Notes on the Craft: An Excerpt from Marco Barricelli’s 2011 A.C.T. M.F.A. Program Commencement Address

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Posted by Marco Barricelli, Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz and former A.C.T. Core Company member

Let me begin by saying how tremendously honored and pleased I am to be here today to honor you. Thank you Melissa, Conservatory faculty, trustees, and Carey. I am especially pleased, not for myself, but for you, the graduates of this fine theater academy.



I am not saying I am or ever was a great actor, but this is what I now know after 30 years of doing this:

Acting, great acting, allows feelings of vulnerability to inform everything you will do onstage. I hereby require you, as actors, to not cover up or deny those feelings when you work—they are grist for the mill of your craft. And, certainly in terms of the craft of acting, this makes perfect sense because if you try to act starting from a place of “cover” and “denial” of what you really are in that moment, you will be starting from someplace false and then pretending to be something else—which is also, ultimately, not real. If you start from someplace real, what is then produced will have its foundation in honesty and truth. As actors, tell the truth. You can only be you, so be truthful about yourself. Stanislavsky said: “The person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor you could ever hope to be.”

Stay humble: Always search for what to respect in those you work with. When I audition actors, I check on their resume for theaters that have had the actor back for more than one production. This usually means the actor is respectful of others when he/she is working. In the spirit of that, I would argue that we actors are “interpreters,” most of the time, not “creators.” Interpreters. We interpret the words of the playwright, the notes of a director, the reaction of an audience, etc. I say this to urge you to retain some humility, remembering where an actor’s place is in the grand scheme of creating a production. Yes, it is ultimately an exalted place because it is the most direct connection for the audience to the material, but it is still, to my mind, an interpretative role. Remember, yours is only one cog in the complicated wheel that makes a production—an “interpretive” cog. However, as Oscar Wilde said: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Keep training: How we “practice” our discipline is, truth be told, very different from the practicing of other art forms. Actors, unlike writers, painters, dancers, singers, and musicians, cannot and do not lock themselves away in a room alone and “act” . . . as these other artists can when they write, or do scales, or barre work at a mirror, or paint. We “practice” in everyday life. We are collaborators. We are “armchair” psychologists. We observe and analyze ourselves and other people in everyday activity, in extreme emotion and in repose. We work at play . . . we do “plays,” after all; our task is to have fun, to free ourselves, to let our instincts have full reign . . . never to judge. Never, ever to judge—neither ourselves nor the characters nor the people we’re working with. Does that sound easy? It’s not. It takes a very special and controlled kind of concentration. And a disciplined concentration is difficult to master. The discipline to free oneself physically and intellectually, and to “live” in the moment spontaneously, is an enormous challenge. As you all know.

Career. What can I possibly tell you about a career? How to be successful? No. As I say, success means different things to different people at different times. No one can tell you how to be successful. Your measure of success will ebb and flow, that you can be sure of—there’ll be times when everything will seem to be going great and other times when everything seems to be disastrous. Be nice to everyone because you never know who will eventually end up in a position to hire you. But more precisely, it’s as important to be a good citizen as it is to be a good actor.

As I said, your definition of success or a career will change as you grow in this business. Speaking for myself, by the time I started to understand why I tortured myself every time I worked on a role, it was too late. That torture had diminished my appetite for acting exclusively as a career and I began longing for something more consistent and permanent which would keep me entrenched in the theater but not require the endless banging away at the same show eight times a week, over and over again, for the rest—of—my—life. And so now I find myself here, 30 years on, having acted some great roles, succeeding in some—failing in others—some shows I would consider outstanding productions—others were turds. Now, as AD, my challenges are different and, thankfully, more rewarding to me. I have to say that with all the curtain calls and (deserved or not) standing ovations and big laughs and muffled sobbing I’ve experienced when acting, there is NOTHING more rewarding than what has now become my favorite part of doing theater: standing in the back of a full house, watching an audience watch a play I’ve produced, and realizing that they’re having this very singular experience because I’ve brought this story and these particular artists to them—and they will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. I still, for example, consider my greatest legacy at A.C.T. to be, not the roles I’ve done, but the creation of the exchange I developed with Prima del Teatro, San Miniato, in Italy. I am certain that each student who goes there will remember that experience for the rest of his or her creative life. There is now, at this point in my career, no greater joy than things like that. And this reward has a quiet sweetness that feels better to me than the big Broadway shows, the jobs on the big and small screens, and (almost) better than making a ton of money (but not really)!

