dani talks crazyballs

Obviously, that is what this week has been, both for myself and Britt.  This is the first week that our long-distance-dual-blogging schedule broke down a little bit, due to the fact that Britt and I are both CRAZYBALLS right now. 

crazyballs: adjective, adverb \ˈkrā-zē-ˈbȯlz\

The state or quality of being out-of-control, busy, or otherwise in a state of madness.

“Did you see Brent is Scene Study class today?  Boyfriend got CRAZYBALLS.”

“I’d love to get together but my schedule is super crazyballs right now.  Hit me up in a couple of weeks.”

If you desire further explanation, please enjoy the image of this dress, which was emailed to me by my friend Liz, and which appeared in a Nordstrom ad on the Merriam-Webster website when I went to find the official pronunciation of the word “Balls.”

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by Topshop. From Nordstrom

Aside from the fact that my acting program relentlessly pushes us deeper and deeper into our own psyches, Aside from the fact that it stretches our physical capabilities and challenges our notions of what we think we are capable of, Aside from the exhaustion that comes with total honesty…  Aside from all of that work that happens in our actual classes, there is part-time-job work, there is backstage-work on plays, and most recently, there is work on my class’s production of Don Quixote. 

Miguel de Cervantes’ 900+ page masterpiece novel Don Quixote begins like this:

“Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and greyhound for racing.”

And it tells the story of a 50-year-old gentleman of reduced circumstances whose primary joy in life is to read books of chivalry, which tell tall tales of knights and damsels in words like

…the heavens on high divinely heighten thy divinity with the stars and make thee deserving of the deserts thy greatness deserves.”

Cervantes explains, “With these words and phrases the poor gentlemen lost his mind…” and changed his name to Don Quixote, changed the name of his horse to Rocinante, fancied a young village girl named Aldonza was actually his great Lady Dulcinea, and sallied forth into the land as a knight errant to right wrongs, seek adventure, and gain eternal renown.  

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Don Quixote by Svetlin Vassilev

In other words, he went crazyballs and went off on a grand imaginative adventure to expand his greatness and increase the good and nobility in the world.  ….Hmmmmm….. Yesssss…..

Wait, hold up!  Turn into a play?  Reading a novel?  Rehearsals?  WHAT IS GOING ON HERE??

This semester my class is being placed in the fire of “devised theatre” to be refined and molded into an ensemble.  Devised theatre is also known as collaborative creation, and in this case the creative process is centered around the source material of Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote.  This program being incredible physical, we are using the common ground laid by the head of our program Andy Robinson, as well as our physical work with David Bridel, as well as working with Edgar on Mary Overlie’s viewpoints, as well as the work in all our other classes, to create the story of Don Quixote from scratch with our bodies (and our voices).

So that is that in a nutshell. Don Quixote saddles up with his trusty squire, AKA his hapless peasant neighbor Sancho, and the two go off to claim glory and adventure.  

Don Quixote and Sancho, by  Svetlin Vassilev

Don Quixote and Sancho, by Svetlin Vassilev

There are many things I love about this story.  One is the fact that, despite the fact that everyone is somewhat shocked and horrified at Don Quixote’s madness, he brings true magic into a lot of people’s lives.  At first, he is a source of mayhem and ends up getting his ass righteously kicked a lot, but he ends up inadvertently uniting young lovers embroiled in the most romantic, imaginative and unlikely romance of all times.   He ends up bringing joy, wisdom, and entertainment into the lives of a bored Duke and Duchess who decide to play along with his madness.  He counsels wisely as much as he rambles madly, and as much as people dismiss him, he ends up changing a lot of lives.  I begin to wonder whether or not the people he encounters see that they really are romantic heroes themselves.  He blurs the lines between the possible and the impossible, the real and the unreal, and he reminds us to be our most noble, our most selfless, and our most true selves.  

So this weekend as we kick off March, trekking onward and upward through the madness of 2013, here’s to Don Quixote and his crazyballs.

Don Quixote goes crazyballs in the mountains as Sancho looks on. by Gustave Dore.

