ZHAO BUSINESS – THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG, PART 6

In this blog post by Tony Award-winner, BD Wong, THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO actor shares the concerns, demands and high emotion—anxiety, fear, hope, anticipation, worry—that often surface when bringing a production to life. (Please note that this entry was written during the Company’s time at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, our co-producer for this provocative Chinese epic.)

THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO is currently running at the Playhouse in the Weiss Theatre through August 3. You can purchase tickets by clicking here.

ELEMENTS OF THE DRESS REHEARSAL

By the end of Tuesday afternoon we indeed got through tech-ing the entire play, but there was no surplus time to rehearse anything additionally, let alone to run Le Whole Shebang before Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. This means that Tuesday night we will be running through the entire play for the first time. An invited audience will be present, which is good for finally gauging the response, but this of course means one’s adrenaline and stress are ratcheted up considerably due not only to the “unknown factor,” but to the dramatic placement of the process’s final puzzle piece—that long-awaited entrance of the actor’s cruel dominatrix: the audience and her judgment. It, of course, matters not whether the audience is made up of paying customers or your friends and family. The anticipation of judgment pretty much feels the same. There is a kind of “Stockholm Syndrome” phenomenon that often happens when you spend four weeks acting in a show (or even months working on a movie): you almost always fall in love with your captor. Any shred of objectivity you had when you entered the process is now colored by your chemistry with your fellow actors, affection for the costumes, even your comfort with the weather of your surroundings or the theater’s provided housing! I don’t think that there is an actor who, in some way or other, doesn’t become so immersed in the process of a production that she easily convinces herself it is wonderful across the board (or, at the very least, desperately hopes so). You try to be self-critical, you try to be objective about things you’d do differently (if only you were the director). But to me, these things pale in comparison to your invariable affection for what you’re doing. It’s very sweet, actually. It is your job to do your best work, it is your job to support the production and your fellow actors, it is your job to believe in every aspect of it and to, in fact, love it. Trust me when I say that most of the time, none of this is a gigantic leap.

More often than I’d like to admit, it is at this point in the process—that first fateful “open dress rehearsal”—that the gorgeous castle you’ve ensconced yourself in, complete with its impenetrable moat and frolicking koi fish, vanishes cruelly, leaving only, to your shock and dismay, you, a handful of well-meaning actors who are also all “making a go of it,” and an audience who doesn’t find the jokes amusing, isn’t moved by the drama, or simply doesn’t get it.

I believe, if I am an accurate polltaker, everyone in this acting company nervously feels the same way I do: that the play holds enormous potential, but that we need the audience to tell us what we’ve got (and what we don’t got). Some of us struggle with the language as I do; some of us aren’t sure if certain highly theatrical moments in the play that we are attempting to sell with great commitment will, in fact, be “bought.” But to our core, we do believe that we have an opportunity to co-create a rather special evening of theater, if we just keep trudging up the mountain of our process with our basket of humble, theatrical belongings fastened to our back, and don’t hesitate or drop the proverbial ball. The one person who I feel unflinchingly knows that it will all be great is director Carey Perloff. Of her many gifts, enthusiasm and fearlessness are two of her most amazing. She has impressive leadership qualities. She could sell you a bridge spanning two uninhabited pieces of land with no water underneath it, cars to drive across it, or people to drive said non-existent cars.

(No, I’m not likening A.C.T.’s production of The Orphan of Zhao, or my relationship with Carey Perloff, to a bad bridge investment.)

I am constantly pondering and processing all of the above, and feeling a fair amount of tension in my body as a result. My neck and shoulders are always stiff, often extremely so, and this condition is exacerbated by certain physical tasks in the show, which of course must be repeated. I am overwhelmed by: the play’s emotional demands, my nervousness as we run out of time to refine things before an audience comes, my default desire to give my mom and family face time, and the many press and special appearances that have come with the job (headlining in a play and then turning down the press requests because you’re too tired from rehearsal gives you no leg to stand on if your production is under-attended, so I turn down none).

I remember feeling a different color of the same tension when I was in Washington, D.C. with M. Butterfly (as well as previewing on Broadway), and during the Broadway previews for Face Value (both plays by David Henry Hwang). In both of these projects I felt some version of a responsibility to “make the play work.” I don’t mean that the plays were less than dramaturgically sturdy on their own; what I mean is that in both of those plays, I felt the weight of being central to its ideas and aspirations, and I felt, in some way, I could or would mess things up if I was sub-par. I feel a similar burden inThe Orphan of Zhao, playing a character that is spinning in its emotional core. There are also feelings that naturally come with being in plays alongside other Asian-American actors; our investment to excel and prove ourselves in an industry that often shuns us is palpable. To be one of the senior members in a play that features Asian-American performers, all who are hoping to disprove the intolerable notion that Asian-Americans are inherently devoid of commercial appeal, indeed comes with some stress. And it also happens that in the three projects mentioned above, I played some of the larger roles I’ve ever played.

As I described earlier, visits from donors and/or board members are a tradition at A.C.T., not only at the tech rehearsals once the show has loaded into the theater, but even earlier as well, such as in the exploratory process of the rehearsal room (or, as in our case, the rehearsals held at the scene shop on the set). I frankly find this extremely invasive, because for me the actors’ process is one that should be as private as possible—you’re so exposed and vulnerable because of anything from early failed attempts at comedy to emoting rather messily in order to try and find a character’s pain. You’re simply not ready to share what you’re working on with anyone. The whole point of rehearsals is to provide a safe place for actors to try and explore and fail.

Having said all that, the success and existence of a theater as an institution is made or broken by the enthusiasm, hard work, generosity and engagement of its donors and board members. They are the absolutely crucial entity that makes it happen. Their passion for the theater is also most often directly related to their affection for it as a “magic place”—and the rehearsal room is the most special place to experience that magic. So the rehearsal door is usually wide open at A.C.T. and we actors must embrace it, because it is a good thing. It is not easy to explain to people why it’s so uncomfortable, though! What’s the big deal, right? I guess I keep coming back to the idea that the acting process (like the theater itself) is made on elements of magic. And there ain’t a self-respecting magician who’s gonna let you into her little workshop and expose all her stuff! But again, somebody’s gotta pay for all of it.

The afternoon of the dress rehearsal, my inevitable, mounting tension crests in a meltdown of sorts. I realize in retrospect that, aside from the stress inherent in the process (and this process is tripping along without incident, thank goodness), I am also carrying around with me constant, dark, kind-of-awful feelings that are unique to playing this particular role. I have never experienced this before, the onstage feelings manifesting themselves in “real life.” But I actually find myself almost always upset or irritable and actually weepy. The worst thing is, I don’t even notice that this is abnormal! I just walk around most of the day feeling like going back to bed and starting the day over (not getting enough sleep isn’t helping, either).

One thing adding to my stress is a fear of being underprepared. I am confident we can do the play without much messing up tonight, but I personally don’t feel the performance is ready, that the layers of material have been fully mined. Some actors believe that this is okay, that you actually use that audience time to start mining those things, and I understand that. All I can say is that regarding this particular production, I was hoping to be much further along.

