Saturday, February 19, 2011

The King's microphone

I suppose the human interest part of 'The King's Speech' was the contrast in the relationships of the two royals and the foreign-born commoners they have come to depend upon. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, abdicates for the love of American divorcee, Mrs Simpson; while George VI, Duke of York and second in line reluctantly takes up the crown in duty to his country, coached by Australian speech therapist (unqualified), Lionel Logue.

But what interested me more was how the introduction of wireless broadcast media changed Everything. The media brought down and magnified the most human frailties of both royals, Edward and George. In going public, Edward's improprieties rendered him unworthy as a king, whereas George's stutter made him unable to speak with confidence in public, and if not for Logue's unconventional methods would have made England lose confidence in itself.

While the media were making traditional royalty most frightfully human, on the other side of the Channel they were deifying the most common of commoners, Adolph Hitler, who knew exactly how to use them to amass the nearly blind loyalty and adoration of a nation. The Brits were still struggling to deal with radio, but Hitler had already mastered both the audio and visual imagery of film to awe his audience and intimidate his opposition.

The rise of the mass media heralded the end of the power of royalty over the people. Edward and George both recognized this sweeping new change, and perhaps for the first time in history the crown princes of an empire were so loath to follow in their father's footsteps. Edward practically disqualifies himself from the crown, leaving George to make the best of it. Thanks to Logue, George does well enough to galvanize a shaken Britain to prevail over the German war machine.

And now I'm mulling over historical events not covered in the movie (although I expected them to be). Perhaps what won the war for the Brits was the calm resolve that resonated from the voice on the radio. It sought not to whip the masses up into a frothing, mindless rabble but rather reminded them to stay human despite the hardship they were facing in the dark days to come. What lost the war for Herr Hitler was possibly what started the war in the first place: his need to fill airtime with an ever-escalating choreography of excitement, culminating in the orgy of violence that was WWII with himself taking full credit as producer, director and star in order to keep the people mesmerized and pliant under his leadership. Hitler lost it because he ran out of ideas on how to keep the A Hitler Show on prime time TV without eventually grossing out his audience and making them tune him out.

Too bad they don't give Best Actor Oscars to inanimate objects. The nominee representing 'The King's Speech' should have been the shiny BBC microphone and its supporting infrastructure. They were what the movie was about in the first place.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Congrats to the piano ppl

Hi Shaun
Please convey my congratulations to the Piano Ensemble for a magical, memorable evening at "PS I Love You".

From the opening scene, you had the audience hooked and rooting for your Romeo and Juliet. For me, the magic was in how much you all grew over the course of our journey together. How far you have come as stage performers, ready to shine in all aspects of the performance whether it was behind a musical instrument or putting it all on the line with the risky business of "acting".

I hope you all believe now that the audience appreciates the actor's clarity of intention far more than intensity of emotion. You have proven that there is no such thing as a "natural" talent for acting, but that acting is merely a trained skill honed by practice and perseverance. often beyond one's comfort zone.

The Piano Ensemble owned the stage tonight with a smooth, inspired interweaving of a varied selection of music with a simple but utterly engaging storyline, brought to life by the energy of a cast that truly believed in the value of what it was doing. In other words, I thoroughly enjoyed tonight's show!

To the Piano Ensemble, thank you for allowing me the experience of working with you. Your dedication, your work ethic, your willingness to learn and your eagerness to experiment (the stuff many of you threw in that we didn't rehearse took me by surprise and delight) have showed NYJC that you guys don't just rock at piano, you guys DO THEATRE!

And thank you for the unexpected plaque that is now decorating my desk in the staff room. It'll make a great souvenir of all the work we went through together for the sake of an evening we can be proud of... and I'm sure the SPCA greatly appreciates.

May you all continue to seek success in your future endeavours! 


Thursday, February 17, 2011

All the world's a stage

The year's barely begun and already I sense it will be unlike any other. As it is, it's been one nearly non-stop slog albeit with a CNY break in between. But most days are long and draggy, many evenings filled with one rehearsal or another, and I'm tired.

It's a self-inflicted pain, however. The NYeDC kids are running full tilt, volunteering at any opportunity they hear about, and when they volunteer, we staff volunteer right along with them. And they're not done yet. I'm looking at the list of upcoming events culminating in Drama Night with dread anticipation. So many things they have planned, so much energy and ambition, so organized and presenting better thought-out proposals than I've ever seen before, and for once my first instinct isn't 'no, we can't do that...'. Rather, it's the opposite: 'Yes! Go! Do!' even though their plans will take me through activities that require more work than this lazybone slacker is used to.

With all this going on, my attention today was on the piano kids and their Full Dress Rehearsal of this Friday's piano concert. This is me volunteering as drama coach for the simple reason that they could really use one. It's also this group that's been filling up my evenings so far. This group has been terrific to work with. They know they can't act their way out of a paper bag, being convinced their talent is only in music, but they've put in so much time and effort into preparing for this concert they were desperate enough to accept my direction without question.

It was an interesting experience to take these kids out of their comfort zone and watch them develop the show to the level I was watching today. There were lots of compromises between what they were comfortable doing and what I could get them to do. Given time I believe I could have pushed them further, but they've done well, nevertheless, to present 'P.S. I love you', a piano concert packaged within an adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.

The important thing is that they now agree with me that acting isn't so much a natural-born talent but a trained skill. They surprised me today with some voiceover improvisations during the rehearsal, so yes, I do believe the piano kids are becoming quite comfortable as actors too. It's a step forward for them as a performing group. For me, it was an opportunity to provide another bunch of kids with a form of theatrical experience to broaden market interest and the talent pool in campus aesthetics. In other words, just doin' my job, ma'am.

As the next few weeks progress, that job scope is looking to increase significantly as other deadlines approach. Yes, it's going to be an interesting year.