Thursday, February 3, 2011
Seeing Liev Speak at Yale--And Yes it's in the form of a ramble...
So, here's the story. Bear with me and my need to paint a picture! If it sounds like I'm rambling, well sorry, but this is how I feel I needed to write it all down! Anyway...
I got to New Haven hours before the talk was supposed to start. I was aimlessly walking about, since I wasn't familiar with the city or Yale campus, and while I was fiddling with my phone and walking on the snow-packed sidewalk, I sensed that two people were walking towards me. Since the sidewalk was tight, I shimmied over to the side to let them walk by me so I could then go on my way unrestricted. I glanced up from my phone for a split second and had an internal hysterical attack. I watched Liev walk past me with another gentleman, both sipping on coffee and chatting as they went down the block on their merry way while I internally freaked out. FUCK MY LIFE NOT AGAIN!!! I thought pathetically as I plopped down on the nearest stoop and internally berated myself. I mean christ, what the hell?! But for some reason...I didn't get bitter or angry—sure I was VERY upset and irritated with my sycophantic cowardice that constantly has gotten me to choke and not approach him...but yeah, I wasn't raging like all the other times. I just got up, went to the coffee shop I saw had the similar logo that was on his cup, which just so happened to be 10 paces up the block. I got a mocha, and it was pretty horrendous! Blargh. If you ever wanna get a hot drink on Yale campus, do NOT get it from Willoughby’s Coffee and Tea. It failed hard. Anyway, I digress…
So I wandered around the outside of the theater where Liev was scheduled to speak, and called a few friends to vent my frustrations. Then a Yale grad student flagged me down and asked if I was there for the event. I said yeah and we buddied up to find our way into the theater ahead of schedule. He insisted that Liev was set to speak at 3, and I disagreed and told him it was to start at 5. We found a nice janitor leaving the theater out the side entrance, so we asked about the event. He told us he wasn’t sure, but told us to go right in out of the cold and make ourselves comfortable. Once inside we found an usher and asked him what the deal was. He confirmed that I was right, and my poor Yale grad companion lamented his luck and said he would be unable to stay for the event. He peaced out and I was left alone in the theater’s lobby. I spent the next 2 hours waiting pretty much by myself—reading Oscar Wilde’s “The Decay of Lying” on the staircase before I was joined by a very awesome lady who I struck up a conversation with. 2 hours went by and we were allowed in the theater. The lady and I sat 3rd row on the interior isle from the stage, which was fortuitous because Live ended up sitting RIGHT across from us!
The event was in honor of the 20th Elizabethan Club’s honors to a certain professor that evidently dominated all forms of dramatic academia at Yale. The moderator was Yale’s artistic director for the drama school—a heavyweight in his own right it seemed, by campus standards. Anyway, the talk was focused on Elizabethan theater, specifically Shakespeare, as that’s Liev’s training and theatrical start. The talk was insightful and riveting. I loved listening to Liev and see him so passionate and exuberant in his discussion of everything from scansion, to duality, antithesis, and rhythm in Shakespeare’s text. He did a wonderful deconstruction of one of (I believe, as I am not well-versed in Shakespeare myself) from Macbeth and showed us how it was basically written so if you know the form and verse, you don’t even have to be a professional to evoke the emotion you need to. It was amazing and enthralling to see him do it; gave me even more respect for his craft and his dedication to it. Now, at one point, Liev talked about something he’d mentioned a few times in the talks I’d seen him do last year. It’s a bit convoluted to go into it here, but basically he’s always said that his acting process is about finding the visceral, primal, and base sense memory emotions that can take over for him in a performance—like tapping into an objective but emotional subliminal self that takes Liev out of the equation of the performance and allows him to act from the gut. He talked about how this was the driving force for his theater acting, and that when combined with his absolute knowledge of the text, it makes him the actor he is—technically intuitive but yet evocative and relatable to the audience. He and the moderator discussed this primal “thing” as being the kinesthetic drive some actors need to be motivated to act on stage and keep it fresh. Liev really fixated on the word and said, “That word is perfect for what I’ve tried to riff on. ‘Kinesthetically,’” he smiled and toyed with the word, “Kin-es-the-ti-cal-ly! Yeah that’s the perfect thing to describe what I feel when I do my process!”
