News & Updates

Classical Language Redux

October 3, 2017

Classical language is yet our language.  Do you see it?

“I have to say, yet cannot speak
The thing that I would gladly say
My heart is strong, though tongue be weak
Yet I will speak it, as I may
And if I speak not as I ought
Blame but the error of my thought.”
 

— J. Willobie, Avisa (1594)

Welles on Character Acting and Personality

September 21, 2017

For decades, I have found Orson Welles to be as complex and as essential as any of the great creative souls of the 20th century.   This excerpt from Cahiers du Cinéma, No. 84, June 1958, reveals the profundity of his own self-knowledge and its revelatory, yet disguising, nature upon screen.

You know, in the old classic French theater, there were always some actors who played kings and others who did not. I’m one of those who played kings. I have to be, because of my personality. So naturally, I always play the role of leaders, men of some unusual breath: I always need to be bigger than life. It’s a fault of my nature. So it’s not unnecessary to believe there’s anything ambiguous about my interpretation. It’s my personality that’s responsible, not my intentions. It’s very serious for an artist, a creator to be at the same time and actor. He runs a grave risk of being misunderstood. Because my own personality intrudes between what I say and what you hear; and a great part of the mystery, the confusion, of the interest, and all you can find in the characters I play comes from my own personality and not from what I say.

This excerpt, Comito, Terry, ed., Touch of Evil: Orson Welles, Director, p. 205.

American Readings of Classical English Language Works — Some Ideas

September 15, 2017

Classical language is yet our language. Centuries have past since what we consider classical was contemporary. And yet, the aesthetic discoveries made by Western civilization, which represent our common tradition, provide us with many opportunities to delight in them, whether poetic beauty or dramatic engagement.

This is the first in a series of video readings of brief segments of the classical language. I’ve read this poem in its entirety for you in a conversational, modern American style. One can say, readily, that this is neither the dialect nor the style in which the poem was written. One question to ask, when reading any work, is this: what did the author intend? Does one take a liberty to read this poem aloud in the modern tongue? And conversationally, without reference to the meter?

The Undertaking, published in 1633, was written by John Donne. The speaker has discovered a woman of rare virtues, worthy of his greatest love and admiration. He must, however, love her in secret (as she presumably must love him in return) because the men of these times will not allow that such a love is commendable.

A good discussion of the work may be found here: online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?35367-What-does-Donne-s-quot-Undertaking-quot-signify-!

The first two videos in my series on American readings of classical English language works pose several questions: 

How might (or ought) an American performer read aloud the classical English language, when it was written to be voiced in a dialect long unspoken?  

Is a conversational American reading persuasive for a modern audience?  

What about meter?  Is a work of definite meter, intended to convey a musical rhythm undergirding the meaning, more persuasive when so read?

In the first video, I’ve read John Donne’s, The Undertaking (1633), in a conversational American cadence.  

In the second video, I’ve read the same poem while closely adhering to the meter.  I’ve not approximated the dialect scholars believe readers of the early 17th century would have expected.

Which do you think is more persuasive?  

Post-Harvey Houston, I’m Back in Business

September 2, 2017

Yesterday, I reassembled my voice studio (post-Harvey) and I’m back in business. Frankly, I don’t think it has ever sounded better. (My video studio, used for film auditions, was less laborious to reassemble, but that’s up, too.)

My primary mic is an MP47 MKII vacuum tube condenser microphone made in Nashville by Gene Lawson. I put that through a Millenia TD-1 Class A Recording Channel, then through a secret vintage analog component, finally into a Fireface UC 36-Channel, 24-Bit/192kHz USB High Speed Audio interface.

Within an hour of setting up, I had surprise followed upon by surprise: two commercial scripts requesting auditions, one for a major league sports organization. So, whereas a week prior I thought I might be out of the game for weeks, here I am back in.

Roger Scruton on Beauty and Desecration

August 10, 2017

I post this especially for younger artists (in film, the drama, music) who are friends of mine. You’ll know who you are.
 
