Acting One: An Update

A few weeks have passed since I first posed about my Acting One class. At that point we were finishing up monologues. Since then we’ve moved on and now we doing something called a contentless scene. This is a scene where the dialogue is so innocuous that it’s difficult to tell who the characters are and where they are. For example:

A: Well?

B: Well, what?

A: Nothing.

B: Okay, please

A: Excuse me.

B: Yeah.

The challenge for the actors doing this is to come up with a set of given circumstances for you and your partner. Who are your characters? What is the conflict? What is your goal and how do you attain it? These are all questions you can ask about every scene. Except, normally you have a lot more to go off of. Sometimes you might even have the play available as background information.

My partner and I decided to do a scene set on an airplane. She thought I was nice and wanted to talk to me. I just wanted to read because I needed to for a class (or so my circumstances stated). The tensions gradually rise to the point where she ends up changes seats because she can’t stand me anymore. Fun scene. I liked this setting because it made our scene a little more claustrophobic when most people’s scenes were spread out like in a department store of the gym.

Now that this topic is over we’re going to be assigned the big project for the semester. I don’t know what it is yet but it is based on the first half of the memoir of renowned actor/teacher Constantin Stanislavski, the father of method acting. While I enjoy the class, no one really likes long-term assignments so this should be fun…

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UF “Guys and Dolls”

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The latest production in the 2013 UF theatre season opens this Friday October 18, running through Sunday October 27. Premiering on Broadway in 1950, this Frank Loesser (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying) musical has been a standard in the canon since its inception. It is based on short stories from the ’20s and ’30s about New York City gamblers, features a great score and uses a lot of fun period vernacular.

This show hits a bit of a soft spot for me because I Mitchell Wohl actually starred in Guys and Dolls all the way back in the seventh grade, which would qualify as my “prime.” I played epitome of cool Sky Masterson. The one-and-only Marlon Brando famously beat out the also-one-and-only Frank Sinatra for the role in the 1955 film. Frank had to settle for the other male lead Nathan Detroit who, despite running a notorious crap game, is still whipped by his fiancée of 14 years. But that didn’t stop Sinatra from recording Masterson’s main song from the show “Luck Be A Lady” and turning it into a hit number.

I guess this gives me a reason to try and dig up the great fan footage (a.k.a. my parents) of my star turn. I’m sure I’ll find it somewhere and lament all the time that’s passed since then.

“Soul Doctor” Closing

Another piece of news coming out of New York is something I had no idea existed but became quite intrigued about. A musical called Soul Doctor about Chassidic Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach and his friendship with singer Nina Ramone is closing on Broadway October 13 after only 46 performances. Carlbach was known as one of the preeminent 20th century Jewish composers.  As a Jew myself I know his music very well as it can be heard in synagogues all over the world.

Soul Doctor apparently received critical acclaim during its runs off-Broadway, in New Orleans, and on-Broadway but has been advertised as a limited engagement. According to the New York Post: “Eric Anderson beautifully suggests Carlebach’s soft-spoken, gentle appeal, as well as the charisma that jolted him to stardom. Erica Ash is equally superb as Simone, whether quietly conveying the singer’s fierce dignity or delivering stunning versions of signature classics such as “Sinnerman.” Anderson received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his portrayal of “The Singing Rabbi.”

Bryan Cranston Making His Broadway Debut

Hopefully we’re all done crying from the finale of Breaking Bad. Meanwhile, Walter White has been in a new play All The Way where he portrays President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The show goes through the first year of LBJ’s presidency after taking power following the assassination of JFK. It goes through the Civil Rights Act and includes characters such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and J. Edgar Hoover. All The Way has gone through a pre-Broadway run in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is heading to New York during winter of this year. The only other things I’ve seen Bryan Cranston in were on Malcolm In The Middle and his recurring role on Seinfeld (my all-time favorite show) as the bizarre dentist Dr. Tim Whatley. So from the looks of it, Cranston is putting all of his acting abilities to work here in this quirky yet serious role. And according to producer Jeffrey Richards, he gives a “truly transformative performance.”

“Don’t Make Me Think” Review

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Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach To Web Usability is an invaluable tool for anyone interested in running a website.  The best part about this book is that it is very user friendly. In addition to being a quick and easy read, it is littered with all sorts of examples, graphics, charts, cartoons, and anything else that either backs up Mr. Krug’s point or is easy to digest. In other words, it’s designed exactly how one’s website should be: with usability in mind.

