I took part in my first Method with Mike session recently. The venue was small and made me think of the classroom where I studied dramatic arts in high school. It was a small group of people, actors and actresses represented by the Meus Talent Agency. Our instructor, Mike, is a pleasant man. He got down to business; he stressed the method as he learned it at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. He shared numerous anecdotes about his experience as a stage and screen actor in Toronto and Los Angeles. The session was informal; it did not have the structure of the classes I took at the Screen Acting Academy.
His recollection of how he started in the entertainment industry resonated with me. He began at Ottawa U as a drama major. However, he became disillusioned when he found it was about academics, not acting technique. Similarly, I had the same experience when I enrolled at Queen's University as a drama major in 1980. I arrived at Queen's thinking I would train as an actor, only to find it was strictly textbooks, term papers and exams. I think Mike and I got lousy guidance in high school. My guidance counsellor and drama teachers never mentioned theatre school or a Bachelor of Fine Arts program for an aspiring actor. As a result, he left Ottawa U after the first year. I stayed at Queen's, where I got a degree in sociology.
He returned to acting sooner than I when he left Ottawa for Toronto to seek his fortune. He moved to Los Angeles eventually and worked as a background performer and actor in feature films. He experienced the casting couch with a creepy talent agent; he recounted his experience as a warning to the class to beware as we make our way as performers. He survived hard times when he was out of work. His experiences had a familiar ring. I recall the summer of 1988 when I made my way through the ByWard Market during cocktail hour to line up at the Shepherds of Good Hope soup kitchen for a stale baloney sandwich and a watery cup of tea.
The session taught me the importance of ridding yourself of tension before performing. First, Mike spoke at length about the pitfalls of mannerisms and tics. Yes, I know too well about that; when stage fright takes hold, I flail with my hands, swallow and look down. Next, he discussed what I learned in the Screen Acting Academy about acting for the camera. The camera picks up every little movement; jerky movements and leaning make you out of focus. He also said we should take improv classes. I think the monthly sessions with Mike will help me keep a lid on the stage fright. That said, I will continue the classes with the Screen Acting Academy. I hope the Screen Acting Academy will offer its improv classes in the future.
My last stage role was Charlie Cheswick in the Ottawa Little Theatre's production of One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Charlie was a challenging character to inhabit. It took a deep level of concentration and the ability to unleash my imagination to be Charlie. Charlie was a voyeur; he started peering through windows to watch women undress as a child. As he matured, he made crude sexual advances toward women and voyeurism. Charlie did not fit into society, so much so that he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. Charlie accepted the dull routines of the institution and the medication in exchange for a roof over his head and three meals a day. Charlie was creepy around women, but the reality was he never expected the women he approached to return his interest. When a nurse in the hospital got a little coy with him, he was panic-stricken. Charlie was all bluff and bluster when it came to chasing women. Despite his flaws, Charlie expressed his humanity by befriending and looking out for another patient. Martini was a war veteran with PTSD; he relived his wartime experiences through hallucinations. Charlie took care of him and calmed him when he had an episode. Charlie leered at women, but he loved Martini.
The production got good notices from the critics, who mentioned the "strong supporting cast" in their reviews. However, what I remember most about my performance is the evening after a show when a woman in the audience struck up a conversation with me. We chatted a few minutes about the play when she exclaimed, "You're nothing like the character!" It might have been my imagination, but I detected a note of disappointment in her tone. Well, no, I am not a voyeur, and no, I do not make crude sexual advances toward women.
Furthermore, I am happily married to my husband, Mika; we will celebrate twenty-four years together this week. Nevertheless, it was pleasing to hear that I gave a convincing performance as Charlie, someone who is a world apart from the man I am. It gives me the confidence I need as an actor to take on a character and bring him to life on stage and screen.
I attended the July Kino Screening for Kino Ottawa last night. It was my first time attending the monthly event. I am new to the filmmaking culture in Ottawa, and this was my first opportunity outside of training with the Screen Acting Academy to meet others involved in the community. The host for the screening was Vincent Valentino, an actor and filmmaker who submitted his short film "The Upsidedown Man" for the screening. His film is a progression of dream-like sequences, a self-portrait with an introspective voiceover as he reflects on life and love with his girlfriend, Sara Chivot.
In addition, I met Lisa Meuser, my agent, for the first time in person. I was there to see the short film "Trigger;" Lisa wrote the screenplay, and Petra Watzlawik-Li is among the cast. I went to South Carleton High School with Petra in the latter half of the 1970s. Petra and I are on the list of actors Lisa represents. The film is a moving tale of the petty dispute between neighbours that ends in the tragic death of a woman with mental illness at the hands of the police. Petra and the rest of the cast gave solid performances.
Before the screening started, I sat at a table with Tyler Pope, an actor and videographer. While he sipped his bottle of Budweiser and I nursed my glass of ginger ale, we had a pleasing discussion about his experience as an actor and filmmaker and my recent transition from stage acting into screen acting. Tyler appeared in one of the films shown, "The Floral Project," and worked behind the camera in another of the films we viewed. He was duly praised by the appreciative audience. He is a multitalented young man.
In all, the films screened last night ran the gamut from comedy, drama and dramedy. While some films were firmly dramatic or comic, some had elements of both. It made me think of a quotation from Carol Burnett's mother, who sardonically remarked that "comedy is tragedy with timing." The short films screened at the July Kino Screening last night highlighted the creativity and imagination of all those who participated in their production. A discussion between Vincent, the filmmakers, and the actors followed the screening; they also took questions from the audience. A good time was had by all who attended, myself included. I look forward to the following screening later this month. Indeed, I hope to one day appear in one of the films screened.