My three main sources of anxiety come from 1. The language of the play, which I have memorized but I can still feel my mind reaching for (that goes away after proper repetition, rehearsal, and performance); 2. Tracking the emotional path of the character I’m playing, knowing how the character is feeling from point A to point B and so on—this is something that really needs time, but again I wanted to have tracked it better by now; and 3. As the sound department continues do its work to set our mike levels and find the proper balances, I have a mistrustful anxiety that we might be “over-miked’ (over amplified). I have no proof that we are, I’m just worried we are. I think all of these things are actually related. Like all actors, I am on a quest for what I consider to be “the truth” of this play, and if these three things are not mastered, effortless, unnoticeable, and cared for properly, a sense of “untruth” can surface. When this is happening, I don’t realize that these things are all related to the same search for something real. It is only as I look back after the fact that it dawns on me.

The only thing I can think of is to use the dinner break, before the dress rehearsal, to walk through the whole play by myself on the set, quietly say all of the words, track my physical checklist in conjunction with my verbal, and give myself a little run-thru of my own. This is a normal thing for me. It appeals to my sense of logic and really can help a person iron out wrinkles. It’s also rather meditative. When one is not feeling in control, doing something deliberate such as this creates a semblance of it.

But as I start this simple process, I am ordered off the set by a crewmember who behaves brusquely. There is a rule that people can’t be on the set for insurance reasons, and of course my defensive point of view—that I’ve worked in X amount of theaters over X years and have never heard of such an absurd thing—means nothing to anyone (nor should it). I am also even more freaked out by her demeanor and the fact that she launches into kicking me out without an introductory explanation of who the hell she even is. My frustration escalates, and I actually succumb to what feels at the time like a perfectly natural state of being: sobbing. This is wildly entertaining to me now as I look back on it. I definitely still easily maintain that the gatekeeper was unnecessarily rude, but what amuses me now is how fragile I actually was.

Remembering that a huge contingent of drama students from Lincoln High School, my alma mater, and their teachers, and oh yes, my mother, are all coming to see the “invited dress” does not buoy me. I quickly realize that the dress rehearsal will just have to be what it is; there will be no heroic, miraculous opening night–style, transcendent performance. We will be happy if 1. We don’t have to stop in the middle; 2. We tell the story clearly and effectively; and 3. Nobody in the audience throws anything wet at us.

And that’s basically what happened. When a performance begins at this stage of the process, there is a scary, thrilling sense of danger fueled by the general human fear of the unknown, and the faith that you have indeed done most of the work necessary to avoid disastrous results. One does not normally dive off a rocky cliff in Acapulco without having learned how to do so properly (I hope), and even so, there has to be a first time. Will your lack of seasoned timing at this particular task cause you to plunge headlong into the lagoon when the tide is suddenly out? Will a sudden gust of wind blow your hapless body so close to the face of the terrain that it snags your thong, stripping you naked of your dignity?

No animals, actors, or divers were harmed during the dress rehearsal of The Orphan of Zhao. If there is one thing to be said about this company of actors, and the entire crew, both groups are extremely dependable. Everyone carried her or his weight. Everything went as smoothly as possible. I felt for the first time many small revelations about the continuity of the story as we stitched it all together as a team. At the end, as I greeted the Theater Kids and my mother (who clearly was very pleased with this show that she had been waiting to see with such motherly anticipation), I sheepishly felt we could’ve done so much better, but in fact we could not have, given the circumstances of where we are in the process. It was exactly what it was supposed to be. And we were all still safe, performing for our friends and family.

Before performing, the drama of acting can create surprising, disproportionate anxiety, but I often find it really easy to shake any nervousness I feel by remembering something rather simple; that what we are doing is not so monumentally important as to warrant such fear, and that furthermore and most importantly, “no one is going to die.”

In real life, anyway.

Stan Egi ("Tu'an Gu") and ORPHAN OF ZHAO Director Carey Perloff on set. Photo by BD Wong.

Stan Egi (“Tu’an Gu”) and ORPHAN OF ZHAO Director Carey Perloff on set. Photo by BD Wong.

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ZHAO BUSINESS – THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG, PART 5

We’re thrilled to host blog posts written by Tony Award-winner BD Wong, star of THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO, as he chronicles the creative process on stage, in the rehearsal room and behind the scenes. Please note that this entry was written during the Company’s time at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, our co-producer for this sweeping Chinese epic. THE ORPHAN OF ZHAO begins performances at the Playhouse on Tuesday, July 8.

You can purchase your tickets by clicking here.

SECOND AND THIRD DAY IN THE THEATER: TECH-TEQUE 

So we start  tech at the beginning of the play on Saturday morning and slowly work our way through every moment—the actors’ performances, the lighting cues, sound cues, scenery shifts, and costume changes (many of the costume changes are “quick changes” as there are a lot of actors doubling roles in this company)—gently folding them all together like ingredients in the batter of a soufflé. I believe the goal is to finish the play by the end of Sunday, basically one day per act, leaving time for revisions, a margin for error, and enough time for a proper dress rehearsal before the first preview performance. That is about eight-and-a-half hours to tech each of the two (approximately) sixty-five minute acts for each day. Why does it take so long?

The tech process is partly tedious because it is in a constant state of stopping and starting. Repeating a part of the show that hasn’t been entirely ironed out yet is complicated, because in order to go over any given portion again, everything in every department has to be restored to where it was at the beginning of that sequence; and, as a play like ours is always in a state of forward motion (with lighting, scenic, sound, prop, costume, hair, makeup, and music elements all constantly shifting from point A to point B to point C and so on), working through the entire production bit-by-bit requires the constant, painstaking coordination of every department. Picture, if you will, an actor rushing offstage during tech and doing a full makeup, wig, and costume quick change with the assistance of dressers and hairdressers; completing it successfully in the small window of time he has to make his next entrance; high fiving everyone—and then, just as he’s about to reenter, hearing that we are going back to repeat a part of the show right before this all happened. It can be maddening, but it’s also pretty fun.

Here is my attempt at recreating a typical moment in a tech rehearsal.

(This basically happened the way it is described, with minor artistic license.)

Midway through the rehearsal, the Stage Manager announces where in the play the tech rehearsal will resume and continue from.

Stage Manager (on a “god mike” that everyone in the building can hear): Okay. Thank you for your patience, we have fixed the problem with the drop rolling up and are ready to continue. So we are going to take it again from the point in the scene between BD and Julyana when BD exits the house through the curtain, so we can raise the “mountain drop” again. Can we have BD and Julyana back on stage, please?

BD reenters, finishing a donut.

BD: Hello again.

Assistant Stage Manager (stepping onto the stage from the wings): Dick, Julyana thought we were moving on. She’s making her costume change for the next scene.

Stage Manager: Bring her back please, Megan, just tell her she doesn’t have to change back all the way.