Don Quixote goes crazyballs in the mountains as Sancho looks on. by Gustave Dore.

dani talks upside down

It is legitimately pouring rain and cold right now in Los Angeles, California. It is very confusing for us all here at USC. Suntanned bleach-blondes are taking the tags off of that-one-super-cute-jacket they bought six months ago, bros are staring out the window with saucer-sized eyes and clutching their skateboards, and most of the Asians are prepared with umbrellas. That last one’s not a stereotype, it’s just a fact. This topsy-turvy weather is kind of fitting though, because I am feeling a little upside down, backwards, and turned around myself. Maybe it’s because, like Britt, I find myself frazzled from exhaustion, but MAYBE it’s because I spent more time upside down in a headstand yesterday than I’ve ever spent in my life.
44 weeks ago, I pinned this onto pinterest:

As you can see at the bottom there, I set the goal in that moment to do a headstand within a year. Come to find out, I had no choice but to accomplish this goal! This crazy dude named Jerzy Grotowski came up with this series of movements called The Cat, which I was taught by Andy Robinson within the first month of being in grad school. The Cat is kiiiiiiinda (emphasis on KINDA) like vinyasa yoga for actors. DO NOT quote me on that. DO NOT tell Jerzy Grotowski I said that. Let me go on with this backwards and upside down explanation by saying that the video below is NOT of the cat, but it IS of some Grotowski physical theatre movement craziness:

No need to watch the whole thing–you’ll start to get the idea of where I’m coming from here. The Cat just involves a couple of shoulder-stands, a headstand, and some back-bends, among other things. But let me tell you, I was the remedial kid when it came to all of this being-upside-down-craziness. I was not that kid on the playground trying out cartwheels or tumbling around the jungle gym. I wasn’t even that kid flip-flopping around in the pool. Dani and planet earth have a very strong relationship, and I don’t take naturally to this whole flirtation with gravity. What the hell do we have feet for, anyway? For standing on the ground, y’all!

Well, you may be asking, “Who cares? This is weird. Why do you have to stand on your head to be an actor?”

…You don’t. But man oh man, is it valuable to be discombobulated, to be afloat, to not know your ass from a hole in the ground. It never ceases to amaze me how much can be learned by being pushed to my limits, by free-falling. You’d think that I’d be used to it at this point in the school year, but not a single day passes when I don’t have to summon up my strength in order to lean into the scary places, allow my weaknesses and cracks to show, and expand beyond my self-imposed limitations. It’s not just a physical challenge–it is mental, emotional, spiritual, all of it. There is a lot of fear to be conquered in learning new things and surprising yourself. I am proud to say that, thanks to yoga class on Sundays, I can now hang out in a headstand for a whole minute! And now the challenge is set to conquer handstands and cartwheels in Clown class. GAHHHH it never endsssss. So again, you may be asking, “What is the point of all of this? How is it possible that people can go to grad school for this?” Actors definitely have a reputation for being self-indulgent, “dramatic,” overly emotional, narcissistic, whatever.

Let me put it this way. You don’t go to the movies to see the day that Meg Ryan didn’t check her email, drank a half a bottle of wine, and woke up the next day still hating that arrogant bastard from work and learning NOTHING about herself! You go to the movies to see this:

…I have NO excuses why I chose that movie for my example. Whatever y’allz, I’m sticking with it. I’m sleep deprived and I’ve been standing on my head! Suck it up and watch the trailer for this mediocre late 90’s RomCom!! Geez.

Anyway, you go to the movies to see the day that Meg Ryan falls in love with the witty guy on the internet and realizes that it’s her coworker and maybe they both need to swallow their pride. You don’t go to a play to see the day that Hamlet’s Dad was still alive and they all had meatloaf for dinner, you go to see the play where Hamlet sees his dead Dad’s ghost and realizes his whole world is upside down, backwards, and topsy-turvy. We don’t pay actors to tell stories in which they are comfortable. We pay them to deal with change, with imbalance, with challenges. We want to see people facing obstacles and we want to learn from who they prove themselves to be by their actions.

So this week, all the work in my program and all the work in my yoga class has left me feeling a little bit scattered, a little bit off balance, a little bit upside down. And I think that’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.

In Wonderland, not in…like…Tulsa.

(…Sorry, Tulsa.)

dani talks USC

So I was realizing recently that while my twoevilactors partner-in-crime does a lovely job of posting about things relevant to our mission of chronicling our acting-career-journeys,  I tend to get real philosophical when I’m writing this here blog and talk about abstract concepts.  Well, as Britt and I often say to each other: “Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable.”  –Twyla Tharp  …Part of the joy of writing is for us to digest the things that feed us artistically, and the world at large offers a whole lot of food for thought, so I get distracted.  I’m like a kid in a philosophical candy store.  …Actually, a kid in a philosophical candy store would probably be pretty miserable.  He’d be like, “Where the hell’s the candy?  This philosophical candy SUCKS!”

