Leaf

Leaf

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stardust


Back home, when I looked up at the sky last night, all my old friends were there.

Betelgeuse and Rigel, as bright as ever, holding up the entire group of Orion. Then, Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri. It was taking me a while to distinguish Taurus' horns, so, remembering what my old biology professor suggested ages ago, I looked at them with the white of my eyes and finally made them out. Moving East, there they were, Castor and Pollux, from which Gemini hung like a flag when it's windy. Sirius showed up too, South of Orion, but I couldn't spot the rest of Canis Major; it was too early, and I should've stayed up too late to see all of it. My eyes shifted a few degrees and I wondered, "where’s Canis Minor?”. I could only see Procyon and Gomeisa and I wasn’t even sure Canis Minor was made of only two stars. The Pleiades too floated there, slightly North-West of Orion, in the constellation of Taurus, a small patch of several luminous dots immersed in a weak and scarcely visible nebula. Only when I observed them with my binocular did they disclose all their charm. 

Somersaulting so to have my face turned North, I saw the North Star. She wasn’t majestic, and I had to squint my eyes to see it, but she had the wonderful charm of a refined and experienced young lady. Cassiopeia kissed me right on the mouth with her "m" shape for "muah" and I – shame on me – didn’t even remember the names of her stars because they're all letters of the Greek alphabet and I never know which one is which. I couldn't see Triangulum, but frankly I never liked him and he never liked me. 
I couldn’t leave without greeting Ursa Major though, but I couldn't find her. So, I went inside and got my stars book. I checked the maps and still couldn't locate her. Ursa Minor was there and said "shhh"; she must have been up to something. 

I looked West, and a bright red dot was low on the horizon and just about to disappear. "What?", I thought, "It can't be Venus, it's too late and Venus's not so red". So, I tried to convince myself it was Jupiter, but Jupiter had to be somewehere South. "Mars, maybe? No, it isn’t the period and the position is wrong too". My mom came out to see if my blood was still warm, and she solved the riddle by saying, "It's a satellite". I laughed her back inside in an amicable way and looked the star up in my book: she had the strangest name, Formalhaut. I didn’t remember whether she was part of a constellation; naturally, this is something you wouldn’t say to a lady, so I tipped my hat, placed my voice, and gallantly said, “How do you do?”.
As I did, also wondering how old she might be – but never asked! – a falling star crossed that portion of the sky.
I made a wish and realized it was time to go back inside.

Some of you might wonder, “What does this have to do with acting, or even writing”?
Well, do you know the story of the writer whose wife constantly complained at his spending hours every day looking out the window?

A special complimentary note will go to all those of you who know – or can guess – how the writer always replied.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas inspiration

Thomas Kinkade - Christmas Chapel
The countdown to Christmas is coming to an end.
A new year is soon going to begin with new facts, new stories, new events, including, to some, the end of the world – and I’m particularly curious about this one. The year 2011 isn’t over just yet though,and the next three days are the most anticipated of the whole year. 

There are not as many decorations as in the past years, the Christmas trees do not exceed in number and, although the people still fill up the big malls, buying till their wallets get sore, the magic Thomas Kinkade atmospheres only remain in our childhood memories while everything assumes lackadaisical and uninspired tints. Unless – unless we are able to recreate it genuinely in our small nutshell, not focusing on expensive gifts but rather on the people we spend our holidays with, the chats around a table wealthy of Christmas food and, why not, a nice, old, classic Christmas movie. After all, during a time when acting and writing are suspended for most actors and writers, a good movie or a good book - someone else's work - is the best way to recharge our inner Muse with new bits of inspiration. 
So, I made a list – my list – of the ten Christmas films that to me best depict how the Christmas atmosphere should be like, basing my choices on nostalgia and childhood memories:

Here they are:

Trading Places – Christmas in New York! A comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, directed by John Landis.
Home Alone and Home Alone 2 – Macaulay Culkin.
Scrooge – Universally acknowledged as the best film adaptation of Dicken’s story, with Alastair Sim, made in 1941.
The Grinch - Jim Carrey makes the best Grinch ever!
The Nightmare Before Christmas and Batman Returns – Tim Burton’s dark atmospheres have something magically Christmas-like.
It’s a Wonderful Life – Frank Capra’s old time classic.
Toy Tinkers – Could I leave Donald Duck and Chip'n'Dale out?  
Mickey’s Christmas Carol – The cartoon’s hand-made drawings make one of the best Christmas atmospheres ever!

What movie best portrays Christmas to you? Is it one in my list?
Are there, instead, any books you'd suggest for Christmas?


Merry Christmas to you all, dear followers and fellow bloggers!!!

.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Time to reset our comfort zone!

Christmas 2010 - Home
How many times have we heard the sentence, "You must leave your comfort zone!"?