Julyana (eventually entering): Here I am! Sorry. . . . I thought we weren’t doing it again.

Stage Manager: That’s okay, we just want to look at one thing again. BD, whenever you are ready.

BD: Okay. (Speaking from the script to Julyana, who is no longer dressed for the scene as his wife, but is now dressed as an old man.) “. . . Maybe he will have some advice. . . . ”

BD goes to the curtain and opens it. Before his exit, he and Julyana share a moment of meaningful eye contact.

BD closes the curtain in front of him, exiting the scene, and the lights shift indicating the end of that scene. Julyana exits in the dark to go to her designated backstage quick- change area (where the dresser and hairdresser wait to assist her with her costume and wig change), but she does not change, since she already did before. Continuing to the next scene, BD starts to climb the ladder, in front of a slowly rising backdrop that is painted like the mountain in a Chinese watercolor. The Stage Manager coordinates the lighting and rising of the mountain backdrop with the actors’ movements. He cues the lights and scenery according to what has been decided/designed, speaking to the different departments with the aid of a headset. The live music is self-cued visually by the musicians. The transition represents BD leaving Julyana behind in their house, and him traveling to (the character played by) Sab’s house. When the scene shift is complete and BD has reached the second level on the ladder, Sab and Brian enter from another part of the second level to meet BD for the next scene. The Stage Manager speaks into the god mike.

Stage Manager: Can we hold please? Thank you, BD.

BD climbs back down the ladder to the stage level, assuming they will be going back again and trying to get back to the secret place where he hid his donut in the set. Sab and Brian go back offstage obediently, “restoring” to where they were before they entered.

Director (to all involved, a voice in the dark, enthusiastic about the “rising mountain effect”): It’s beautiful, guys! Hold on. . . .

Set Designer (to Director): Carey, does BD have to close the curtain? If the curtain is closed, then the audience sitting house right can’t see the mountain drop go up.

Director: BD, leave the curtain open, honey. It’s so beautiful when the mountain drop goes up.

BD: But I’m leaving the house. How can we have that “goodbye” moment with Julyana if I don’t close the curtain? Don’t I need to close the curtain?

Director: I know, but it’s blocking the mountain drop.

BD: Argh. Okay. How about if I just stand and we look at each other for a moment and I wait for the lights to go out before I move, rather than leaving with the “front door open”? The lights go out, right?

Director: Yes, the lights will go out. Yeah, do that.

BD: Okay!

BD “goes back in the house.”

Stage Manager: Okay, can we take it again from the same place?

Julyana (coming back on, still dressed as an old man): I’m here this time!

Stage Manager: Very good! Whenever you are ready, BD.

BD: “Maybe he will have some advice. . . . ”

BD goes to the “doorway.” BD and Julyana look at each other meaningfully for a prolonged moment. The lights do not go out. The mountain drop starts going up. The musicians start playing the music cue.

Stage Manager: Hold, please.

Everyone stops.

Director: BD, you have to exit and go to the ladder so Dick can call the light cue and cue the mountain drop.

BD: . . . But I thought the light was going to go out . . . argh. Can I—

Director: NO. You can’t close the curtain. It’s blocking the mountain drop.

BD: Argh.

BD resignedly goes from the “doorway” to the ladder.

Stage Manager: BD, we need to take it from the same place as before.

BD resignedly goes from the ladder back into the house.

BD crosses to his “hiding place.”

Assistant Stage Manager (popping out from the wings): You can’t eat on the set.

BD: Argh.

End of Scene.

 

Daisuke Tsuji, Cindy Im, Nick Gabriel (at the gong), Orville Mendoza, Paolo Montalban, and Marie-France Arcilla. Photo by BD WONG


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The Artist’s Journey – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #7

Ayad Akhtar’s THE WHO & THE WHAT ended a terrific run at the Playhouse on Sunday, March 9. We were incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to share this world-premiere production with our audiences. Similarly, we’ve been lucky to have had cast member Bernard White share his own very personal thoughts and experiences with us during his time here via beautifully honest and intimate journal entries. Below is his final submission. Thank you, Bernie, for your openness and trust, and for bringing “Afzal Jatt” to vibrant life!

By Bernard White

6 – (final) notes from out of time in the who & the what

sunday march 9, 2014  11:57PM

in closing.

was in bed but got up to write this.

past tired.  over tired.  so sleep might be a challenge.

the voice was dragging a bit tonight, somewhat scraggly.  not sharp or bright.

enunciation was sloppy in several places.  don’t think the audience understood the word “perwert”.

good acting is a mystery.  none of my business.  the aim is all.

is it the aramaic or the latin word for sin that describes it as to miss the mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Megan, Sam, Kendra and I)

I am a sinner in that I am constantly missing the mark.

***

this odd emptiness.  this moving on after growing so close as a family.

the life of the theater is a constant moving on.  the secret is to guard against being jaded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Sam) 

to still invest and risk growing close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Meera birthday)

not worrying too much that the trunk is already packed to overflowing.

time to sleep.

good night on the who and the what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

monday march 10, 2014 9:45

in the am.

doctor’s office waiting room.  Jackie’s been coughing ever since we got back from Phoenix.

she lost her voice last night.  she’s sounding like Margot Kidder.

I’m feeling the beginning of something myself.

the law of the theater.

the immune system battling battling in cahoots with the gods (there is no god but God) of art, for the run of the show.

show over.  everybody relaxes.

the body and mind cry out for slowing down.

time enough to slow down.

my privileged life.

***

the fragility and vulnerability of those in need of medical care.

God help us to be better caregivers for each other.

as a country, as a planet, as husbands and wives and parents and children;

there’s something profoundly wrong with how the culture is operating.  how we are treating each other.

constantly masking our weakness.  overblowing our strength.

***

“you’ll writer another book, behti.  one with more wisdom.  I know you will.”

***

so the play is over and these notes are crawling to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gonna hang on another week in beautiful La Jolla.  enjoy its ocean air.  its beauty.

catch our breath.  Jackie and I.

it seems, here comes the sun.

when we began rehearsal on January 14, my big sister Dawn Marguerite White was still so very alive.

she had plans to come see us here in La Jolla.

she’s gone missing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

nobody knows where she’s gone. 

Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroasterism.  none of them knows.

Paul McCartney, Tone-Loc, the Dalai Lama, Tony Danza, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Heather Locklear.  they don’t know.

not even Will Ferrell.

nobody knows where she’s gone.

maybe Afzal Jatt.

he and I have felt her in the audience almost every night.

hard to make out the faces that are not near our bright blue island.

***

what I will not miss about La Jolla;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. waiting at traffic lights 

2. mall parking.

***

I involuntarily let out a scream at the final matinee.  when Zarina left the kitchen.  sign of an undisciplined actor.

I believe it would have been more powerful to contain it (as Kimberly had guided me), to not show off.

I am a young actor.  following impulses.  not following impulses.  the art of acting.

so much to learn and so very little time to learn it in.

such nonsense.