…Moving on…. Have you ever thought to yourself, “What the hell does Dani do with her time?”  Well wonder no more, dear friends!  

I’m in the MFA Acting program at USC.  What does that mean, you ask?  The longer version of that sentence is “I am working on my Master of Fine Arts in Acting at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California.” That means that after getting my liberal arts Bachelor’s degree in Music and Drama, I took a year off from school, did some acting (and worked some day jobs) in Portland, then went back to school to complete this three-year-long master’s training program.  

Actors all have different needs as far as what kind of training they want/need to get, and how much time they want to spend in classes and/or training programs.  It can be kind of a contentious subject, actually.  Some people think it is a waste of time, some people see it as absolutely necessary, some people think that it is a sign of weakness, some people think it is about artistic integrity, etc.  

What I can say with certainty is that this training and this program are exactly right for me as an artist and as a human being at this time, and I feel so lucky to be where I am.  I wanted to get more training because I felt like, although I had had some success as an actor, my approach to the work felt inconsistent, incomplete, and unreliable.  I threw myself into the work and sort of hoped for the best.  And I really take this work seriously–I think it is valuable to society. I think storytelling is important and I want to be good at it.  I am going to stop myself RIGHT HERE before I get super “meta,” and take a leaf out of Britt’s book to tell you a little bit about…

My Week

For the past 2.5 weeks, two of our core instructors have been out of town auditioning folks for next year’s incoming class, leaving us first-year MFAs to a Shakespeare intensive with this guy Rob Clare.  He totally exploded my understanding of Shakespeare and made my brain melt.  In a very, very, good way.  One highlight was working on:

The Merry Wives of Windsor 
(photo: googleimages)

with my shockingly gorgeous classmate, Kimberli Alexis Flores, featured below.

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moment captured by Amador’s smartphone.

She is standing on the shoulders of my homeboy and my very first scene partner at USC, Amador Plascencia.  On Fridays we have Clown class with the hilarious, formidably talented, and casually ingenious Matt Walker, featured in this picture in the maroon pants.  He is teaching us brutal-clown-honesty and badass-stunts.  I don’t have any pictures, but like Kim, I got to be hoisted in the air and climb all over my classmates for a couple hours.  It was glorious. 

This weekend was the opening weekend of the MFA Class of 2013‘s Three Play Rep!  The third year MFA actors each year rehearse three productions which they run in repertory for over a month starting …NOW.  That means 6 performances a week of three different shows, which means months of rehearsal and a lot of hard work.  They are an incredible ensemble, and an inspiring example of where my class will be in Spring of 2015.  Check out these sexy beasts, and check out their website: dirtythirteen.com 

I get to be at almost EVERY show of the Three Play Rep, working as concierge to the patrons or working on tech.  The first years do this so that we can get an idea of what our lives will be like when we are in our third year.  Actually, most of my classmates are not at so many of the shows…. My shockingly gorgeous classmate Sedale Threatt, Jr. and I are working as concierges, because we love our third-years so very very much.  Check out my classmate Sedale, cuz he’s super hot. 😛

sedale and amaka

photo credit: Michael Bernardi

Sedale is going to hate me for that.  Suck it up, Sedale, it’s all a part of the master plan!!  BWAHAHAHA!  (Sedale and I are evil geniuses.  Don’t even worry about it. Britt, I promise it won’t interfere with our plan for world domination.)  In that picture he is staring lovingly at my main squeeze, the beautiful Amaka Izuchi.  

You will notice that the lovely photograph above was taken by Michael Bernardi, another one of my incredible classmates (there are 11 of us total), who has a great eye for photography, film, and editing.  He has gotten to flex this muscle in a class we have called “Free Play” in which our fearless instructor Ntare Mwine facilitates our class in filming, well, whatever the hell we feel like filming.  It’s FREE PLAY y’all!!!  I love my life!!!  Our last project was to film a “documentary” about professional-league Hide-and-Seek players.  Check out my segment as Beverly “Blackout” Smith, professional Hider.  Shot and edited by the incomparable Michael Bernardi.  

danidrunk

So there you have it!  Those are some of the faces, sights, and sounds that light up my world.  More to come!