Because Krug has experience dealing with regular people, he talks a lot about the mental process people go through and the challenges people come across when surfing the internet. Whenever we get frustrated, we tend to blame ourselves and not the site. But he also makes an important reminder that there is no such thing as the “average user”; everyone is different. So, when creating a website, he advises to think about the best and easiest way to display information instead of what the “average user” might prefer. You’ll see in his book that Krug adores Amazon’s website and with good reason. It’s extremely user friendly with all sorts of sub-sections and an innovatively effective “search” engine. It’s the poster child for most of the concepts he lays out. And no, the irony is not lost on me that I bought this book from Amazon.

The heaviest portions of this book cover site navigation and the home page. These concepts define whether someone comes back to your site. If a web user doesn’t know hot to get back to where they started or doesn’t know why they’re on your site, they’ll leave. Krug maps out various techniques on how to make a site navigable. These include tabs, utilities bars, breadcrumbs, and pulldowns (it all makes perfect sense in the book). People don’t want to feel lost even on the internet. Krug then lays out what makes an effective home page and what doesn’t. It’s all about the balance of how much information is too much. But it needs to be clear what your website is all about and why it’s better than some other site.

The last few chapters on usability testing are probably more geared towards business than just one person with a blog. But no site is too small that it can’t be tested by at least one person because, as Krug points out: “Testing one user is 100% better than testing none.” A great section talks about what to do when conducting a test. Watch what your test users do, see their reactions, and see what they’re struggling with. This either validates any concerns you have had or can point out new ones you didn’t even notice the first go-around.

I learned a great deal from this book without expending excruciating effort. And no, it’s not because the copy I bought happened to already be highlighted to the brim. It’s because it explained in plain detail every aspect of designing a website. Keep everything as simple as possible. Don’t wear down a home page with too much distracting noise. Make sure the most important pieces of information are the most visible.  Give the user a sense of where he/she is in the context of the site. Keep the logo on all pages so users know they’re still on the same website. Make sure all clickable items look like they’re clickable (and vice versa). A concise yet comprehensive tagline can make all the difference. These things are all trademarks of good websites. They are things that maybe I knew but never bothered to think about. And now, I have a greater sense of confidence that I know what to look for when designing for the interweb.

A Day in the Life of The Staff

The collegiate a capella community here at UF is quite strong. I’m not saying that just because I happen to be a member. There is a co-ed group No Southern Accent, female group The Sedocatves, and male group The Staff (mine). A lot of hard work goes in to perfecting repertoire and performance with an eye towards competitions like the annual International Competition for Collegiate A Capella (ICCA).

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Just like in a theater performance, it’s important to be at your best for all sorts of gigs (I’m the one ominously standing behind the microphone). But the day-to-grind can be tough. To prepare for a performance, you’ve got to start form the bottom up. All rehearsals with a long set of warm-ups, practicing different things such as range, pitch, vocal blending, diction, and whatever else we can think of. Then we usually do a couple of songs we’ve done a billion times just to get in the swing of things.

Then the true work begins. If we’re starting a new song, hopefully we’ve spent some time learning  our part at home (hopefully). Step by step we work our way through a song until we’re exhausted. I’m glad to say that since our inception in 2008 and since my start in 2010 the group has improved dramatically. As awesome as this is, it means our arrangements are a lot harder and take longer to learn. But we manage.

Finally, we take time to polish our performance. High energy and engaging is the key. But adrenaline is always high during a show so we need to make sure we stay in tempo, stay tight, and most importantly, stay on key. Believe me it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to incorporate my least favorite part: choreography. For a guy who’s done a good amount of musical theater, you would think his would be up my alley. But alas. For ICCA, which is an 11-minute set, choreography is pivotal to putting on a good show. It can take a while to get synced up and sing while performing choreo. However, when it all comes together, it’s pretty sweet.

Sometimes when you see a show you forget just how much time goes into making a production. I’m guilty of this myself. How many hours did the performers put in? What about the technical crew? Consider this a PSA: the answer is a ton.

Miss Witherspoon

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The first show of the fall at UF is underway, and it’s a comedy called Miss Witherspoon. This is a very bizarre but entertaining play about a woman named Veronica. Veronica committed suicide because she couldn’t the horrors and minutiae of contemporary Earth. The action sees Veronica (eventually nicknamed Miss Witherspoon because she acts like a grouchy Agatha Christie character) and the things that happen to her in the afterlife. She is in the Tibetan netherworld Bardo where she is waiting to be reincarted. But, naturally, she doesn’t want to and would rather die again. And life after life the other spirits hope to extinguish her depressing attitude towards existence.

This production in the intimate black box theater stars Stephanie Lynge as Veronica. She did a great job by commanding the stage and the relatively small ensemble followed suit to make, what I thought, a satisfying show with some biting satire and some laugh out loud moments.

“Miss Witherspoon” runs until this Sunday September 29.