I have all the time in the world.

onward in

love,

Bernie

let’s let Hafiz have the final word. . . (for March 10 as translated by Daniel Ladinksy)

BASICALLY USELESS

They were happier, all the mouths I saw in a
certain city.

For they all woke up one day and mostly forgot
what they were for besides… just kissing.

And in between their rounds of sweet romantic
play, they — all those mouths, 

appeared to have few lingering impulses, except
for a little food.

That is — talking, everyone came to realize, was
basically useless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jackie and a baby and others at Dawn’s memorial celebration in Phoenix)
 

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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The Artist’s Journey – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #6

By Bernard White

6 – notes from out of time in the who & the what

thursday march 6, 2014 4:07PM

at the peets coffee in La Jolla Village Mall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

is that what this place is called? 

a parking lot full of palm trees.

***

I had something very important to say.

I’ve now forgotten what it was.

***

we are down to our last 6 chances to be present in the world of this play before these La Jolla audiences.

but who’s counting.

I am counting.  we’ll live this story 6 more times.

so much can happen between now and the curtain call light cue on sunday around 9PM.

so many of our lives will change in ways we may never have imagined.

***

here I am, Lord.

***

the dogma of religion is absolutely an absurd addiction of mankind to cope with the ancient and still present overwhelming  mystery of living.

the rituals, the mystical aspects come as close to the truth that I have ever experienced.

whether it’s a stranger buddhist monk from nepal with a nice smile who leads the service for your dead sister or whether it’s a stranger catholic priest at her bedside moments before you take her off life support.

I don’t want to know why your way is THE way.  I don’t want you to teach me anything.  I don’t want to witness you mask your insecurity with your life’s decisions by trying to convince me.

as if there really were any more safety in numbers.

I crave your kindness.  I crave your love.  I crave your gentleness and even your vulnerability in the face of one of life’s greatest mysteries.

death.

I need you to get out of the way as much as you are able and allow for the Grace of God.

though, not even your awkward lack of wisdom can obscure the healing and loving Grace of God.

thank you, God.

for Your Grace.

***

THE WHO AND THE WHAT.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

this play is all about the who and the what. 

I believe it is a love story that moves from the what to the who.

as Galway Kinnell put it;

“from love, you think, into enduring Love.”

it’s like the lower case and the upper case with the word “god”.

there is no god but God.

there is no love but Love.

time for us all to relax.

***

it’s 4:24.  time for me to go home.

been out all day.  saw WINTER’S TALE at THE OLD GLOBE.

enjoyed it with a house full of eager students.  the best audiences.

the innocence.  the eagerness.  the honesty.

young man next to me, Ken, was curious as to what time period the play was set in.  was curious why they were wearing modern clothes.

out of time.

***

Shakespeare, in his later days, playing with forms and structure.

setting up tragedy and turning it to comedy.

people dying.  people being brought back to life.

no explanation necessary.

why not.

seriously.  why not.

“oh that men could be as free as fleas on the bodies of men.”

also from Galway Kinnell.  his THE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES.  I highly recommend it.

***

as far as Afzal’s concerned;  Ryan was all about THE WHAT.  perhaps on an unconscious level, but, nevertheless, to Afzal, Ryan was all about the what.

his sophistication.  his east coast sharpness of mind.  his confidence.  his liberal cultural catholic laziness.

Ryan could talk about god, but failed to give Afzal an experience of god.

Eli is all about the who.  the who.  faith.  spirituality.  mysticism.  “serving people, rather than trying to bring them into the ummah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe there is room for even more conflict between Eli and Zarina.  between me and Eli.  between me and Zarina 

conflict is all about the what.

a hope for the planet is to see below the illusion, the mask, of the what.

to tenderly love the who.

amen.

we can survive with all the conflicts of the what if we love the who.

***

friday march 7, 2014 12:26

in the am.

5 to go.  now 5.

time to sleep.

***

12:26PM

no joke.  I am writing again exactly 12 hours later.

at peets, again.

so much life has happened since I last wrote.  who knows what horrors and joys in the Ukraine.

the cast had breakfast at Elijah’s this morning.  listened to each other’s stories of starting out in acting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

such courage, vulnerability and strength. 

what people do with their precious lives.

it never ceases to amaze me.

***

okay, I have 20 minutes before I pick Mohammed up to go to Friday prayers so. . .

let’s talk about God and sex and love;

I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.

***

got an email for Meera with a link to her Broken Box Mime Theater Troupe.

watched the youtube video.

this is what I’m talking about;

the courage and risks and visions and dreams that ignite us and guide us.

the things we run from in order to be successful.

God, make me brave.

God, make us brave.  to take the risks of the “unsuccessful.”

to express that thing which unexpressed is the cause of war and other tragedies.

so much to say.

time to be quiet and listen.

***

saturday march 8, 2014 12:14

in the am.

4 to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

feel like I’m learning and discovering a lot as we continue, gear up for the final stretch of the river, this weekend.

***

religion is all about the what.

God is all about the who.

unconditional love.

***

at the mosque today.

example of being concerned with the what;

the imam reporting that some folk last week were handing out bibles outside the mosque after friday prayers.  trying to provoke, he said, the congregation to react negatively.  he claims they were trying to start a fight.

example of being concerned with the who;

the imam told them, it was up to them not to fight back.

example of being concerned with the what;

christian militants are decapitating and mutilating muslim corpses in the streets of cities in Central African Republic.

example of being concerned with the who;

a catholic priest is shielding muslims in his church, risking his own life, fending off the so called “christian” militants.

***

there was a woman in a hijab (the headscarf) sitting in the front row house right on Thursday night.

the mostly white audience was laughing in places that made me very uncomfortable.  they laughed at the line “in Pakistan, she would be killed for this, killed.”

I wonder what they found funny.  perhaps nervous laughter?

but there were other places they were laughing and my attention went to this one woman in the hijab.

I was troubled.

***

I could care less about “the what” of religions.

I want to grower deeper in my embrace of “the who.”  the people living in faith.

the nuances, perhaps, between the arabic words deen and iman.

religion and faith.

***

Jackie just said good night.

we were watching the CNN series about her hometown of Chicago.  Kimberly, our director’s hometown as well.

Robert Redford executive produced it.

talking about the gang violence.  the war zones in the city.

the learnt behavior in the gang mentality.

“when one prefers one’s own children to the children of another, war is near.” -the mahabarta

to see below the illusion, the mask, of the what.

to tenderly love the who.

as Galway Kinnell puts it;

and if you commit then, as we did, the error
of thinking,
one day all this will only be memory,
learn,
as you stand
at this end of the bridge which arcs,
from love, you think, into enduring love,
learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come; to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones. 

The still undanced cadence of vanishing.

***

Jackie’s sleepy head sprouting hair in the moonlight.

***

next week we will walk the red carpet in front of the el capitan theater in Hollywood at the premiere of CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER.

press people will ask me questions.  to bide their time.  as they wait for the real movie stars to arrive.

their eyes will be wandering from me and my wife.

looking for that shinier object. 

in desperate search of the what.

