Friday, March 25, 2005

Being Oz

It being a classic, most want to do the line: "I Am Oz The Great and Powerful!", but it is not the best line of that character. The best line is, "Well, anybody can have a brain!" because that is when the old humbug knows he is going to get away with it one more time. First, he must handle the Scarecrow because he has ideas and ideas are dangerous, so better give him a title so he will shut up. The Cowardly Lion is more dangerous for he is a forest lion and can shred this man and his balloon. But of all there, the Tin Man is the most dangerous for he cannot persuaded, he must believe he has the heart himself and if he does not, his axe is most persuasive. The girl? The girl is going with Oz.

Acting is about access to emotions at core. It is the emotions that give believability to breath, and breath that gives words to emotions. That is how one goes beyond the lines and the blocking to the onset cues that persuade a mammal brain to suspend belief. While it is possible by dint of hard work to simulate the emotions, learn the expressions, feel just that much inside that one can fake it, it is so hard no sensible mammal tries it. They feel it. That is acting. Listening is everything, timing is everything else. Emotions are the shared currency of acting.

"Better to be what you is because if you is what you ain't then you ain't what you is." - from an old poster in my studio


To find the character of Oz, I did the research into Baum and watched Frank Morgan to learn lines and borrow some magic. But mostly, I listened to Luz Ladrillono, our director. I haven't acted in 30 years. I trained for it from 13 to 23. I loved it when I did it, but two artforms are one too many when working, so I chose the one that made the most money:

.... computer science. And kept a band on the side.

It leaves a tattered hole in the ceiling of one's heart to give up any great love in one's life, and for me, that was theatre. It is the Great Art and the Complete Art. Music is demanding, but theatre asks for all of the talents and the more one can master, the greater the experience of live theatre. So it was both my fortune and God's gift that when I did return to it, Luz was there. It is rare in this area to meet a stone cold professional actress, dancer, teacher, and director who is also kind and willing. Her shaping of my character was basic: some gestures, some voices, placement of the eyes, and simple blocking. Gentle, good, and basic direction given consistently, repetitively, and never sternly but understandably. Luz never raised her voice to the cast even once. Amazing.

Oz is six voices: Professor Chester Marvel, Marvel's Magic Voice, OZ, OZ revealed, OZ the Survivor and the Man Behind The Curtain.

Chester is a carny magician, a man of some background, and one who does this job because he likes it. He isn't a bad fellow, but he believes in his act and uses it to move the world around him. He is a good-hearted man who uses his magic voice to send Dorothy back to the farm, but he is so caught up in his own act that he sees the storm and worries about the horse yet sends the little girl into the storm with only a glance over his back.

OZ is simply big and dismissive. It's an easy voice to do. Easiest of the lot really because one only has to be loud and arrogant. I can manage that. It's a Rock Voice. ;-)

OZ revealed is the timid man. Pulled from behind the curtain, at first he thinks he is toast. He has used up all of his tricks and this time, someone came back from the Haunted Forest. In a land of real magic, this man had none and even though his most fiercesome enemy was disposed of, he was history as The Great and Powerful Oz. Time to get a new act. But first, he has to get to the balloon. When he hears them say, "And what about Scarecrow's brain?", Oz the Survivor knows he has a chance.

In every act, whether as Oz or acting as Oz, there is a moment in the script where the character and the actor find that moment. No turning back. I dropped the bag in my hand.

"Well, ANYBODY can have a BRAIN!?!"

His own voice is the Man Behind The Curtain. When time came to deliver the line that is the point of the tale, I used my own voice. At 51 on a stage toe to toe with teenage actors who had performed flawlessly and beautifully, before all those children in the cast and the audience, for all the adults with them, but most of all for my daughter, I wanted that line to be heard as honest and sincere. In truth, I do look back through the years they look forward through. The wisdom of age is not given, meritorious or heartfelt; it is the truth of the eyes that see and remember and the breath that sustains and marks out time. That truth is itself, ageless.

"A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others."

The joy of theatre, the reason it is the Great Art is the cast. What we experience together is a far greater magic than that seen on the stage. It is access to emotions, both in the parts we play and as we go to our entrances hugging and smiling at by those who have worked so hard together, excited, nervous, exhillarated and finally triumphant. The play is an act; the emotions are real.

As the cast took its bows, I thought, "We are Oz. The Great and Powerful."

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