My hope is that my contemporaries will also find this talk as valuable as I do. I agree with it premises and its conclusions: they echo mine, being, in fact, foundational ideas in my life.
 
I’ll tease you to listen with this quote from the talk: “What is the point of drawing the second mustache on the Mona Lisa?” I hope you’ll be patient with it and not click away after 30 seconds, such is our habit now online. I suspect you will see it all differently after you’ve listened.
 

Beiruti English — Revisiting Rawi Hage’s DeNiro’s Game

August 5, 2017

Some years ago, I recorded a Rawi Hage’s, DeNiro’s Game, in a Beiruti English accent. The print version had won the 2008 IMPAC International Literary Award — it is a wonderful work that moved and impressed me — and I was honored when Audible asked me to read the audiobook version of the title.
 
For several weeks, I studied the accent with the help of two supremely intelligent and encouraging Yale grad students, both of whom had grown up in Beirut, one Christian, the other Muslim. Since that time, I have, never having visited Beirut, felt a strong kinship to the city, without ever knowing why exactly. Perhaps it is simply romance.
 
And then, today, I was reminded of that once again reading this article written by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and how history is driven down to in the details, well beyond the shallow, pernicious parlance of the modern day.
 
https://medium.com/@nntaleb/when-did-lebanese-christians-start-speaking-french-771603969932

Reading Poetry Aloud — A Stanza by John Clare

July 26, 2017

I encourage all parents to read poetry aloud to their children, but may I also suggest you read aloud to your spouse or lover or friend? Or even, just to yourself. The music…
 
Here’s a wonderful example of the music we need to hear in language for it to be truly nourishing. For what is language but our ideas expressed?  Beauty seen is Beauty discovered.
 
A stanza from “February,” written by John Clare, ca.1830. Read it aloud. Take your time with it.
 
“The sunbeams on the hedges lie,
The south wind murmurs summer-soft;
The maids hang out white clothes to dry
Around the elder-skirted croft:
A calm of pleasure listens round,
And almost whispers winter by;
While Fancy dreams of summer’s sound,
And quiet rapture fills the eye.”

McKellen on Ideas in Acting

July 19, 2017

To hear one claim that ideas can’t be acted, when they are in fact precisely what one demonstrates through the body, is to be witness to a kind of malpractice. Some may opine that dramatic action consists entirely of the actions of one character in reaction to another, and vice-versa, but this is like drawing a bird, having never seen it fly.
 
Here is a wonderful demonstration-in-action of what some call “textual analysis” (really just a thorough understanding of the ideas in the text), in which McKellen proceeds upon the premise that “sense,” once grasped, populates itself upon the body. This is opposed in my mind to “Method, and the concomittant intentional placement of superficial characteristics upon character. The former more difficult than the latter, but achieving greater results.
 
 
 

A Brief Observation Upon My Return from NYC

June 4, 2017

We live in an age with a profusion of material comforts and a paucity of aesthetic ones. But I sense the change, see the evidence of it happening before my eyes, even where I’d not considered it possible. We who agree on this — and you know who you are implicitly — will nourish it, foster it and bring it to fruition in time.

Sofia Helin

May 19, 2017

Here’s another Swede — after Hedda Stiernstet about whom I’ve not posted but will — who mightily impresses me on the small screen: Sofia Helin in The Bridge. 
 
Is my admiration only because I am unable to parse the language, the vocal inflections? Or does she really have something? Partly the former, I think, but definitely the latter. 
 
The actress plays a detective with superior police skills and a mastery of facts but a complete lack of awareness of the the personal sensibilities of others, often brutally, and yet she is not malevolent. I am entirely persuaded.
 
Here’s the video with Dag Malmberg as her superior officer, a man of patience and experience, with precisely the sensibilities her character of Saga lacks, evident immediately at the start of the dialog, even without understand the language. 
 
 
From an article in the Telegraph (UK, 2015): “Becoming Saga, she explains, requires a lot of physical effort. She has to change the way she talks, holds her head, moves; has to become straighter, tenser, more alert. ‘It’s like a vice gripping all over my body,’ she explains.”