God/Allah/Mother, give me the grace to see the who of these press people.

to remember principal Liz Doezer doing her work on the south side of chicago.

walking barefoot trying to keep her children safe.

no red carpet.

only love,

Bernie

learn to reach deeper
into the sorrows
to come; to touch
the almost imaginary bones
under the face, to hear under the laughter
the wind crying across the black stones. Kiss
the mouth
which tells you, here,
here is the world. This mouth. This laughter. These temple bones.

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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The Artist’s Journey – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #5

In the wake of heartbreaking loss, THE WHO & THE WHAT’s Bernard White shares this tender, bittersweet submission. We thank him for his poignant candor and extend our deepest, warmest sympathies.

By Bernard White

5- notes from out of time in the who & the what

friday 2/28/14 12:22

in the am

can’t sleep.  feeling wrecked.

the sweet tears have turned bitter.

I’m exhausted and empty and angry and spent.  my body is sad.  approaching inconsolable.

***

surrounded by such love and generosity.

in the epilogue, I look at pictures.  they are personal family photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Ivy, Mari, Mom, Ingrid, Bernie in Dad’s arms, Ramona, DAWN and Errol)

3 of the 9 of my immediate family have now exited.  mom and dad and now Dawn.

Dawn was only 71.  she looked to be in her early 50′s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jackie and Dawn in front of the world)

surreal mystery.

the grief threatens to destroy my family.

Yeats speaks from the grave;

“things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned
the best lack all conviction, while the worse
are full of passionate intensity…

the darkness drops again but now I know…

and what rough best, its hour round at last
slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”

surely Dawn speaks from the beyond as well

I’ll be listening, Dawn. if my anger and sadness doesn’t break the connection.

perhaps my anger and sadness will create the connection?

***

on Tuesday night, Jackie saved me from the news until I got off stage.

it was a full show.  Dawn died just at half hour.  so she got to see the show.  thank God.  it was a good one.

***

oh to be so human.

***

I want to jump out my skin.

***

monday morning, we got a call that Dawn had had a stroke and was in a coma on life support.  with the help and generous love of the playhouse we quickly planned our trip to Phoenix.  only a little more than a 5 hour drive.  company management arranged a discounted rent a car.  Katherine drove Jackie and I to pick it up.  and we were off.

we drove cross Mars and the Sahara.  I listened to Medhi Hassan for a good portion of the trip.

a good stretch we went God mode on the ipod and of course the songs were perfect.

Leonard Cohen’s CAME SO FAR FOR BEAUTY.

“I came so far for beauty
I left so much behind
My patience and my family
My masterpiece unsigned
I thought I’d be rewarded
For such a lonely choice
And surely she would answer
To such a very hopeless voice
I practiced all my sainthood
I gave to one and all
But the rumours of my virtue
They moved her not at all”

I’ve forgotten the other songs now.  all of them perfect.  true to iGod mode.

tuesday a day of profound decisions.

Doctor told us Dawn’s stroke was massive.  he took us through the various tests for brain function.  if she survived, she would have to be tube fed and on a ventilator.

the four of us;  Ramona, Ivy, Jackie and I listened close to God.  talked to other family members on the phone.  listened close to the doctors words.

“if this were your sister, what would you do” Ramona asked the doctor, full of strength and faith in her question.

“I would let her go.”

we took her off the machines.

I am suddenly self-conscious of how personal this all is.

what else am I going to write about right now?  why else am I not sleeping?

not feeling crystal clear about the balance of lightness and passion in Act 2 Scene 4 is not going to make me lose sleep.

my precious gypsy warrior woman sister Dawn, the woman we recognized, left us this week and the family is heart broken.

the grief is spitting and clawing like a frightened cat with only patches of hair.

so much exposed skin.  red and tender.

inconsolable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*** 

I will stop writing now.  wait on sleep as I would a bus at night in a foreign land on a deserted street.  with weird cat sounds coming from a dark, unseen alley.

it’s raining here in La Jolla.  it’s 12:59

in the am.

the cat won’t be quiet.  keeping everybody up.

Lord have mercy.

***

1:17

in the am.

“. . . and I alone escaped to tell you.”

***

10:46

in the am.

so glad I don’t have to miss any shows.  if it were another play, I wouldn’t mind so much.  some plays, I would even welcome missing.

this is not one of them.

we are remembering Dawn and celebrating her life with our wonderful crazy human family in Phoenix on Monday.

Jackie and I will cross the deserts of Mars and Saudi Arabia together again.  we love it.

even to celebrate the death of my beloved sister.

I feel again the grace of God’s love this morning.  after my Jacob night of wrestling,  my Job night of cursing God’s cruelty.

“. . . and I alone escaped to tell you.”

the love of Jackie and my friends Paul and Clay and Aaron.

God can handle my wrestling with him.  God can handle my wrestling with her.

God can handle it.

my arms are not to short to box with God.

Allah can handle my human cursing.

I imagine we’ll be going several more rounds before this thing is over.

“they said I took his name in vain,
well, I don’t even know his name,
and if I did now really what’s it to you” 

Leonard Cohen’s HALLELULAH.

a reference to that song and Jeff Buckley used to be in the play.

like so many other things now missing.

***

12:55PM

today is the 28th and final day of February.

a month of openings and closings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jackie and I on the set after Opening Night)

enough.

with great love and sorrow,

and such faith and gratitude,

Bernie 

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #4

It’s the newest edition of The Artist’s Journey with THE WHO & THE WHAT cast member Bernard White. Bernard has been generous and gracious enough to share the journal entries he’s been keeping of the experiences he’s been having and the thoughts that have been brewing during his time with this Playhouse production.

There are fewer than two weeks left to catch this play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar! Experience it before it closes on March 9 and buy your tickets here.

By Bernard White

4- notes from out of time in the who & the what

saturday february 22, 2014 12:52PM

see, I would much rather see the 2/22/14.  but would rather make a thing of it than change it.

who cares.

***

at the Peets Coffee Joint in the mall.  on my way to the matinee.

I am telling myself this story;  that I am at the bottom of a treacherous and overwhelming mountain that I will finish climbing at the curtain call on sunday evening.

reality;  4 shows in two days of a play that when surrendered to, plays itself.

I have a life long track record of making things more difficult than they are.

Allahu Akhbar.

***

time to go to the theatre.  my sissy sugar free almond milk latte will come along for the ride.

***

10:39PM

family night at the theater.  the poetry of Kai’s two daughters being in the audience.  Kai, just like Afzal.

and Meera’s mother.  who knows what it means to carry on.  to be both mother and father.  Meera’s mother, just like Afzal.

Van Morrison’s THE HEALING GAME comes to mind.

***

now camped out for the night, half way up this weekend’s mountain.

so far, we haven’t lost anyone.  we’re strong.  ready for a good night’s rest.

Kai sure deserves one.  he’s a good man.  good man.

his youngest has been sick the last 4 days.  he’s driven back and forth to LA after the shows.

the absolute miracle of loving parents.  so inspiring.

