Thursday, December 21, 2006

then you are ready to sing

The quote below is from Giovanni Battista Lamperti, the "father" of BelCanto singing technique. As I am getting ready for the retreat, I wanted to share these beautiful similes for the sensation of being "ready" to perform.
-- ML
What is the sensation of being ready to sing?
It is a subjective feeling associated with the insistent desire to sing!
Like that of a "tight-rope walker" as he steps on the wire;
Like that of the swimmer as he ceases efforts and trusts the support of the water;
Like that of the diver, the moment before beginning his plunge;
Like that of the listener who hears a mysterious sound in the quiet of the night;
Like that of the sharpshooter the instant before he pulls the trigger;
Like that of the archer the instant before he releases the arrow;
Like that of the expert whistler just before he makes a sound;
Like that of the juggler at the beginning of his act;
Like that of the dancer as he rises on his toe;
Like that of the orchestra conductor, with his baton poised poised in the air;
Like that of the orator as he opens his lips before the waiting audience:
All these acts demand objectively, a potent vitality, conscious, accurate control of energy, and complete knowledge of the thing attempted.
When you are sentient from head to foot and know your song, then you are ready to sing.
Giovanni Battista Lamperti - Vocal Wisdom

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them into shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Wm Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream

I was asked this week, while casting actors in their scenes for AIRE, if a certain playwright was my “favorite” because it was observed that I frequently use the playwright’s work for actors at the retreat. Well, when one can offer great structure, beautiful verbiage, clear & compelling characters .... that is the kind of work I want actors to work on intensely for a week.

Believe it or not, for those of you who know me well, the discussion was not about Shakespeare, as one might presume.

Do I have a favorite playwright? I suppose, then, it might be Shakespeare but I LOVE Shaw’s wit, find Ibsen to be near perfect in structure, am always disturbed by Miller, am drawn to the simple characters of Foote, am compelled by the elegant language of Wilde and so on. I just read Good Night Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet and can’t say why my immediate visceral reaction was: “I must do this play.”

It is easier for me to say what productions have been my favorite recently because I feel that my standards for excellence in production have been raised. I simply want better, deeper, more truthful, and disturbing productions than most of what I see out there.

From a collection of comments I’ve made of late …

My favorite show recently in Tbilisi, at the GIFT International Arts Festival, was Waiting For Godot, a simple, spare, achingly funny and heartbreakingly lonely production. I can’t say I normally “like” Beckett but now I think that I haven’t respected productions of Becket. This one’s naked yearning for something to hope for in this life moved my spirit more than anything I've seen in a long time.

I loved John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt at Seattle Repertory Theatre. My friend, Maria, & I saw the show together and she, as I, was brought up in Catholic schools: she is Ireland & England, me here in the States. The play itself is so skillfully crafted: provocative, challenging, moving; the acting supported the play brilliantly. That we went out for a pint afterward but could not stop talking about it and could not come to a conclusion about who was “guilty”, who was “right” or what was the “truth” of the play, speaks to Shanley’s skillfully crafted piece of art and the Rep’s delicately deft production of it.

I recently read a new play, House and Home, written by a friend, Elaine Avila, and, though she is still working on the piece, it was one of the most cleanly developed plays I’ve read in a long time with fascinating characters, disturbing missed communications, clearly charted changes and reversals, that it made me hungry to do the show. Since I know the playwright, I hope to be so blessed.

I was talking with Ted Hoerl, another AIRE faculty member, about The Weir, a show he will be starring in shortly, and we both felt that many critics miss the simple power of the play. One critic said, “Nothing happens” and I screamed, “that’s makes me feel the same kind of rage as when people claim nothing happens in Chekhov.” ONE WORLD ENDS AND ANOTHER BEGINS BUT NOTHING HAPPENS IN CHEKHOV. Another critic said, “I’m not sure it’s a play, it seems to be a lot of stories.” Yes, STORIES WHICH CHANGE ALL THOSE PRESENT. Sigh. But it’s an Irish play with a roomful of Irish people telling Irish stories – how can nothing happen???? Great craic and I’m Irish, so am I biased? Sure but I’m talking about what I like, right?

