“Just Like Us, Not Like The Other Children…”

Dave Cap met us again this morning, this time working with us on cold readings…. like a call back workshop. His take on how to handle cold readings was completely different from anything I learned in college. “When you get a side- don’t decide who the character is before starting the scene”. He also told us not to play at what they are, or our idea of what we think they are. Dramatic writing always has to push forward, so if the scene doesn’t go anywhere, something is wrong. “Show me different colors in the scene”. He told us to look for shifts in power. “Look for thee places in the scene in which you can save yourself from being stuck, and create tension.” He also told us that you can’t end lines back into the page, you get the job connecting and responding.

Because I haven’t gone up for any of the other workshops, I was the first to go up for scene work. Our scene was from Glimmer and Shine. I played Delia, and my friend Adam played Jordan. Dave gave us background information on our characters, and one minute to read it over before performing. He warned us to know our character, the situation and our character’s wants before the first line starts. Our wants have to be selfish, completely about ourselves. “We are innately dramatic people”.

After our first read, he told us each to say a phrase before each line, to further connect our characters to one another. Mine was, “I love you, you fool.”. It really added to an initially drab scene and added “Aws” from the rest of the students.

After another quick lunch (gyros!), We had a Q&A with a springboard alum  (2005) and current casting agent, Ashley Gonzalez. As a TV and Film agent she wants to see someone who is hungry for the job, hungry to perform. She told us not to ask “How do you see me?” or “Please define me”. She wants us to be honest, and be ourselves. (A common theme here.)

Then came my star struck moment (again!). We were supposed to meet Brian Stokes Mitchell, but he couldn’t make it, so instead we met Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of In The Heights!!!!

He told us his story. Every fall in college, he would write a play and put it up in the spring (how incredible). He wrote the first version of In The Heights in his sophomore year of college. It was an 80 minute 1 act show, and the cast made an album to earn their investment back. (When we asked what was the same about this show and the b’way version, he sang “In washington heights…. just those three notes”.) Two years later, some friends from college contacted him and told him they would take the show to Broadway. They first put it up in a basement space at the Drama Book Shop. They workshopped, produced and re-wrote for the next 7 years. He even rehearsed at the Manhattan Theater Club (who financed his reads in 2004). In 2008, they hit Broadway!

He told us so much about himself, translating West Side Story with Sondheim, writing Neil Patrick Harris’ rap at the end of the Tony’s, producing Bring it On the Musical (which 3 of my friends from high school are in) and about surviving New York City. He gave us this advice: Find your people, your guys. The theater community is so small, if you are a nice person and always professional, people will remember you. Your reputation sticks with you! You have to make your own opportunities. “Make your own stuff until people start paying attention.” “Our future is as good as our last show”.  “Audition is not how you get the job, auditioning IS the job”. He told us there will be false starts.

When we asked him about the recent release of the rights to In The Heights to high schools and stuff, we asked him how he felt about different races telling the story of  the latin community in Washington Heights. He said this “Race is important, but it is not the last word”.  “In The Heights is about home and what it means to each character.”

Then, the group split up. The musical theater track students went to one workshop across the hall, and we stayed in the room to work on our classical monologues with Peter Francis James. What a brilliant man! He said, if your character seems normal, you’re looking at it wrong. He helped us keep in the “here and now”, focusing on the language and its meaning… Classical texts do not throw any words away. We learned to “distill the words to their essence”. With my piece (Portia from Julius Ceasar) he asked, what is different about today? Remember to focus on the line: “The RIGHT and VIRTUE of my place.” His interpretation of the monologue was much different than mine. I thought the monologue was much softer, coming from a place of love. However, Peter said that it was from a place of anger and frustration. A wife tired of being ignored and feeling it her duty and place in hierarchy to know what her husband is keeping from her. He kept saying of our characters “Just like us, not like the other children”. I love that concept. Every actor is going to put on the character differently, because we all react differently when the rug is pulled out from under us. Another quote of his I wrote down about Shakespeare’s characters: “Men know when they have something, women know when they’re missing something”. This became more evident as each person performed their monologue. He workshopped each of us for about 7 minutes, and that’s all it took for our monologues to transform into performances that look like they were done by professional Shakespearian actors! He had me repeat my the line “right and virtue of my place”, each time I felt the pot boil over with anger and betrayal. My face felt hot and tears welled in my eyes. I felt connected to this character in a way I never had before… but I felt ashamed that I had what I felt was the “wrong” interpretation. But Peter said, “Always allow yourself to surprise yourself. We are not prepared in life, so  don’t prepare.”

After the workshop we went to see Once. The stage was set up like an old Irish pub, very similar to the one I saw when I visited my family in Sligo, Ireland. The audience was invited onstage in the pre-show to get a drink! I didn’t go down (mostly because I’m not 21 for another MONTH!) but I watched a huge crowd form on stage from my seat, suddenly, they parted into a semi circle, and some members of the cast came onstage, playing and singing what sounded like traditional Irish songs! What a thrill, the audience and cast members were clapping, laughing, singing and dancing! After about 4 songs, the audience cleared out and the show began. The show had incredible music, with every cast member playing an instrument. I bought the soundtrack on my Iphone as soon as I got home.

Also, while writing this, I had the TV on… and I just saw Peter Francis James in a commercial for some sort of drug… I think for men who can’t control their bladder… and he was a little league coach! Small world! I feel like I’m living in a dream…

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