Hamdullilah.

***

been thinking of these two things;

one – the first play I ever saw in my life when I was 9 years old was SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER starring my sister in the lead at Indiana State University.  Ivy and this play had a major influence on my life.

so, on Wednesday night when we opened.  opening right next door was an UCSD student production of SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER.

now that’s something.

I hope I have the chance to see the Wednesday brush up rehearsal.  that would make me very happy.

two – the second thing that’s been on my mind is the fact that my first time in La Jolla, exactly 17 years ago, I was 37 years old.

I am thinking of what a different person I was back then.  just out of a relationship.  on the prowl.  late late nights.  crazy passionate loving community.

very little sleep.

very little daylight sightseeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

now I’m married.  in bed early.  up early.  enjoying the beauty of La Jolla.

I am more myself.

though I was quite myself back then as well.

here I am, Lord.

who am I this time?

***

Mohammed, a wonderful young student here at UCSD, accompanied me to the Mosque for Friday Jumma’ah prayers. 

he showed me the ropes.  he told me about his life.  I am deeply grateful for him.

vibrant Islamic community.

***

it is good to be here.

***

so we opened on Wednesday night.

it feels good to be open.

to stay open.

to stay open.

feels good.

***

sunday 2/23/14 8:50

in the a.m.

seriously;  is it not absolutely clear and obvious that each one of us is a messenger of G-d?

Islam.  submission.  submission to what?  of course to G-d.  only to G-d.

submission to one’s calling.  the calling to be G-d’s messenger.

whether one’s an usher or on the stage management crew or an actor or director or writer.

oh the vital importance to being true to the call.

I believe where I, where many of us go wrong is in the lack of devotion to that call.  the embracing it.  submitting to it.

embracing the humility this sort of submission requires.

off broadway and broadway New York and regional theater are junk yards of people-pleasing eclipsing devotion to the call.

what do I know?

they are laboratories of commerce.  they are, in my humble opinion, far from the first half of the shahadah.

“Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa Allah”

I believe there is no God but God.

okay stop.

I can only speak for myself.  myself in regional theater.  myself in New York.

I live between the tension of relaxing into the perfection of it all and the holy striving that Dante spoke of.

it is, the play, as it should be.  as it is.

my work each day is right on time.  “here I am, Lord”.

but as Willy Loman’s wife said;  attention must be paid.

I must risk telling the truth (from my limited vision/from my true calling/my deep listening to the one God (the source/the higher power beyond my limited vision – my unconscious – my natural Self).

stop trying to please and do the thing.  do I want to be a good actor or do I want to be a good actor.

and where does kindness fit in?

I am called to be less afraid.

al Hamdullilah.

***

the question to Ayad and Reza.  do you consider yourselves Rasul Allahs?

the necessary deflection and joking.  the genuine humility underneath.  the masking over of natural human arrogance.  narcissism.

“we all got it, Eli, you’re just putting it to better use than the rest of us”

then that woman’s question to them about could their place as entertainers/academics graduate them to “peacekeepers”.

of course it could.  of course they are.

here’s a thought;  Reza and Ayad go on tour across america.  real humble tour.  not as flashy as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley.

a prius.  they drive themselves.  Gabe goes along.

smaller venues.  not a lot of hoopla.

they meditate together/individually.  they get quiet.  they then have these dialogues on art and religion and G-d.

they spread the message/the gospel of Love and humility and tolerance and wisdom beyond knowledge.

instead of going on Fox News or even the Daily Show.

***

what am I doing with MY life?

***

after the show, how I love to come home to Jackie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

during the show, how I love to be in that room, that sacred space, sharing in that miracle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pretending for real.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

so easy for me, when inspired by two lovely men like Ayad Akhtar and Reza Aslan to then prescribe and dream paths for them. 

precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand.

dear G-d;  give me the Grace to listen closer to Your directions to MY path.

the Grace for the small thing.

today, for example, this moment, for example.

the ending of this entry.

gratitude for presence.

***

5:32PM

the mountain metaphor is not useful.

gonna switch to a river.

ready to hit final stretch of the river for this week.  our sunday evening show.

rest on the banks tomorrow.  throw in, again on tuesday.

let the river take us.

***

Mike from the office gave me and the play its greatest compliment, after opening.

he said seeing the play made him want to go home and hug his child.

talk about peace keeping.

and today Meera’s sister and brother in law.  the catharsis they felt.  the healing.

their kind words.

I am letting these things touch my heart.

here I am, Lord.

so blessed and grateful.

with love,

Bernie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #3

Thanks for joining us in this latest installment of The Artist’s Journey.  Actor Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT has been generously sharing his insights, observations and experiences with us over the last few weeks as he prepares for his role as “Afzal Jatt” in this newest play by Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar.

What’s been on Bernard’s mind as Opening Night approaches? Read on and find out!

Tickets for THE WHO & THE WHAT are available by clicking here.

By Bernard White

3 – notes from out of time in the who & the what

monday february 10, 2014 6:41

in the am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

train due at 6:43.  the surfliner north to Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

when I arrived at 6:20, there was only on other man at station.

now there are about 100 men and women looking like they have some place to go.

on the platform I’m thinking about competition for survival.  how we, in the “first world,” have a rather mild experience of this.

now on the train headed north, I am surrounded by empty seats and to my left an ocean that hides its cruelty.  as well as a large part of its beauty.

Jackie will pick me up at Union Station and take me to see John who starts chemo on Wednesday.

close to overwhelmed by the wonder and mystery of it all.

approaching Oceanside.  thank you God.

***

I am thinking of those overflowing trains in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

I am thinking of the sacrifices of my father, Stanley Leonard White.

I am thinking of Jackie’s father, a World War II veteran, Milton Katzman, a Chicago cabbie who was so very proud to see his daughter pursuing her dream in the arts.

my sources and inspiration for Afzal Jatt. 

***

monday february 17, 2014 10:21PM

we have had 8 preview audiences.  the play is in good shape.

gone through quite a few exciting and brave changes in the past week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

we are ready. 

here I am, Lord.

another preview tomorrow and we open on Wednesday.

another chance to get it right.  that is;  to be present.

***

so I’m having what I call pre-post partum with Kimberly and Ayad and Jack due to leave this week.  I think Jaymi and Jill have already split.

this is the life of the circus.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Preston and Gabe behind the scenes) 

***

here’s a letter I wrote to Kimberly and Ayad, this morning, after 4 very good previews in the last 2 days;

who knows anything really?

Kimberly and Ayad,

I don’t want to be a clown.  I don’t want to be a caricature.  I don’t want to show off.

this is my concern and challenge as I move forward.

someone I trust said I was just talking and listening about 15 percent of the play.  they found that to be a high percentage.  I find it to be less than adequate.

there is such a tendency in me to perform.  to please.  to Do something.

I am currently a great admirer of Mark Rylance.

I think of his BIG ASS performance in JERUSALEM.