The best advice I think I can give you regarding building a career is to just show up. Whatever the occasion, just show up. But what you show up with now, thanks to this training program, is a vocabulary, a recognition of your own integrity, a burgeoning understanding of your own aesthetic, and a basic skill set which will be informed and honed by the hard knocks and great joys of real life. Life, real life, will take over, like it or not. And Melissa and the wonderful faculty at A.C.T. have given you a technique and craft that will allow those great highs and lows of life to inform your work, thereby making your acting more human and, by extension, more relevant. Allowing you to tell the truth.

10 RULES OF THUMB:

• You can’t please everyone.
• Don’t expect praise and especially don’t believe anything anyone tells you in your dressing room right after a performance.
• How you start a play is more important than how you finish, because it is then that an audience makes up its mind about you.
• Don’t try to impress people.
• Never explain, simply reveal.
• You can’t worry and think. So do your homework and show up enormously prepared—that way you don’t have to “worry” about not having done it while you’re trying to work.
• The first duty of an actor is to be heard.
• Vowels travel easily, consonants don’t. Vowels carry the heart, consonants the intellect.
• Do your homework; as I said, show up exceptionally well prepared; then, as you start your scene, let it all go and simply open the door and see what happens.
• Always show up every day in a good mood.

“Do not try to push your way through to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards; but do your utmost to find an entry into the world of beauty.”
—Konstantin Stanislavisky

Building a City: a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of the Tales of the City set

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

“You can’t escape the beauty of San Francisco,” says Tales scenic designer Douglas W. Schmidt, in a recent interview in Words on Plays. “As a designer, it really infects you. You keep saying, ‘Oh, that vista, we’ve got to have that.’ By the time you’re done with that, you’ve got a whole picture-postcard collection that you’re trying to put onstage. Very early on, we decided that we didn’t want to go that route.”

Instead of trying to pack all of San Francisco into his set, Schmidt drew inspiration from the iconic back staircases of Russian Hill to create a moving, shifting environment where the musical’s mysteries could slowly unfold. The Endup, Halcyon Ad Agency, and of course 28 Barbary Lane: all of these locales are created with quick changes to the same central structure. Check out the video below to see it built from the ground up.
—The A.C.T. Intern Blog Quadrumvirate.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Patrick Lane

Friday, June 10, 2011

Meet recent M.F.A. Program graduate Patrick Lane, who plays Brian Hawkins. Click here to read his official bio.

Thanks for joining us as we got to know more about the incredible cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical over the last few weeks. Check back next week for more behind-the-scenes tidbits from the show!


NAME Patrick Lane.

CHARACTER Brian Hawkins.

HOMETOWN Louisville, Kentucky.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Well, my father was a preacher and my mother directed the children's choirs, so my first experience performing was as one of the lions in Noah's ark. I suppose constantly performing in church, coupled with my middle-child syndrome, left me completely defenseless against the alluring theater.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE My favorite experience would have to be when I played Horace Robedaux in a college production of 1918. It was my first experience delving into the deeply complex family relationships that are so common in plays by Horton Foote and Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard. It also calls to mind a kind of interesting phenomenon that many actors go through when they find “their playwright” or their “style,” so to speak. Being from Kentucky, and coming from a long tradition of deep rural roots and close family bonds, made it easy and very fulfilling to play Horace. In a way, I suppose coming into contact with that material taught me a lot about who I am and the traditions I come from.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES I actually didn't know much about Tales until I heard A.C.T. was doing it. Being the obnoxiously over-prepared grad student that I am, I immediately went out and got the book and couldn't put it down. I was shocked that I had never encountered it before, and from that moment on I was searching for a possible avenue into this process.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE BRIAN HAWKINS? Brian is a man's man who seems driven by some kind of energy—sometimes sexual—that he cannot control. I grew up playing sports, so I guess that classifies me as a "jock"—and that, paired with the fact that I drink beer and watch football, probably moves me into the man's man category. Like Brian, I've always been very driven by my passions, but I suppose what I hope to bring to the role is an energy that isn't just cro-magnon in its need to satisfy innate desires, but also genuine in the pursuit of digging deeper and discovering what's underneath the strong, cad-like facade.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Always a tough choice, but if I had to choose I think it would have to be Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “It's Hard to Speak My Heart” from Parade by Jason Robert Brown.

EDUCATION B.F.A. in theater performance from the University of Evansville; M.F.A. in acting from A.C.T.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Arrive to the theater an hour before curtain, hot tea, warm-up in the Garrett, head up to the stage.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Not one thing I own is ’70s. I know . . . blasphemous.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Alex Hsu

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Meet Alex Hsu, who plays Lionel. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Alex Hsu.

CHARACTER Lionel.