So, how can I define what I’m looking for in a production?

As an artist, I'd rather have audiences be so uncomfortable that they leave the theatre, than so complacent in their response as to simply say, "That was fine." In a recent production of Native Son at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, I was so deeply disturbed that I wanted to run out of the theatre and so compelled that I couldn't move to get out of my seat.

I read an interview with Peter Sellars (the director not Pink Panther) in which he said, and forgive me for paraphrasing, that it is our responsibility, in our contemporary multi-media society, to do more than move audiences to feel, which a well-produced tv commercial can do in 15 seconds, we must instead move them to some kind of change perhaps even some kind of action.

I think some of the most innovative, risky, compelling theatre I have seen recently was not the spectacular but simply truthful, thoughtful and emotionally naked work. Passionately truthful performances & rawly exposed souls onstage seem more risky to me than forced attempts at innovation, which turn out to be merely manipulation. I don't like feeling manipulated when I sit in a theatre so I assume most audiences don't appreciate it either.

In conclusion: innovative & exciting work seems to me to be that which is simply deeply human.
Besides, as Jonathan Winters says, "Only the mediocre are always at their best." I find it hard to believe I didn't get that quote, speaking of my favorites, in the last blog post.
Other than that.... ML

Thursday, December 14, 2006

quotes & quips: action is eloquence

A collection of quotes which inspire me ... from the sublime to the ridiculous ... so I will approach the work seriously and so that I don't take myself too seriously. As we approach the retreat I find myself always needing inspiration - some in seeming-contradiction. Please comment and add quotes. I always hunger for more inspiration or a good laugh. -- ML


Action is eloquence. -- William Shakespeare

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. -- Pablo Picasso

My imagination has to be powerful enough to dictate to my heart, to my body, to my narrow ideas. To develop our imagination means to lift it up so high that it is inspiring me as a free thing. – Michael Chekhov

A theatrical production is, or should be, a slice through the thickness of the culture from which it emerges, and that is speaking not only to its audience but to other plays, to painting and to dance, to music and to all forms of human expression by which at any moment we read out time. – Elia Kazan

My past is my wisdom to use today. . . my future is my wisdom yet to experience. Be in the present because that is where life resides. -- Gene Oliver

Acting is not a thought process, it’s something that happens with the body. And what happens to the body ignites your acting mechanism. -- Nikos Psacharopoulos

In the theater there should be neither naturalism nor realism, but fantastic realism. Rightly found theatrical methods impart genuine life to the play upon the stage. The methods can be learned, but the form must be created. It has to be convinced by one’s fantasy. That is why I call it fantastic realism. Such a form exists and should exist in every art. – Eugene Vakhtangov

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. -- Rene Descartes

I love acting. It is so much more real than life. -- Oscar Wilde

You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. -- Mark Twain

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything. -- Eugene Delacroix

Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art. -- Tom Stoppard

What we are after is a consciousness of complete freedom. – Harley Granville-Barker

Give to the actor and his work the atmosphere in which they can breathe more freely and more deeply. – Max Reinhardt

The thing an actor needs the most is courage. – Joan Littlewood

Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way... you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions. -- Aristotle

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. -- Henry Ward Beecher

Actors and directors are the servants of the play, aren’t they? – Laurence Olivier

If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction. -- William Shakespeare

Craft has been part of the society for millions of years. If you are a carpenter, you have inside you the faith that the table you make will function, that it will stand up. You come along later and say,” I would like to carve that table, to add to it.” So who made the table? The carpenter made the table and you made the table. The carpenter’s name is Cellini, but I am no longer interested in the rare person Cellini. I am more interested in the craftsman – you. The writer gives you the bare outlines. He can never convey the experience. Your contribution is the ability to take life in and convey its truth. That is Mr. Ibsen’s definition of truth for the artist. Your talent is in your craft. Craft is what finally transforms the dead factors into living ones – from “theatrical” to human, artifice to art – through that secret ingredient: the actor’s imagination. – Stella Adler

Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me leave to do my utmost. -- Isak Dineson

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. -- Albert Einstein

No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en; In brief, sir, study what you most affect. -- William Shakespeare

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. -- Carl Jung

I think that each step of acting requires the actor to return to a conscious awareness of what he is doing. Still, most of the creative work is done in that dream life between thinking and fantasy, and requires sometimes that the actor rest, and let the image move itself in his mind…One has to be able to imagine an alternative realm of behavior expression in order to play it. The spectator will feel that what is true on the stage is what most represents himself – that realm which he most identifies with as his “real life” and perhaps that one which he most inhabits….Everything we do changes us a little, even when we purport to be indifferent to what we’ve done. And what we witness, we can also do. – Joseph Chaikin

Photographers do this for a living, every single day -- they point their lenses toward every single corner of our world and somehow make the mundane mesmerizing through their artistic eye. It's all a matter of being aware of your surroundings and realizing that there are some really amazing and interesting things to look at, even if it may just be something so simple as a wall being covered up by paint. -- Ward Jenkins

A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education. -- George Bernard Shaw

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people. -- Arthur Schopenhauer

An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world. -- George Santayana

I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did'. -- Kurt Vonnegut

An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way. -- Charles Bukowski

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. -- Oscar Wilde

There is grandeur in stillness, and it is the eye that is the mind’s signal and the soul’s interpreter. It is the actor’s chief business to express the emotion of the human heart. The eye discloses the tumult that rages within, and speaks of the inner thought even more completely than can the tongue. It has a language of its own – an expression that is as far above any language as the eternal firmament is above the ephemeral butterfly. – Julia Marlowe

We do not know what we want and yet we are responsible for what we are - that is the fact. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel. -- Piet Mondrian

I understand a fury in your words, But not the words. -- William Shakespeare

I live in company with a body, a silent companion, exacting and eternal. -- Eugene Delacroix

Acting begins with a tiny inner movement so slight that it is almost completely invisible. — Peter Brook

The actor must be ready to be absolutely sincere. It is like a step toward the summit of the actor’s organism in which are united consciousness and instinct. — Jerzy Grotowski

I prize the poetic above all else in the theatre. — Arthur Miller

Acting is merely the art of keeping a large group of people from coughing. -- Sir Ralph Richardson

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. -- Edmund Burke

Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made. -- George Burns

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape... -- Pablo Picasso

No vision and you perish; no ideal, and you’re lost. Your heart must ever cherish some faith, at any cost, Some hope, some dream to cling to, some rainbow in the sky, Some melody to sing to, some service that is high. — Harriet Du Autremont

Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before. -- Edith Wharton

Life, with all its pains and sorrows, is a beautiful and a precious gift; and the actor’s art is to reproduce this beautiful thing, giving due emphasis to those royal virtues and those stormy passions which sway the destinies of mankind…its present intention may be to interest and amuse, but its deeper purpose is earnest, intense, sincere. — Sir Henry Irving

The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation. -- Auguste Rodin

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. -- Albert Einstein

The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them. -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue. Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid. -- Jules Feiffer

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist. -- Albert Einstein

The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible. -- Arthur C. Clarke


To the real artist in humanity, what are called bad manners are often the most picturesque and significant of all. -- Walt Whitman

When you're through changing, you're through. -- Bruce Barton

Luxury is the wolf at the door and its fangs are the vanities and conceits germinated by success. When an artist learns this, he knows where the danger is. -- Tennessee Williams

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand, thus; but use all gently: for in the very torrent, tempest, and—as I may say—whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance, that may give it smoothness…. Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature; for anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure Now, this overdone, or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the censure of which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others…. Go, make you ready. – William Shakespeare