I said I didn’t want to be a clown.

and yet a great clown (Bill Irwin/Charlie Chaplin/Mark Rylance) is a great joy to watch.

do I need to be a better clown?

I trust you two.  I know you are pleased with what I’m doing.

how can I get better?  if you were not concerned with my ego, the fragility of my gift, what would you say to me to make my Afzal more grounded, more whole, better?  more seamlessly Afzal?

can I trust being simpler?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

do I need to get bolder? 

do I need to meditate more?  go back to school?  eat better?  go to more 12 step meetings?  shut the fuck up?  read Dostoyevsky?

I am a slightly mediocre actor at best.

I surrender.

if nothing else, pray for me to tell this story more truthfully.  if nothing else, let us keep each other in our prayers.

I honestly know nothing.  I have nothing to defend. I open my heart and mind to your asking more of me, challenging me to chip away at everything that is not true to Afzal and this play….

Allahu A’lam.

“Allah Hashem, I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

you both have watched my “act” for several months now.

I am asking you to help purify my soul in the art of my portrayal of Afzal.

please.

amen.

enough

love,

Bernie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #2

We’re back with THE WHO & THE WHAT’s Bernard White (“Afzal Jatt”) in his second posting for The Artist’s Journey. Over the run of the production, we’ll be sharing journal entries we’ve asked him to keep about his experiences while performing in this world-premiere play!

For tickets and information about THE WHO & THE WHAT, click here.

By Bernard White

2 – notes from out of time in the who & the what

thursday february 6, 2014 9:43

in the am.

february has slipped in through some crack in the window.

2014 arrived quiet, in the shadows, shy, humble, drawing absolutely no attention to her self.

welcome both.

***

I’ve been living out of time.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Josh, Kimberly, Kendra, Dana and Ayad, notes in the sun) 

***

the bed is half made.  I’m listening to Mehdi Hassan’s “Gulshan Gulshan Sholaa e Gul Kii. . .,” computer on a pillow on my lap in our spacious studio apartment at Villa La Jolla.

compelled to write, to see the words appear on this magical screen.  to continue this blog requested by Becky and Grace at the playhouse.

the question for me was whether to have it be something separate from my own  “notes from out of time.”

the answer (like most answers);  yes and no.

thus the title “notes from out of time in the who & the what.” I have begun.

so having begun, I begin;

my first few hours of quiet, it seems, since we arrived on January…?  when did we arrive?

we arrived on sunday january 12.  darn close to a month ago.

it feels as if it’s been a couple hours.

and here we are, on our third day of long tech hours.  1 to 11.  each day.

we have teched the whole show.  today at 1:00 we run tops and bottoms (of scenes) and then we begin running the show, I guess, and begin this miraculous process of combining our work with the all the sounds and lights and blah and the blah and the who and the what that is the world of theater making.

the who?  God.

the what?  God.

“there is no God but God”.

we move forward only by Grace.  Insha’Allah.  B’Ezrat Hashem.

thank you.  thank you.  thank you.

***

I am at the stage of the play where it all seems so fake.  my accent seems fake.  my clothes.

I feel like I’m talking too loud in too big a room.

the 10 feet between our magic blue playing area and the first row of seats feels like the grand canyon.

not the grand canyon;  it feels like the great wall of china.

not the great wall of china;  it feels like night fog in the middle of Lake Baikal in Siberia.

feels like the stage is an island.  a still boat.  a one way dark glassed interrogation room.

we are completely exposed.  we know we are being watched under scrutiny of our crimes.

but we have no idea who’s behind the glass.

no idea who else is sharing the lake with us

there are, however, these beautiful stars above (thanks to Jaymi and Jack).

I want the room to be smaller.  I want the whole room to be lit.

for some strange reason, I don’t want to feel like I’m doing a play.

been doing this theater thing now for 36 years (40 if I count my middle school walk on as a cop in the halloween play, “Alright, nobody’s going anywhere until you answer a few questions.”  I had a funny accent in that one, too).

I still don’t understand its mystery.

I still feel the tension between thinking I’m pretending and knowing that I’m easily, by no choice of my own, right smack in the middle of reality.

in the middle of Lake Baikal.  at night.  in the fog.

here I am, Lord.

***

I haven’t been having days off.  each monday, called back to LA to audition.  this past week, we (Jackie and I) have made the drive twice, together and I made it alone a 3rd time.

wonderful opportunities.  the Wachowski Siblings Netflix series.  a CBS pilot, championed by the late great James Gandolfini.

I just have great difficulty multi tasking.  splitting my focus.

this is the sole reason I envy Daniel Day Lewis’s career.

with the rehearsal of the play, the run, the repetition, I have a shot of getting it close to right.

stop.  what I have a shot at is being present today.  enough.

***

I am blessed beyond belief to be with my wife Jackie down here in wintry La Jolla.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Comet and Jackie)

our dear friend, Comet came to visit for the weekend.

love is everything.  period.

***

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death has done a number on so many of us. 

I, casually, met him several times.  not counting his movies, I spent, I’d say, maybe 7 hours in his presence.

so I was around for 7 precious hours of his precious life.

a half hour out in front of the public theatre.

3 hours one night at Cafe Un Deux Trois in midtown manhattan.

3 hours at the Knickerbocker near NYU.

various, after theater, before theater gatherings in NY.

he seemed to be always around.

he was one of the few “I knew” I’d be working with.  it was inevitable.  I was looking forward to that.

I am deeply sad at his death.

I recognized him.

I will consciously remember him in my work  here in La Jolla.

he remains a vital source of inspiration.

rest in peace.  God bless those close to him.

***

it is now 10:42.  the bed is still half made.  (it takes some time googling “most voluminous lakes in Siberia”)

***

I continue.

so grateful for my life.   my privileged life.

filled with such grace and love.

so honored to speak Ayad’s words, to help bring the healing force of Afzal Jatt to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Dana, Ayad and Kimberly)

Kimberly is as good a director as I have ever worked with.  she’s the real deal.  the complete package.  so rare.

may the work and play cross that 10 foot abyss and find its way off our heavenly blue island.

with grateful love,

Bernie

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

 

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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Bernard White of THE WHO & THE WHAT, Journal Entry #1

THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY provides an insider look at the creation of a La Jolla Playhouse production, through the eyes of one of the show’s cast, crew or creative team.

Actor Bernard White plays “Afzal” in our production, THE WHO & THE WHAT, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar and directed by Kimberly Senior. We’ve asked Bernard to keep a journal of his experiences during rehearsal and the run of the play. In this series of guest blogs, which Bernard began creating in late January 2014 and which we’ll post over the next few weeks, he’ll be sharing those personal moments and insight into the creative process. Hope you’ll join the ride and check back here regularly!

By Bernard White

1 – notes from out of time in the who & the what

saturday 1/25/14 7:22

in the am.

La Jolla, California.  outside morning silver grey.

I think I stayed in this complex last century when I did DOGEATERS down here.

I can’t, for the life of me, remember exactly where I stayed.  I don’t recognize the place.

