Sunday, July 27, 2008

"You don't have a look!"

This is one of the many lines spoken by the character of Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's brilliant play,"Master Class." The play is a fanciful recreation of an actual series of Master Classes that Callas did in the prestigious Julliard school during the 1970's. Callas, who was a legend opera singer of her and all time, says this to a young singer who is quite at the mercy of her criticism. In any event, this one line has stuck with me for quite some time after I got to know the play. Although this line is spoken to the First Soprano in the first act (and I played the Second Soprano in the second act), a part of myself - that is, Sierra, not my character - always feels a tinge of self-doubt whenever I think of these 5 simply strung, but very strong, words.

This is regarding identity, something we all struggle with. And casting, something most actors and casting directors deal with. Now, people are supposed to have imaginations. Regardless, one of the biggest gripes in the world of the actor is that actors believe most casting directors don't have imaginations when it comes to seeing their potential to play many different types. Actors are often "typed out" of a movie, TV show, or theater production on a first-glance basis (and this is often done at the casting director's desk as he or she wades through piles and piles of headshots).

I walk through New York and see all sorts of types, Race, weight, clothing, walking gait, hair, makeup, jewelry, sex, everything is taken into account and my eye sees and my mind instantly stereotypes each person based on stimulation. Sometimes I'll even hear a voice and an accent to further flesh out my labeling process. In the subway, I look at people and I begin to paint stories about who they are, where they're going, and how they fit into this giant puzzle called New York.

Then it hits me. What stories are they writing about me? Who do they think I am? And are any of them casting directors?

I try to look in the mirror and "type" myself as a casting director would. Do I have a look? Does my outside appearance and choice of wardrobe speak volumes about who I am? Well, I know what I'm not (ethnic, blonde, male, tall, skinny). On the other hand, I always wanted to envision myself sort of as a chameleon-actress-singer, someone who can change her look both internally and externally (and vocally) to fit a unique character. The musical version of Gary Oldman or Tracey Ullman (wow their names are alike!) -- that's my goal.

But what is me, then? It's always tricky to self-critique and self-criticize when one doesn't have Maria Callas in the room. This is especially true when both the ego positive and the doubt negative seem to fog up the mental mirror. Honesty is the key; asking other opinions (with grain of salt at the ready) is also important. I'm not trying to become something I'm not; rather, I'm trying to clearly discover more of who I am and which facets of myself are available to me during auditions and performances.

Well, the question is out there (although badly worded, I think), and I haven't truly dealt with it in a specific manner yet. I have an idea...this'll probably take another blog entry's length at least. Suffice it to say, it's been on my mind lately. This is especially true because I'm in a new city, introducing myself to new people, fellow actors, and brand new casting directors with their own opinions of me.

I guess the first option of response to "You don't have a look!" is..."Must I? Must I, really?"

More to come...


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