Now, I mention this section of the talk because that was the most striking and fascinating to me. So, when the moderator said there was a Q&A section, I practically materialized to the spot where there was a microphone across from Liev. Yes. The lady I met encouraged me on and let me ninja over her to get to where I had to go—which was the right side of front row behind the first Yale student who beat me to the microphone. The moderator encouraged the questioners to introduce themselves and mention their university standing—as in if they were freshmen, professors, etc. Now, I quickly realized while I was trying to reign in my nerves that I was NOT of any standing with Yale lol, so, when it was my turn up to the mic, I took a sobering breath and said, “Hi, my name is Sofia, and I’m actually not a Yale student, but I wanted to come here anyway, so yeah…” and gave my most genuine winning smile. The audience giggled goodheartedly at that and Liev smiled at me and the moderator chuckled, so I pressed on with my question:
“I was really fascinated by your discussion of the kinesthetic aspect of your process, and I was wondering if it is something that you’ve had to craft it anew for every single performance you’ve done, or if it’s something you’ve built along the way in your career, OR if it’s just a random occurrence when the situation has called for it?”
Now, I don’t mean to wax poetically about this, because I am genuinely still riding on the high. Liev pondered my question for a few seconds and answered (and I will be paraphrasing as my excited brain couldn’t absorb it all verbatim), “I guess when I first started really exploring how I could tap into that kinesthetic drive was pretty recently, considerably speaking. I mean there are techniques I liked to practice because they helped me break into the technical aspect of acting that I’ve always been into, but I guess the best way I can explain it is that it has kind of become a ritual of some sort before I go out on stage every night. One thing I do when I’m home, before I go to the theater, is fill up a glass of wine and stand in front of a mirror and my room. I just stand there for a while and stare at myself, until I feel like I don’t really see myself anymore. Then I raise my glass at my reflection and say, ‘To you, Alex,’ and I chug the glass. I know it sounds kind of gross—I mean who chugs wine?! But yeah, I do that, and…well the first time I did it...God it was years ago—I can’t even remember what I was doing at the time! Ugh—Oh! It was Hamlet, yeah it was Hamlet because it was a bit brutal for me to find that “thing,” you know? So yeah…I did that one night while I was playing Hamlet, and it’s stuck. When I did it the first time, I felt something sort of come over me. I kind of lost it. I got emotional and just…Alex was my grandfather. He meant a lot to me, and at the time I was still grieving his death—god just talking about him,” he paused because his voice started breaking, and I felt a lump grow in my chest. “I just talk about him and I start to tear up—shit I’m gonna cry now!” He paused again and cleared his throat, pondered on something, and then said with recovered strength in his voice, “I was reminded of this thing my grandfather would say to me. He’d say, ‘do you know why in the old country they call alcohol and wine spirits? Because people used to think that there were spirits or demons in the bottles, and when you drank, those spirits would possess you—take you over.’ That stuck with me that night, because I really did feel like something got into me and that I was possessed by this “thing,” and now I know it’s that kinesthetic feeling that I was using. Yeah…that kinesthetic “thing” is the guttural motivation I need in my process every night, because when I go out onstage and do a show over and over again, you need something to keep you locked in. Frankly I get bored with myself, and I’ll ‘go up’ sometimes during a run, and just as I feel the crowd buzzing, it feeds that kinesthetic “thing” inside me and I think, ‘Shit, this is awesome! This is great!’ But yeah, it’s always a work in progress, but there are things that will always be sense memory—or subliminally evocative that I can find in that “thing.” I also do this a lot,” he said and stood up to demonstrate. He locked his knees and bent forward to touch his toes, explaining, “A lot of theater actors do this. It’s sort of a technique to get you concentrated. I dip down like this, and I slowly stand up, but go vertebrae by vertebrae while I say something like, ‘it’s in me. It’s in my feet; it’s in my legs; it’s in my stomach; it’s in my chest; it’s in my arms…’” and he stood up straight with his arms out to the side and his eyes closed, adding, “and then I open my eyes and say, “'The beast has been released,'” he said in a deep rumbling voice. “It’s the feeling of danger. Something fucked up is going to happen and then I walk on the stage. Pardon my french, but yeah that's what it feels like. It’s kind of like letting yourself focus on the mantra and relaxation and allowing yourself to be taken over by the kinesthetic—it keeps you sharp!” Liev sat back down and kind of shrugged self-deprecatingly as he added, “It helps a lot, because it allows you to separate yourself from the feeling—it doesn’t matter what Liev feels about this, because the “thing” doesn’t give a shit about Liev or his feelings, you know? It’s there to help you, but you have to work hard to focus it just right, with the right amount of practice.”
