Phil Gyford

Writing

Friday 7 October 2005

PreviousIndexNext Three homeworks down

My body’s collapsing. A phlegmy, coughy cold has been lingering for a while. My neck and a shoulder have been painfully stiff for over a week. I dropped a cast-iron pan on my foot mid-week. I’m a hobbling, bent, wheezing old man.

But enough of the drama. A couple of weeks back I had a load of acting homework to do, and that’s thankfully all over now.

First, in the Foundation course acting class, was my “endowment” exercise, in which I was to perform everyday tasks while endowing objects with properties that might not be practical on-stage. I spent way too much time agonising over what to do for this, trying to think of endowable actions that could fit into a credible little scene.

Finally though, I was in front of the class, stirring some lentil soup in a saucepan (ah, but it wasn’t hot!), tasting wine before adding some to the soup (ah, but it was grape juice!), pouring water from the kettle into a bowl to warm it (ah, but it was cold water!), and sitting down to eat the soup (ah, but it was cold!). Admittedly, a complex, almost abstract, plot, but one I feel we can all relate to in this post-9/11 world. It seemed to go down OK, especially the eating of the soup (marvel as I breathe in sharply to cool my mouth!), and ever since I’ve been relieved to have got it out of the way early on in the term.

Next up was the “sense memory” exercise for the Stanislavski class. I’d had a go at this at the Method Studio over the summer, and it’s similar to the endowment: convincingly portraying an action and genuinely recalling what it feels, smells, tastes, etc like (the endowment doesn’t necessarily involve the senses so much, if I’ve got this right). Every night for a week I sat on the sofa with a mug of cocoa, raising and lowering it, smelling it, stirring, taking sips, each time putting it down and then performing the same action with an imaginary mug. How do my lips work? Where’s my tongue? What do I do when it’s too hot? How much is the mug tilted at different points in the process? That kind of thing. Anyone spying through the windows must have pitied the poor, confused fool with his schizophrenic drinking habits. I don’t think I quite felt “there” when I performed in class, but it wasn’t too bad. I guess I must keep practicing drinking the cocoa, a burden I shall manfully bear.

And this week was my turn to stand before the Foundation voice class and read the two minutes of first-person prose we’d prepared. I thought we had to memorise it, but it seems not. Still, I had the time and like the challenge of learning text, although it’s alarming that memorising something 99% just isn’t enough — try it in front of other people and that 1% will be waiting there, giggling, with its foot out for tripping.

I’d learned the first page and a half of Accident by Nicholas Mosley, which I’d just started reading when given the homework, and had already fallen in love with the prose. The narrator describes reaching the wreck of a car containing two friends. It’s mostly short sentences, slotted together, although this lengthy, under-punctuated one gives a good flavour:

Rolling to my front and resting my torch on the edge of the door making lights inside like diamonds I reached down and touched cloth, soft, that thing of bones, untouchable.

I’d say it’s as if Pinter had come along and erased the most techno-pornographic phrases from a chunk of Ballard, but it’s possible I don’t know what I’m talking about.

My recitation went bearably, apart from a little trip at an uncertain point meaning I missed out “She pushed her hair back. There was the smell of petrol. And another smell, sickening.” Which was a shame. And I was concentrating so much on getting it right that clarity and feeling suffered. Could have been worse.

Also in the past fortnight, the “Find Your Voice” basic singing classes have begun. It’s only 90 minutes a week, and with all the paperwork and introductions, breathing exercises and music theory, there hasn’t been a whole lot of singing so far. Enough though that I realised my voice sounds passable, in my head, when singing with the rest of the class, but when singing alone I realise that, shall we say, there’s room for improvement. We began singing Chim Chim Cher-ee last week, so please start queuing your Dick van Dyke jokes here.