Just Like a Dog

Thursday, April 29, 2010

posted by Manoel Felciano, cast member of Round and Round the Garden

Associate Artist Manoel Felciano plays Norman in A.C.T.’s production of Round and Round the Garden. He writes about his unique inspiration for Alan Ayckbourn’s endearingly lusty librarian.

Character inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources. As rehearsals began for Round and Round the Garden, I was struck by how much my character, Norman, is compared to a dog in Ayckbourn’s text. He is lovingly described, with his “aimless sort of beard,” as “an Old English sheepdog . . . all woolly and doubled ended.”

Norman’s long-suffering wife, Ruth, who knows him best, describes him as follows: “It’s a bit like owning an oversized unmanageable dog, being married to Norman. He’s not very well house-trained, he needs continual exercising—mental and physical—and it’s sensible to lock him up if you have visitors. Otherwise he mauls them. But I’d hate to be rid of him.”

Of his philandering ways, Ruth wryly remarks: “He only jumps at people who encourage him. It’s a general rule, if you don’t want him licking your face, don’t offer him little tidbits.”

Now, lucky for me, shortly before rehearsals began I adopted an old fuzzball of a dog named Beethoven (who, incidentally, was also known for his unruly hair). Suddenly I had the perfect role model. Beethoven’s fluffy fur slowly began appearing all over my house in the same way Norman’s eager, passionate, excitable presence leaves its mark on everyone and everything in the play.

Beethoven is always happy to see me, tail wagging, deep soulful eyes looking up at me. What I’ve learned is that he exhibits the exact same behavior to anybody (my doorman, people he meets on the street) who might provide some chicken, a biscuit, or even a pat on the head. I don’t begrudge him this, because I realize that, similarly, Norman loves whichever woman is in front of him deeply, truthfully, and completely. He truly lives “in the moment,” unencumbered by such pesky things as past, history, future, and repercussions. His desire and ability to make women happy overwhelms all else.

At the end of the day, Norman, like Beethoven, just wants to play, consume (make love or eat), and sleep. He cannot resist temptation in any of those areas, no matter the risk. Beethoven will charge heedlessly off a ledge in pursuit of a tasty little bite. Similarly, Norman can’t pull himself away from playfully toying with the unknowing Reg and Tom, his allies and rivals in the play, or seducing their respective paramours, even though such behavior invariably leads to trouble.

Much as the golden retriever in Pixar’s Up confesses, “I was hiding under your porch because I love you. Can I stay?” Norman confesses that he is, if nothing else, “full of love!” adding, “Anyone I love is automatically beautiful.” It seems like a childish and naive way to look at the world, and perhaps it is, but then why do Beethoven and Norman both manage so unabashedly to pull at our heartstrings? More power to them!

Playing a Creature

Monday, April 26, 2010

posted by Courtney Thomas, A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012 

The A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012 makes its public performance debut in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. Courtney Thomas writes about preparing to take on this challenging play with her seven classmates at the end of her first year as an M.F.A. Program student.

Funny: I could have sworn I was the bravest and most outspoken fighter. That is, until I was introduced to Beth, the character I play in Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind. That is what this journey has been about for me: finding my voice. Beth is not shy about saying what she wants, when she wants it, and, most importantly, why. So there is no room for me to be shy either, right? But it’s hard. I am rounding out my first year at A.C.T., where I have thrust myself into more uncomfortable situations than one could fathom with seven new people in my life. It was easy to get shy, and that shyness started to bleed into some of my work onstage.

Beth is teaching me a lesson or two about that. In her opinion, there is no time to waste. Even though she has a language disorder due to severe head trauma, she is still trying with all her might to talk. And not just to talk, but clawing and scratching her way to being understood by everyone around her. Similar to a very young child just learning to talk before he/she learns what is appropriate and polite. Or a kitten or a dog on the prowl refusing to let anything get in its way. All three of these exist in Beth. And just like each of them, Beth possesses this incredible ability to love so completely at the drop of a dime. That takes courage and a survivor’s spirit. Which is what makes her so amazingly challenging to play, because she takes the same qualities in me to a whole other level. There’s no backing down, no defeat—just this “bottomless well of great unmet need.” (Shout out to our director, the lovely Shana Cooper!) I’m learning to experience that ferocious, unapologetic need coming through my voice and body in order to give her a fighting chance at survival. It’s give and take with Beth and me, and letting all of me fully come through is my end of the bargain.

Playing this creature (and I call her that because “girl” or “woman” just wouldn’t cover all of her) is the perfect end to my first year. I’ve learned so much useful technique, and it is time to trust that all of it is there in me.
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