Ludovia Journal #2

This is my second Journal entry for Ludovia, a class I’ll be teaching in a few weeks. Ludovia means “playful path” or “playful way”. I have no illusions that this is a new path or that this is the path. The class is simply a combination of my favorite practices; they are techniques that helped me imagine more clearly, and in doing so, helped me play. In the last journal entry, I wrote briefly about my childhood, and it follows that I should now write about some experiences after leaving school.

Armed with a degree in experimental theater, my job prospects were somewhat obscure, so I decided that I would first enjoy one last summer vacation at home in California. During that summer, I was visited by a few of my closest friends from New York, and I played the tour guide in my old stomping grounds. We went hiking, biking, farming, eating, exploring and we embarked on childhood adventures with my childhood friends. Recharged with the spirit of the west, I returned to New York to begin my life as a professional actor.

I lived the next 5 years in Brooklyn, working odd jobs and performing odd shows. I earned very little wealth and security, but I managed to build more than my fair share of community and resilience. One job in particular, the Mettawee River Theatre Company, became my second home. The two directors, Ralph Lee and Casey Compton, eventually grew So much in my esteem that I consider them mentors and family. My audition for their company was unlike any I’d attended, before or since. I was invited to their Greenwich village apartment and asked to have a seat in a corner of their living room. Everything in the apartment was radiant with stories. There were puppets and masks and rugs and old books and wooden furniture and all of it had been properly used. In my years in New York City, I’d had the good fortune to be invited into some beautiful, unimaginably wealthy homes, but this place was different. Every object sung of a life well lived. These were artists.

I was asked to perform two classical monologues and sing a song. This was typical of a ensemble company audition, but I could tell this was something different because between each piece, Ralph and Casey asked me more about my life and less about my talent. Maybe that isn’t a meaningful distinction to people outside of the profession, but I realized in that room that I was auditioning myself instead of my role. I suppose it might feel like going to a job interview to be an electrical engineer and being asked mostly about why you love dogs.

There was a practical reason and a philosophical reason for this. Because the company operates out of a rural farmhouse in the Summer, all company members are expected to cook, clean, co-manage the house, and live with each other for a six week tour. During that time, we would each have to be fully ourselves in front of each other and we had to enjoy our labor. Any auditor had to be very careful to cast the right kind of ensemble.

The second part of the audition was the real test of skill. They led me to a different part of their apartment and pointed me to a desk with four handmade masks. Each had an entirely different color and mood, but they were all half-masks, meaning they were open below the nose and left the bearer’s mouth and chin exposed. Ralph said that I should try each mask on, look at myself in a full-length mirror, and choose one that I would like to work with. It is a very different thing to see a mask on a desk versus mask on a face. Sometimes the spirit of the mask is clear, and sometimes it is not; every mask reacts differently to every face. I tried each, and picked the one where I recognized myself the least. It was blue, with big cheeks and a large forehead. I felt like a medieval baker or maybe a money lender.

Then they asked me to play. They said “Explore who you can become with this new face. If you want to make sounds, make sounds, but don’t use too many words. If you get stuck, just try something different and keep exploring. We won’t give you guidance, but we will encourage you from time to time”. I played for the next forty minutes

It was paradise.

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