HOMETOWN Born in Taipei, Taiwan; grew up in Hayward and Fremont, California.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE My mom took me to see a production of Promises, Promises! at the college where she worked, and I remember being absolutely mesmerized by Turkey Lurkey Time. I can probably trace many aspects of my personality to that experience, such as my love of musical theater, my affinity for mid-century design and fashion, and my appreciation of go-go dancing.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Seeing Les Misérables on Broadway in 1996. I basically wept for three hours. It was absolutely transcendent and spiritual.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Watching the TV miniseries on DVD many years ago.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE LIONEL? We are both second-generation Bay Area Chinese. Well, I imagine that Lionel is second-generation. And I did spend one summer in college delivering frozen yogurt to office ladies who would call me “Yogurt Boy.”

FAVORITE MUSICAL A Chorus Line. A close second would be Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (for personal reasons, of course).

FAVORITE SONG TO SING Right now, it is “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” from the musical Avenue Q.

EDUCATION B.A. in linguistics and anthropology from UCLA. Dance training at Dance Arts Center in San Carlos.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: putting on makeup. Fewer and fewer men seem to wear stage makeup in professional theater, especially when the production is in a realistic style. But I still do it because to me it is part of the transformation into my character. I don’t feel completely present until I go through that. Post: EAT!

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM I owned a pair of rainbow “Mork from Ork” suspenders as a kid. LOVED them. Also any pair of tight bell-bottoms that make my ass look good!

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Manoel Felciano

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Meet A.C.T. core acting company member Manoel Felciano, who plays Norman Neal Williams. Click here to read his official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Manoel Felciano.

CHARACTER Norman Neal Williams.

HOMETOWN San Francisco.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Playing Micaela’s gypsy guide in the San Francisco Opera production of Carmen with Placido Domingo.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Playing George in Sunday in the Park with George.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Being cast in the production.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE NORMAN? Hopefully very little! Though I’ve been known to rock the clip-on tie.

FAVORITE MUSICAL Ooh, tough one . . . right now, Floyd Collins.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING “Use Me,” by Bill Withers.

EDUCATION B.A., Yale University; M.F.A., NYU; and lots of informal teachers along the way.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: vocal, physical warm-ups. Post-: walk the bat-pig, aka our dog.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Probably a giant corduroy goose down–lined winter coat from my dad.

Tales of the . . . Cast! Meet Mary Birdsong

Monday, June 6, 2011

Meet Mary Birdsong, who plays Mona Ramsey. Click here to read her official bio.

Check back tomorrow to meet another member of the cast of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City: A New Musical!


NAME Mary Birdsong.

CHARACTER Mona Ramsey.

HOMETOWN Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

FIRST THEATER EXPERIENCE Doing “the bump” while dressed as a turkey leg in a Thanksgiving recital in grade school because Mia Michenzi chickened out.

FAVORITE THEATER EXPERIENCE Accidentally peeing onstage during the tech for my last solo show. I’d love to say I was five years old at the time. I wasn’t.

FIRST EXPERIENCE WITH TALES Being asked to do a cold reading at 10 a.m. at [director] Jason Moore’s house two years ago on my one day off, and saying no because I thought it was for a musical version of A Tale of Two Cities. I hate Dickens. Okay, I don’t really hate Dickens. But still . . . the idea of doing anything involving bonnets just did not appeal to me at the time. Sleep appealed to me.

HOW ARE YOU LIKE MONA? I’m all bark and no bite—a real softie. But hell if I’ll let you see that just so you can use it against me later. ☺

FAVORITE MUSICAL This one. Godspell is a close second.

FAVORITE SONG TO SING In this show: “Seeds and Stems.” Other than that? Probably “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen, or any gut-bucket gospel-type stuff.

EDUCATION It’s overrated. Okay, for reals? Ethel Jacobsen Elementary School. Long Beach Island Grade School. Southern Regional Middle School and Southern Regional High School. Then NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where I got to study with the great Stella Adler. And Gotham City Improv for sketch comedy and improv.

PERFORMANCE RITUAL Pre-: big cup of hot tea with lots of skim milk and two Sweet’N Lows. One chocolate mint Zone protein bar. Lots of quiet time to get focused. I also try to walk a good distance or run before the show, to get everything moving. Post-: I use my long walk home to sort of act like a martini—to calm me down and help me go to sleep.

FAVORITE ’70s WARDROBE ITEM Bell-bottom pants are awesome, especially for chicks like me with big booties—they’re very flattering. Big platform heels are also awesome, because I’m short. Oh, and I love those handkerchief shirts. I think that’s what they were called.
 
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