The whole time he spoke, by the way, he kept eye contact with me, and I with him. It was the most connected I’ve felt with others that weren’t friends or family EVER. And I’m not saying this because I’m a huge fangirl of his. I mean it. I felt the buzz of the crowd’s energy, I felt their encouragement in the air and felt like Liev was sharing something personal but inclusively-charged. It was substantial and wonderful—I felt like a human being having rapport with another human being.
Elated and buzzing with happiness, I thanked him and took my seat. The lady I befriended and the woman sitting behind us both said, “That was a great question!” I was beaming and proud of myself for keeping it together and for overcoming my bullshit nerves and neurosis! After several other questions, the talk was concluded and people began exiting. I said goodbye to the lady and before I knew it I was at the side of the stage, waiting for Liev to finish signing a few autographs so that I could make my big request. Now, the stage was a little past my hip, meaning it was something I could lean on, but not sit on without a good hop onto it lol So, Liev crouched down to sign these autographs and I waited while he was done for my moment. And WHAM, it happened. Liev handed the lady next to me her signed stuff and then he turned towards me and smiled. I could feel myself beaming as I said, “Hi!” He returned the greeting sweetly, so I said, “Could I possibly get a picture with you?” And gave him my big brown eyes of kindness lol
Now, Liev could’ve totally said no. Hell, he could’ve just walked off stage once things were concluded, but he didn’t. He considered my request and leaned in close to say, “Well, I’d have to hop off stage so it’ll work, but if I do, I’ll end up being here for a while!” He smiled and I managed not to pout too hard as I hummed and looked around at all the commotion. I was determined though dammit! So, I said, “How ‘bout if I meet you halfway?” and he quirked a brow at me as I attempted to hop my big ass onto the edge of the stage so that I’d be eye level with him for the picture while he remained crouched. I say attempted because it was ONE HUGE FAIL! I hopped up, and slid right off because I’m too short! Needless to say I felt like a huge moron in front of this wonderful man, and I managed to laugh at myself.
Liev must’ve thought it was funny (and probably sad as hell!) too, because then he said, “Well let’s do this. Come over here, try and stand as close as you can and I’ll lean in so you can take the picture.”
I felt my eyes widen with awe and I managed to chirp, “Okay!” and stood on my tippy toes while he leaned in on my right, put his arm around me, brought me close to his side so OUR CHEEKS WERE TOUCHING and my shoulder was pressed against his chest! I managed to lift my phone camera, angled it, and let him know I was snapping the pic. We both smiled (I could feel his smile against my cheek!!) and I took the pic. Once taken (and thoroughly blinded by the damned flash!) I stood back and he sat back on his heels and asked me, “Good?”
I managed to restrain the urge to squeal and throw my arms around his neck so I could give him the big smooch I wanted to give him on the lips, and instead said, “Yep! Thanks so much; it was really sweet of you!”
He smiled and said, “No problem. Thanks for coming out! Bye,” and waved at me when I returned the goodbye with a smile and my own wave.
Needless to say I floated away and sat down so I wouldn’t squeal my pants off from the excitement and happiness. I remembered that I hadn’t seen the picture, so I turned my phone on and found it in the folder. Yeah. The universe gave me a lot of awesomeness, but it cut it short at the actual evidence of the awesomeness, because evidently when I turned my phone around to point the camera and angle our shot, I must’ve unwittingly brushed my fingers along the zoom and so our glorious moment only documents from my brown eyes up and part of Liev’s face! Sigh. Shitty technology is shitty. But who cares!!!? I met Liev! I asked him a question! He answered and I felt a wonderful connectiveness occur, and then I had a little exchange with him, cozied up for a pic, and got said pic!! I think I made a memorable impression with all my silliness and stage-hop-failure lol So hopefully in the near future I’ll see Liev again and be able to say, “Hi! I’m Sofia, remember? I’m the non-Yale student who asked you about kinesthetics =p Now come here for a pic, kthanx~ <3” =P
Whew! Just sitting here and thinking about it (and rereading the articles that came out after the event) has made me feel all whimsical lol Yes, please ignore the dorky girl now~
But, not before you check out the pics!