Tuesday, January 30, 2007

AIRE 2007 images - Rob O'Neill's photos

"Clumps" - part of

Carolyn Cox - Seattle

Vicky Drake - Seattle

Valerie Sing Turner - Vancouver

Lisa Levan - Seattle

Tricia Rogers - Chicago

Louise Carnachan - Orcas Island

Liz Bagby - Chicago

Norm Stamper - Orcas Island

Kristen Nedopak - Seattle

Kara Whitney - Seattle

Emi Clark - Chicago

Eleanor Crowder - Ottawa

Christi Proffitt - Seattle

Betty Lorkowski -

Steinmanis - Vancouver

Adam Bergquist -
Sorry we could not get everyone!
Your performances were, after all, riveting. God bless Rob for being able to
focus as it was.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

feedback & criticism

A young artist I don't know well recently sent out a mass email asking for people to offer "criticism" & feedback on his new play. Below is my feedback and it goes for any of you who are developing new creations. Please be good to yourselves.


You may not believe that this is the kind of feedback you want but, in my opinion, it is.

I am neither going to read your script just now nor give you "criticism" on it. Harsh answer, right? I believe it's a just answer.

Here's why: first of all, I don't feel like I have the appropriate relationship with you to really offer you the kind of constructive "criticism" a new play deserves. Secondly, I don't have the time right now to invest in your project as it deserves. Thirdly, I don't believe that new plays should be indiscriminately read and judged because great damage can be done to the project, the playwright and your process.

So, my advice is thus: you will get plenty of criticism. Draw a sacred circle around your project and invite only those people into it you utterly trust to help you develop YOUR VISION FOR YOUR PROJECT not offer opinions on what they would do differently, how it would work better, how to deconstruct to reconstruct. I'll say it another way: find advisors WHO ARE EXPERTS who know about developing a vision into a tangible creation and only trust those people. Find a couple of trusted friends who will not tell you how to write your play to whom you can rant about how fucked up everyone's feedback is and how horrible they're being to your baby.

I've had too many of my own projects killed by "helpful" friends and seen too many colleagues have their joy robbed from them by "helpful" colleagues. Somewhere in my soul I have a hole for those creations because they never got staged.

Read Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way to find out how damaging or helpful people can be and her advice about how to protect, nurture and develop your creations in helpful not hurtful ways.

That is my feedback. If it is disappointing, I'm sorry, but I still believe it is some of the wisest feedback you will get.

Come to class or the retreat sometime. Then, you'll really see what I mean.

Wishing you a healthy process in your creation!

Monday, January 15, 2007

AIRE 2007

I have attached photos from the scenes in performance at our winter retreat. My ability to take photos was limited so am hoping that my colleagues also snapped some good ones.

I must say that I was not only pleased with the actors' work but found the material very rewarding. Included were a good range of classics, European realism and a variety of both Canadian & American contemporary plays. Given that this year's retreatants included our largest contingent of Canadian actors and our faculty now includes Canadian instructor, David Smukler, I think it important the variety of material was present. Thanks to Ian Farthing for all of the Canadian material.

This year's event was, for me, more cohesive, deeper in discovery and more clearly focused. I set simple goals for myself as both an administrator and instructor so, if and when problems arose, it was so much easier to make decisions. I knew the faculty was supporting each other and being extremely flexible with our curriculum so that we could listen to the needs of the group and make adjustments. The addition of Voice to the retreat was crucial and created the possibility for actors to deepen their work in new ways.

Being that this event is a dream come true for me, this year's dreams were realized in far more tangible ways.

I couldn't be more thrilled.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

aligning my mind & body to the task at hand

On this, closing day of our annual winter acting retreat, I sit in great satisfaction about the work accomplished. I received the quote below from Ted Hoerl, our audition/cold reading instructor, which he read in a magazine on the plane ride home, about a woodworker:

I figured out that this wasn't the contest against my tendency to screw things up after all. It was about aligning my mind and my body to the task at hand. It wasn't about working against myself: it was about working with the wood. I was no longer guilty of believing in my inability more than in my ability.


Monday, January 1, 2007

Re-filling the Well: The artist's need to replenish

This is an essay published last year in The Soul of the American Actor. For those of you attending the retreat, you are on your way to refilling the well.


In a world where everything is fast, solutions are quick, pain is instantly relieved and grief is a 3 day bereavement leave, I have discovered that many artists also resort to the quick fix for their creative processes. As an acting teacher, I encounter this question more than any other: how long will it take me to ‘get it’? As a director, I perceive the pattern from day one: I must get it right and do so NOW. As an actor, I find that my process can often be very slow. My studio teacher in grad school, Paul Blake, once said, “In 10 years, you won’t have to think about this, it will be ingrained in you, keep working on it.” So, I worked, trained and stayed in classes for 10 years after grad school and, voila, he was right! Certain aspects of technique had become delicious habits.

What is the current burning need to hurry up and get it all? Certainly, we have a cultural pressure to accomplish things faster by spending longer hours at work, whether it be in an office or constantly available via instant technology to answer the world’s demands. I believe that the artist’s impulse to hurry up & “fix” everything comes from a deeper need to fill a hole at the center of our creative spirits. If we liken what we do in our work, pulling a character up out of our souls, to a well from which we must draw up clean water to drink, then, without great care and replenishment, the creative waters may get stagnant, muddy, hit rock, then, eventually, the well may parch and run dry. It is that parched dryness which I believe burns up and burns out many a creative soul. It is a vain attempt to fill the gnawing void quickly that leads us to patterns of burn out which can eventually destroy the creative source.

I took nearly a decade from the professional stage because of just such a dryness in the well of my creative spirit.

