from the CAPE CODE TIMES - by Lee Roscoe, Contributing writer
September 27. 2015 2:01AM
Jeff Zinn explores acting and self in new book. Orleans resident and former W.H.A.T. artistic director writes of who we are and who we can be.
Perhaps Jeff Zinn’s combination of acting technique, philosophy and psychology might be called Zinning, for his new book, “The
Existential Actor: Life and Death Onstage and Off,” is a system not just of acting and a way to analyze plays, but a theory of how we structure our lives. Directing Eugène Ionesco’s “The Killer” years ago, Zinn says, helped him realize a truth beyond the plot: The main character finds himself in a “radiant city,” but a killer is ruining it. “The action might be to root out corruption, but the real spine of the play is the fact of death itself,” he says. This discovery, combined with the theme in Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death” (“The need to defend the illusion, the vital lie of
our immortality with a heroic narrative of our own identity.”) were the epiphanies from which Zinn derived his framework to supply
the background of any character an actor might inhabit.
“We talk about senseless violence,” Zinn says. “Some kid kills another over a pair of sneakers; what is that over? Disrespecting
someone’s central narrative of their own identity. If you say it’s all futile in the face of a meaningless universe; my identity has no
more importance than yours, so now let’s go have coffee – you’re doing OK.”
That implies, Zinn notes, that the defense of self-image leads to conflict, which leads to action occurring in dramas.
How identity constructs itself internally, shapes itself externally, reacts to other people and surrenders its defenses, are the building blocks of Zinn’s system: Shape, Action, Transaction, Surrender. Zinn says these pieces have elements of other techniques, which as he discusses in his book, often derive from an particular era’s cultural concerns – from Aristotle to Stanislavski, Michael Chekhov, Jerzy Grotowski, and others; from externalization to internalization in acting styles.
“I tried to create a more integrated approach so an actor, in understanding their own identity project, can better play the specifics of a role.”
He stresses how different cultures create different senses of self, saying he wants actors to stretch by playing someone from another culture. (“Every culture has come up with solutions to the problems of mortality in (having) goddesses, gods; constructs which explain the world and protect us.” This leaves Zinn
asking, ”What is it which allows one culture to think it permissible to annihilate another?”).
But he suggests, at least on stage, bridges to distant characters can be short, fusing the real self with the fictional character. “It’s not so much the ‘What if’ – what if I were a king, or a criminal. If you are Cassius, let's say, always second to Caesar, you ask yourself why am I always second to him? Why are my desires
and needs not as well met?”
Transaction, he says, is “attention to the other; listening, responding; giving and receiving energy.” Surrender is opening to “how vulnerable we are,” (to mortality, to others’ opinions, to loss). "When we lose any of the vital lie, it strips protection away, and creates surrender. For instance, losing love is losing the transactional being in your life; we no longer have the person who validates us, protects our identities from mortality. You're alone, thrown back on your own individuation.”
Zinn says he fell into theater. “I was a musician; I really enjoyed the sense of flow, of surrender in music, but I began to see theater as more intellectually compelling; more complex stories could be told than in a song. Theater is wonderful when it works – and there is plenty of bad theater – because you are
breathing the same air as the actors.”
Zinn’s own Equity acting debut came playing Danny in the original off-Broadway production of David Mamet's “Sexual Perversity In Chicago” starring F. Murray Abraham. Zinn appeared on Broadway in “The Suicide” starring Derek Jacobi. At the moment, he prefers cinema because “better work is done there.” He notes theater is “getting more cinematic. Pieces can get out of the box set, go all over the place,” such as with “Danny Casolaro Died for You,” one of the last plays he directed at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. “The play travels to various places in 90 minutes,” but interestingly, Zinn says, would not do as well as a two-hour film, as it would in “long-form TV drama, more like a novel.”
As a director, he developed plays for several theaters, but is best known for his work at W.H.A.T. where he was artistic director for 23 years. Zinn parted ways with the theater over creative differences in 2011, a few years after its multi-million dollar Julie Harris stage was built.
Now teaching theater at Clark University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Zinn, who lives in Orleans with his wife and two children, says ending with W.H.A.T. gave him time to complete his 20-year book project. He will direct a film with actors from the Harbor Stage Company in Wellfleet, and he’d like to
start workshops based on his book. ... See MoreSee Less
Glenn Alterman's short play, "UNFAMILIAR FACES" has been selected to be part of a wonderful event celebrating the historic Circle Rep Theater Company; CIRCLING BACK: A CELEBRATION OF CIRCLE REP AND IT’S RIPPLES.
AMY SALTZ is directing the play. It will star JONATHAN HADARY and LOU LIBERATORE (reprising the role he originated for Circle Rep).
"Unfamiliar Faces" was developed at Circle Rep and received its first production there. It went on to win the Key West Theater Festival Short Play Award and was a finalist at the Actors Theater of Louisville Ten-Minute Play Contest. It has received scores of productions.
I’m truly honored to be sharing the stage with such highly esteemed playwrights, (who will have excerpts from their plays performed). LANFORD WILSON (Book of Days), CRAIG LUCAS (Reckless), WILLIAM M. HOFFMAN (As Is), A.R. GURNEY (What I Did Last Summer) and WILLIAM MASTRISOMONE (The Wool Gatherer).
Speakers will include Jeff Daniels, Tanya Berezin, Peter Askins, Jeffrey Sweet, John Rando, Dennis Parichy, William Carden, Jennifer von Mayrhauser, Stephanie Gordon, Burke Pearson, Danny Irvine, Leonard Jacobs, Shay Gines, Chris Harcum, and Marshall W. Mason!
The event is being produced by The Articulate Theater Company. It should be a wonderful evening, please come and enjoy and remember the greatness that was the Circle Rep Theater Company.
For more information about the event and to order tickets copy to your browser-
www.articulatetheatre.com/circling-back.html ... See MoreSee Less
from BROADWAY.COM/DETROIT - September 17, 2015
by BWW News Desk
Matrix Theatre Company is pleased to announce that internationally renowned playwright, Caridad Svich returns to Detroit October 6 - 13 to workshop her new bilingual play, agua de luna (psalms for the rouge) with the show's director, Sherrine Azab.
Caridad Svich won an Obie Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2012 and in addition to being a playwright, is a critic, editor, songwriter, and translator. Her plays explore themes of biculturalism and construction of identity. Matrix commissioned Svich to write a new, bilingual play inspired by the spirit of southwest Detroit. October marks her second of three residencies in Detroit at Matrix Theatre Company.
"We are really pleased that she will also be spending time working with the Matrix Teen Company," said Director of Education, Andrea Scobie. "The group is really looking forward to working with such a revered artist."
Sherrine Azab, the show's director, is delighted to begin working with Svich as well. "I am so excited to be directing this new play by the extraordinary playwright Caridad Svich," said Azab. "She has created a very intricate and intimate world, and I can't wait to bring it to life at the Matrix Theatre."
Azab is focused on the creation of devised and original performance. Her work has been seen locally as well as in Seattle, New York City, and Berlin. She lives in Detroit with her partner and collaborator Jake Hooker where they run their theatre company, A Host of People, and produce experimental art and theatre. This project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Michigan Humanities Council. agua de luna (psalms for the rouge) receives its world premiere as a part of Matrix Theatre's 25th Anniversary Season and runs from February 26 through March 20, 2016.
agua de luna (psalms for the rouge) is a part of Matrix Theatre Company's D*Versity initiative. D*Versity is made possible in part by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities of Michigan Humanities Council. ... See MoreSee Less