I think it was here.

that was a whole different life, back then.  I remember the people, the laughter and the late nights. Alec Mapa, Melody Butui, Tess Lina, Sandra Oh, Ching Valdes, Michael Greif, Jessica Hagedorn, Seth Gilliam.

I remember going to Black’s Beach.

the fog back then, nothing like this morning’s silver grey.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(me with hair and Jackie at Kimberly’s 4000 MILES in Chicago)

*** 

woke from a very disturbing dream.  Jackie woke and I shared it with her.  she listened out of love. in love, she listened.

I am blessed beyond belief.

I shared the whole disturbing dream.  she held me, shared her thoughts.

of course it led me to THE WHO & THE WHAT.

part of the dream was me standing over the kitchen sink.  Jackie next to me, as I was determined to hose off the dog shit from my blue nikes.  I was not going to leave S and S’s house until all this old crusted dog shit had been cleaned off my shoes.

the dream was all about the rigidity of the masculine and the messy vulnerability of the feminine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Jack’s amazing set in the pretend world)

3 of my 5 scenes take place in the kitchen.

Rashida’s kitchen.  my deceased wife of 10 years.

Kimberly called us to begin work the other day by saying “okay, let’s all go to Afzal’s kitchen”.

she meant Rashida’s Kitchen.

I asked Ayad to change it in the script.  from Afzal’s kitchen to Rashida’s kitchen.

I can understand how that might be confusing to the reader.

the truth is often quite confusing.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***

thinking of heading out into the silver to a meeting in Encinitas.  not too far from where my parents lived in San Marcos.

they don’t live there anymore.

that’s something real different from the fog of the first time I worked at the playhouse back in 1997.  was it 1997?

both my parents were still alive and living just 20 minutes away.

I have much more of a sense of how close La Jolla is to San Marcos now than I did when they were alive.

death alters perception.

“Your mother was a gift, but I didn’t see it.  For three years, I didn’t see it.”

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am the father of two girls.  now grown women.  my saint of a wife passed from this earth 10 years ago. 

this play is all about dealing with the God sized hole of that loss.

Rashida’s absence from, and presence in, her blessed kitchen.

***

“it’s hard to say grace and to sit in the place when there’s someone missing at the table.  – Tom Waits

***

this morning’s silver grey.  Jackie back to sleep next to me.  so very close.

I am becoming the man, I’ve always pretended to be.

back in La Jolla, a 3rd time.

3′s a charm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WHO & THE WHAT 

thank you God for my warm wife.

amen.

love,

Bernie

A veteran actor, Bernard White has performed extensively on stage, film and TV. La Jolla Playhouse: Dogeaters and The Seven. Off-Broadway: Blood and Gifts (Lincoln Center); Landscape of the Body (Signature); Sakharam Binder (Play Company); The Death of Garcia Lorca (Public). Regional: Troilus and Cressida and Henry V (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Art (East/West Players); Wings of Desire (American Repertory/Toneelgroep Amsterdam); Blithe Spirit and Lucy and the Conquest (Williamstown).  Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Vino Veritas, Miss India America, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Quarantine, The World Unseen, American Dreamz, Land of Plenty, Raising Helen, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Scorpion King, Pay It Forward and City of Angels. Selected TV: Silicon Valley, Grey’s Anatomy, Touch, Castle, The Good Wife and NCIS, among others.

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THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY – Lauren Elder of SIDE SHOW

Welcome back to The Artist’s Journey with Side Show castmember Lauren Elder! We hope you’ve been enjoying the inside scoop she’s been providing from behind-the-scenes of this exciting production. Last week, Lauren shared how the cast was preparing for their various roles through table work and character development. In this week’s installment, she focuses on what’s been going on in “tech” by explaining what that is, the challenges and adjustments involved as the company moves into the theatre, as well as what her fellow actors do in their downtime. Read on and enjoy!

By Lauren Elder

Last week we were in tech for Side Show.  What this means is that we moved from our rehearsal space into the theatre.  We started working on stage with lights, costumes and sets for the first time.  It’s a very exciting period but also a long, grueling process.  Tech consists of a series of long rehearsals, usually 10 to 12 hours each day. On our first day of tech, we made it through the opening number, and that’s it!

What took so long? A lot of things.  Lighting is one of them. We have the multiple Tony-award winning lighting designer, Jules Fisher, lighting us, and he is making sure that whenever we are doing anything on stage, that we are bathed in beautiful light. But positioning the lights, finding the right hues and the right timing to bring them up takes time. All of this is computer-operated now, but just imagine how long it took before, when designers had to climb up to position the lights manually!

Moving onto the actual set takes time as well. Up until now, we have been rehearsing in a studio space with the outline of the set taped out on the floor. Now we’re in the theatre with a full two-story moving set, which poses a new batch of challenges. We have had to adjust some of our staging to make sure the sight-lines are good, or allow the set to move around us, or figure out how to get up to or down from the top level, sometimes in a matter of seconds and while singing.

Another obstacle to overcome was the number of quick changes we have in this show. There are multiple costume, make-up and wig changes, many of which have to be done in less than a minute! It’s like an explosion of costumes backstage. The first time through in rehearsal, we missed a lot of entrances, but the more we do our changes, the faster they get.

Tech can also mean a lot of waiting around off-stage when other cast members are working on scenes you’re not in.  What do we do to kill time? Read books, play games (many people got addicted to Candy Crush, and Keala Settle, who plays the Fortune Teller, got us all hooked on Rummikub), make music (Robert Joy, who plays Sir, and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, who plays one of the sideshow Roustabouts, would play the guitar and we’d all sit around singing) and watch movies (we all sat around in our freak costumes, watching the Tod Browning movie “Freaks,” which featured the real Daisy and Violet Hilton).

As tech comes to an end, we are exhausted, yet excited. All of the elements of this amazing show have come together, and it is truly magical! Now we’ll start doing preview performances in front of audiences, but we’ll still be rehearsing during the day. Parts of the show can still get adjusted during previews, depending on what does or does not work in front of an audience. Once we officially open on November 17, the show will be set and no longer change.  Many people like seeing this evolution, so they come to preview performances and then come back again after the official opening to see what’s different!

What are you waiting for? Get your Side Show tickets and “come look at the freaks!”

Lauren Elder has performed in Hair (Broadway, West End, Shakespeare in the Park/NY Public Theater) and As You Like It (Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival), and has also appeared in HBO’sBoardwalk Empire. She performs regularly in nightclubs around New York City, including Joe’s Pub, Birdland, 54 Below and Jazz at Lincoln Center. She recently recorded her debut album of original music. Hear it and learn more at www.lauren-elder.com.

How meta: The SIDE SHOW freaks watching Tod Browning's "Freaks." From left to right, Zonya Love, Blair Ross, Hannah Shankman, Javier Ignacio, Emily Davie, Michelle London, Erin Davie and, somewhat hidden but holding the camera and taking the picture, The Artist's Journey blogger Lauren Elder.

 

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