Michael Gellman at Second City Theatre told me that someone did a medical study of the impact of an 8-show week on an actor’s body and that it was the physical equivalent of a minor car wreck. This pouring out that we do has a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impact on our tender instruments.

So, what can we do to keep our instruments finely tuned for the work? Pursue and promote the best fitness possible: mind, body, and creative spirit.

For this essay, I want to focus on the creative spirit and simple, little things we can do to replenish and refill our creative wells so that we always have fresh and fragrant water to pour out in our expression.

First, do you journal your process? There is nothing like writing out your responses to rehearsals, performances and workshops to point out habits, weak points and strengths to better your craft. If you do not know how to begin, read & do Julia Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY, it’s a great launching point for understanding the creative process.

When you are not in production (rehearsal or performance) are you always fine-tuning your craft? When a show closes, get back in class so that you can work on those things which arise when you are expressing your creativity. Are you always in the same class or do you explore different aspects of the craft? Widen horizons and take improv, movement or voice, a deep exploration of text or directing just to better understand the process. Stephen Covey, author of SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, calls it “sharpening the saw”. Our tools must be in great shape in order to accomplish the creative task at hand.

Do you get adequate rest when in rehearsal or performance? Know your limits and take care of yourself.

After auditions, do you explore the feelings that arise out of them and let them stir around in your spirit? I find most actors ignore the feelings which arise out of auditions and “stuff” them, pretending that auditions don’t matter. Of course they do or we wouldn’t go out on them!! I have learned that there is a grieving process which occurs after auditions when I don’t get the job and a celebratory high which occurs after auditions when I do get the contract. In both circumstances, I used to be reluctant to explore those feelings out of either shame or caution. Shame when I don’t get hired, like I am not good enough; caution in the face of my colleagues, in case they aren’t working. Create for yourself a sacred circle of friends or family with whom you can share your reactions to auditions and do so. I celebrate every one of my students’ contracts and mourn when they don’t get hired so that they will learn to do so, too. Journal these discoveries so that you can learn from them and expand your toolbox.

When shows close, do you allow yourself the feelings which arise from saying goodbye to that production? Again, grieving occurs. Sometimes, we deeply miss a show and the routine of preparing for, arriving at, and expressing ourselves in the theatre. Sometimes, like a relative with a lingering disease, we are relieved to see a show close. Either way, explore and journal your reactions to finishing a project.

Finally, there are small, ongoing events, which I consider tasks of beauty, I do before, during and after pouring out my creative spirit which help me rest and replenish. I encourage you to explore and find out what soothes and rejuvenates your soul. If any of mine inspire you, STEAL THEM, I give them to you joyfully.

I draw myself a bath, light some candles and listen to Baroque music.

I go to a museum and sit in front of an intriguing piece of art with my journal. Sometimes, I even explore a character in a piece of art and journal what they might be thinking, feeling or wishing.

I read some of my favorite poetry; I read a book that is beautifully written, I love Irish writers and classics like Jane Austen; I read Shakespeare’s History plays in chronological order just to learn something new.

I get a manicure or, better yet, a pedicure; visit a licensed massage therapist; give myself a luxurious gift for my body which is different from my regular physical conditioning.

I take myself to a movie that is lovely and watch it all by myself; I go to a concert, the symphony or the ballet.

I sit by my pond, light a fire and simply watch the embers glow while drinking a favorite tea or really good wine.

I set a sacred circle of time around auditions or performances wherein which I will not have emotional confrontations with people. Once, a friend wanted to talk to me about a bump in our relationship the morning of a performance of my one-woman show and I politely declined, making a firm commitment to a specific date to meet her for coffee later and then kept my word.

I relish in practicing other hobbies which refresh & stimulate me: gardening, stained glass, embroidery, ethnic dance classes; creative tasks which awaken & nourish my creative spirit without always being tunnel-visioned about the theatre. I always have a discovery about the creative process which is immediately applicable to my work in the theatre when indulging myself in other forms of artistic expression.

I journal during/after all of the above.

When I awaken and nourish all of my senses with beautiful experiences: listening to music, seeing great art, feeling my muscles stretch, tasting freshly grown herbs, moving and expanding my whole instrument, my spirit feels refreshed, enabling me to continually pour out water which will be rejuvenating for me and refreshing for my audience.

If you are tired, find a way to receive so your spirit is renewed BEFORE you burn out. If you have poured out your creative waters past the point of being fresh, take a break, rest and take good care of yourself; quickly give yourself some space from your primary art and explore something new.

As my mentor, Bill James, said to me when I faced the decision of stepping away from my calling from sheer burn-out, “If you can find no joy in your work, you will bring no joy to the theatre, your colleagues will find no joy in trying to create with you. Take a break, restore your joy, the theatre will be there when you come back.” It was hard to believe that time would not rush by me if I stepped away, that the “best years” of my career might have been spent in hiatus, but, more importantly, my joy was, indeed, restored. I took classes from respected teachers and reawakened my creative spirit. I opened an acting studio and re-discovered, through my students, my joy. I began an annual winter retreat with colleagues I love and respect where artists can find a place to renew and recharge their creativity. When I returned to the stage, I created mission, vision & values statements for the different aspects of my career: actor, teacher, director, writer; and use those as a barometer for healthy, rejuvenating creativity. I have, as part of my vision statement, a credo that is simply, "I envision myself working where I want with the people I want who are of like mind, heart and spirit." It means I work less than if I threw myself at every venue but, I'm happier, healthier and get chewed up less often.

If you decide it is part of the “work” of playing in the theatre that you take the time to refill the well, your creative waters will always be worth drinking. Rest, replenish, receive, refresh, restore, renew, rejuvenate, and you will discover you are always ready to create & re-create.