers, taking on different dramatic options.  As well, you like the implication that the performers are of more or less the same rank of importance, with one performer, as an example, taking the minor part of, say, a delivery person in one venture then moving on to a lead role in a sub sequent work.

This will not be the first time you've linked such ensemble acting troupes to the human psyche.  In your own ensemble, you frequently switch roles, doubling as a hot-headed teen-ager and a simulacrum of a university professor or, dare you say it, a mature writer.  You are alternately liberal and conservative so far as money management matters obtain, patient and understanding but also well able to perform roles where acting-out impatience is called for.

As your awareness and appreciation of the self-as-ensemble metaphor enhances upon itself, you also find yourself auditioning for various roles that occur to you from time to time, going in to auditions cold, which is to say with little practical experience except for the occasional fantasy, or some painful memory of having taken such a role in real life only to have bungled it or not given it as complete a go as you'd been able.

In some profound ways, you can suppose your writing life is the equivalent of making up for missed opportunities, over-the-top performances or under-realized ones.  Of those two potentials, you don't yet know which is the worst, only that you are aware of a restraint and reliance on spontaneity hovering somewhere, inches beyond your grasp.

At those times when you try to give face and specificity to these fancies, you try to cast them, using actors from your and earlier generations.  Thinking about some of your choices, you see the emerging pattern in which you are more a character actor, your choices occupying a wide swath of the ensemble that is you.

Frequent appearances as representing you are John Carradine, whom you appreciate for his exaggerated ham actor, also the fine Russian actor, Mischa Auer, Akim Tamirof, John Barrymore, and two character actors with whom you had significant friendships, Grant Withers and Denver Pyle.  With the exception of these last two, the performances of the others were chosen when they were portraying exaggerations.

Even in those fledgling days, you were aware these aspects of you were exaggerations. You wanted to become a ham actor, which is to say you wished to emote, intent on copying a style out of currency by at least fifty years.  No wonder you needed to get beyond this place, recognizing what you came to consider restraint with dignity in the unachievable stage persona of Gregory Peck.  Nevertheless, it is good to have such a role model, someone to aspire to, in a true sense being content to reach any level at all of approximation.

There are also within your personal ensemble, such aspects as both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, not to forget the antic-ridden Marx Brothers.  But most haunting of all the inner actors of your troupe is the masterful performance of Laurence Olivier as the disgruntled comic, Archie Rice, in John Osborne's The Entertainer.  Such aching and wonderful subtext here, both in the performance and the character.

You required a considerable amount of effort and insight to be able to direct these inner selves while at the same time imparting a touch of you more than mere copying, rather some small injection of some part of you.  You require still even more effort to effect the understanding that being is beyond performing.  Being is a presence, genuine, motivated, aware.  Being is a state in which you are beyond role models and mentors, where you have close read the part and have chosen the unnamed side of you to carry the self onto the stage and step beyond performance, into being you.

The same skills are called for in whatever you write.

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