Throughout the year, we put ourselves out there trying to stand out as actors, writers, students, taking the challenges upon ourselves, doing all-nighters, and getting caffeinated, often sacrificing our homely comfort for the well-deserved prizes to come.
Christmas is the period of the year when our career duties are put on hold. Our comfort zone becomes a place we can resort to without feeling guilty about it.

TV commercials show squirrels gathering inside their warm, dim, and cozily furnished tree-holes; wine flows in rivulets, Christmas stockings hang from the mantelpiece while sparks harmlessly pop and crack in the air. Larders are horns-of-plenty where the quantity and quality of food mark the special event.
The warmly set table with cheese and honey, a bottle of wine, pickles and bread, glasses filled to the rim, and lasagna being served while friends laugh together is one of the dearest spots within my comfort zone.

Where is your comfort zone? What element is absolutely essential to it?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Name of the Rose

Reading The Name of the Rose, exactly a year ago, was the icing on my Christmas cake!
It all happened quite randomly, and the result was as pleasing as it was totally unexpected.

As you probably know, a major motion picture was made after Umberto Eco's novel, starring Sean Connery and directed by Jean Jacques Annaud.
For years I regretted seeing the movie when I hadn't read Eco's novel yet. Then, last year, I decided that the book would be my Christmas present. And what a present it turned out to be!

Watching the movie before did not spoil the read at all. It rather made the experience more complete. The movie only contained the bare plot. While this had to be sacrificed, it did not present all the philosophical, metaphysical, moral, alchemical, and religious depth contained in the novel, which I could then enjoy anew.
William of Baskerville inevitably assumed the charming looks of 56-year old Sean Connery. Jean Jacques Annaud provided the amazing landscapes, the thick Northern Italian fogs shrouding a monastery built in stone, the Alpine mountain peaks cupped with snow, and the grave, dimly lit devotional mood of the story.
Besides, in that period last year, I discovered Loreena McKennit's music.
Incredible: her at times Celtic, at times folk sounds were the perfect soundtrack for the novel.
Then, it snowed.

For two weeks I read ever so eagerly in the warmth of my mother's kitchen, savoring each and every sentence at the light of an old abat-jour. A cup of hot, usually black, tea on the table, and Loreena McKennit's music played low in the background accompanied me through the journey.
The snow made it all the more real and magical at the same time.

Yet, the image of the wise and learned Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, musing through Sean Connery's reassuringly lifted eyebrow, was the dearest picture of all. One that made me wish - oh so much - that I could find a mentor, a guide, and a father like William of Baskerville, to take me, one day, under his wing.

 .

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Emotional Memory - Intro

Roy Lichtenstein - Happy Tears
Each and every human being possesses what has been termed "emotional memory".
Emotional memory is the ability we all have to remember a past event - usually an emotion-filled one - and be emotionally affected by it, just as if the event were happening in the exact moment we are remembering it.

One of the challenges all serious actors face is portraying true feelings either on stage or camera, that is during a fictitious event. As a matter of fact, the real problem is not the mere creation of an emotion; that is a relatively easy goal to accomplish. What's more complex is the recreation of that same emotion over and over again, eight times a week, or take after take.
According to Strasberg's experience, only 15% of the people are able to consciously recreate an emotion.

The term consciously introduces us by antithesis to the psychological concept of unconscious: the ability to recreate the conditions for a specific emotional reaction can only be achieved through intense work in deep connection with the unconscious side of our psyche, according to Lee Strasberg himself.
Strasberg conceived a specific set of training techniques aimed at preparing the actors' 'memory' to the most difficult and delicate one: the emotional memory exercise.

This post is a mere introduction to a serious problem not only actors have to face; this is a task we are all brought to deal with. We, as individuals who stand upon and are still affected by the remembrance of the most meaningful events of our life, must take responsibility over their effects on us. Not just as actors, but as human beings, as individual members of society, we must learn to deal with all that we go through. Not only our success on the stage and in film is at stake, but our individual psychic balance too - and, consequently, that of the entire society.

For now, I hope this post can contribute in stirring questions like, "Why are we still affected by long gone events?", "What makes us turn to past events and past emotions?", "What makes us repress many events into our unconscious, absurdly believing we managed to finally get rid of them?", "What happens when they come back afloat?", all the way to the final and most important question of all: "How can we control them?".



* I will deal in the next months with some more technical aspects of the emotional memory exercise as conceived by Lee Strasberg. 
My posts will be specifically based on my own personal experience, both as a performer and witness. 
Although the discourse will obviously refer to the acting sphere, it will inevitably present numerous connections to general principles and aspects of psychology. For example, I find Jung's exercises on active imagination particularly relevant. It is well known, moreover, that several Christian saints, yogis, philosophers, etc., dealt with similar problems and conceived similar exercises. 
Either in separate or in the same posts, I will talk about all these topics.