The brain is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. -- Anon

Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better. -- Andre Gide

It's about what YOU are going to do with the short time you have left on this earth. -- Hugh Macleod

You must work each month, every day, get in front of the audience all the time. Our century on this garden becomes very short and your gifts must be seen. It is our profession …. Work all the time. – Janet Selimova

The point is to develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition and to guide the child over to important fields for society. Such a school demands from the teacher that he be a kind of artist in his province. -- Albert Einstein

Other than that, I have no opinion. -- ML

Monday, December 11, 2006

beacons & boots: mentors & educators

This is from a letter I recently sent to the teachers who influence me the most. One cannot receive the letter, for he is gone from earth, so I think I'm posting this so others will know he is not forgotten and, here at this site, so that retreatants know why I do what I do and why this event is such a dream come true for me.


I am writing to some of you who have been mentors/educators in my life. I feel it’s important to be grateful. Right now, before the biggest educational event I produce each year and I am somewhat frustrated by the administration of it, I feel it’s especially important to be grateful. While a group letter, albeit a short list, might seem impersonal, please know that I have envisioned each of you quite uniquely and specifically as I have crafted these words.

Recently, while visiting friends on Orcas Island and again while teaching in Vancouver BC, people were calling me a mentor and that kept surprising me because, in my history, such giants walk in those shoes. But I then realized that I had not assumed the best: that I had gleaned from my mentors, especially once some of those lights in my life were extinguished, how to be that kind of a presence in the lives of others because I had such beacons in my own life to light my pathway to creative success. Naturally, I wanted to reach out and tell you that and, apparently, mix my metaphors in doing so! Footsteps and lights, sheez, they wound their way together finally but, it’s proof that one metaphor cannot contain all I have learned. On an ongoing basis, both the educational and personal challenges extended to me during my formative training years, sustain me and enable me to do my work today: as an actor (now that I’m back onstage again after a hiatus), director, teacher and playwright. I am so grateful, perpetually, so grateful.

I recently returned from performing in an international arts festival in Tbilisi, Rep of Georgia. What I did not know before I went there!! They have a theatre tradition that is nearly as old as the Greeks and so much more. Anyway, I learned so much and feel so …. expanded by the experience that, as heebie jeebie as it sounds, I feel changed on a cellular level as an artist. I journaled much about it (& you may have received that letter) but, for now, have enclosed an article which came out for the closing of the festival.

The article said:
Accomplished actors also shared their experiences with young Georgian actors. Several master classes were given by Molly Lyons (USA) in Shota Rustaveli State University of Cinema and Theatre. “I especially liked Molly’s classes,” said participant Eto Maglakelidze. “She made simple and familiar acts, something I used to do on my first year, look different, deeper, more exciting. She showed how many different layers of emotions flow into one another and how the interpretation of a single movement can be endless. Also, Molly ... [was] very encouraging. It was a great learning experience for me, a touch of international professionalism.”

I met so many fascinating artists in Tbilisi but my favorite was a female director from Azerbaijan who, in talking to me about my work, said that I was, for her, the “most free” actress in the festival. She said that it was because not only did I have God-given gifts but excellent “plastique” which I finally figured out was the translation from Russian into English for “technique” because she said: “your voice, your movement, the way you use text, everything is integrated through your natural ability to respond so passionately – to cry, to smile with real joy, to look inside and draw from your soul whatever colors are there.” Then, she said, “Where did you go to school, where did you study? You write to them and tell them that I say you are the most free actress here because of these things. Excellent, excellent training; beautiful, beautiful soul.” So, I am following her imperative. She said more which I have written in the “review” of the festival I sent out but these words, from both reviews above, are really for you. For Bill James, Frank Caltabiano, Libby Appel, Bob Benedetti and more, all of whom helped form me and for those of you with whom I study now, Rob O’Neill, Steve Scott, Ted Hoerl and my students, all of whom help keep me “free” and neither complacent nor stagnant.

Finally, I hope you know the great contribution inspired teachers make to their hungry students and enlightened mentors make to their eager protégés. For me and my “plastique”, you took some raw talent combined with great desire, added a whole trunkful of tools and molded all that together into the form that now enables me to do all which gives me such joy and … freedom. As you know, it is impossible to be free onstage without working my ass off for it and you guys, more than anyone, taught/teach me to work hard!! For those of you who keep me free now, I CHOOSE to work with you because of the extraordinary examples I had early on in my work and you remind me, emotionally, artistically, spiritually of those who walked before you and I have sought you out to keep me moving in that same direction. You help me keep the saw sharpened so it can do its work!!

I miss you, think of you all the time, thank God for your firm hand and loving touch upon my work. As I realize that I am, indeed, stepping into the mentor shoes, I’m grateful and honored to walk in such strong footsteps as the path you trod before me. Some of you are troddin' it right next to me. I pray that, come January and always, my light will shine as brightly, purely and lovingly as yours did upon me. May I be a reflection of that in which I bask.

With love, love, love and thanks, thanks, thanks. Molly

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

ever 'gainst that season comes

Green Wood Studio is entering into an exciting season: preparing for AIRE - Actors' International Retreat Experience.

Short of the wonder of the retreat week itself, this is my favorite season at the studio and this month each year finds me full of anticipation, excitement, preparation and even frustration. I am processing registrations, assigning actors their rooms, small groups, scene assignments & partners and, often, their monologues. My imagination always wanders to the actors who are coming to AIRE. Are they new to us? Are they returning alums? What is going on in their hearts, souls, minds and bodies as they prepare for this intense week? Are they nervous? Are they eager? Are they frightened? Are they thrilled?

I recently returned from an international arts festival in Tbilisi, Georgia (as in former Russia, east of Turkey, between the Caspian Sea & the Black Sea.) From all that I learned in that life-changing week, I find myself yearning for truth in the work that I do and the work that I see. The retreat participants this year can expect that I will be watching, listening, waiting and doing all that I can to help them attain a new & deeper truth in their work.

If you're not sure about registering this year's event, I hope you will consider it. Here is one quote from an actor who attended last year:

"AIRE is a must for anyone serious about the theatre. I rate the retreat as an 11 on the scale of 1 to 10."

You can read more quotes at:

Molly Lyons

new AIRE instructor

We are thrilled to introduce a new instructor to the AIRE faculty for our winter 2007 retreat event. I have heard such amazing things about David, from colleagues, friends and strangers, which lead me to believe he will be a perfect fit with our already wonderful group of instructors.


DAVID SMUKLER, one of the senior voice teachers in the Canadian theatre, is on the faculty of York University's Department of Theatre where he supervises the Voice Teacher Diploma in the MFA Acting Program, is the Founder and Director of Canada’s National Voice Intensive held each May in Vancouver, and teaches professional classes at Equity Showcase Theatre. After training at Carnegie Institute of Technology and Columbia University, he then had a Rockefeller Grant to study voice production according to the principles of Iris Warren under Kristin Linklater. Subsequently, as a voice coach in Canada, England, the Netherlands, and the United States, he has worked in the entire range of theatre from classical theatre and opera, musical theatre, film, television, radio, to contemporary and experimental theatre and music with such companies as: Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival (nine seasons), Alberta Theatre Projects, Canadian Stage, The Royal Alex, The National Arts Centre (Canada); the Tyrone Guthrie and the Open Theatre (United States), the Royal Court and the English Opera Group (England); as well as the Apple, Centrum and Globe theatre companies (The Netherlands). He has taught at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and Carnegie-Mellon University in the States, at many of the English drama schools including LAMDA, at the Toneelschool, Amsterdam, and has conducted classes at the National Theatre School, the Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Simon Fraser University, The University of Calgary and other actor training institutions across Canada.

Over the years David Smukler’s exploration of the voice-body inter-relationship has led him to various examinations including yoga and study with Tadashi Suzuki. He has published articles in the VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers