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w/e 2019-12-08

Hello, here we are again.

§   I didn’t get to work during this week’s acting-for-camera class because my partner was away at an audition but it was good to see everyone else improving noticeably from one week to the next. I did go to an extra drop-in Meisner class and do the repetition exercise which I hadn’t done for months. I worked with someone I hadn’t met before and we shouted, she cried, we hugged. Standard.

It got me thinking about practising creative skills, in this case acting in general but also the specific exercise. Any such skill – like writing or playing an instrument – involves so many tiny obstacles and sub-skills that as we work towards overall improvement we must necessarily focus on only a few particular aspects at a time. Different exercises will focus on improving specific skills and your interest and abilities will see you improve different things at different rates.

The danger is that you neglect certain aspects in favour of others. Maybe you don’t like, or are particularly bad at, them and so you don’t practise them as much as you should. Maybe you’re not even aware of them as identifiable skills that need work. Maybe your teacher has their own areas of expertise that see you neglecting others. Gradually you can improve your overall skill – become a better actor – but you can end up treading the same paths, those that are comfortable because they’re familiar, that you know work, that you know you’ve achieved a certain facility with. You’ve developed habits. You must force yourself to find your less trodden paths, stepping back into the areas you still find difficult, where you always make mistakes and are never satisfied with the work.

This is what I thought after the shouting, crying and hugging. It’s all fine but it’s so often the same, for me, and hard to get out of. Despite an effort to react honestly and instinctively to a situation I have a feeling of following a familiar route. There are a few, and only a few, people who I watch doing the same exercise and they seem so different: more spontaneous, able to suddenly turn in unexpected directions, to bring up different emotions and get different reactions from their partners. They probably have their own well-trodden ruts but watching them I see some of the areas to which I need to find my way.

§   We went to see Marriage Story last week, which was very good. I always enjoy Adam Driver’s performances and, while Noah Baumbach’s films aren’t going to have me questioning the nature of existence or anything they’re nicely done and I often feel caught in the cross-hairs of his demographic target. The scene I’ve been doing in class is from Kramer vs Kramer, which I haven’t yet seen, so watching another movie about a break-up with a small boy involved was extra interesting.

I’ve been pondering, in relation to movies, the varying positions on a continuum that runs from “totally, grittily, serious realism” to something like “laugh-a-minute, over-the-top, anything goes fun”. Let’s say Ken Loach is towards the first end. I’ve only seen a couple of clips of Kramer vs Kramer but that seems to be closer to that end of the spectrum. By contrast, some of the Coen Brothers’ movies, like The Big Lebowski are further towards the other end, full of big characters and silly situations.

Marriage Story’s position in this range seemed to vary. Some of the scenes between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson were serious, heartfelt, and painful. Not fully at the gritty realism end but in that direction. However, the lawyers played by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta were bigger characters with funny lines, who carried scenes towards the second, more absurd end of the spectrum. Which isn’t worse, just different, and it must be hard to try to balance these different registers in one film.

§   This week I had new progressive lenses put in my existing glasses frames, lenses that can, apparently “keep up with your connected, on-the-go lifestyle”. Phew. At last!

Previously, being increasingly middle-aged, I had to remove my glasses to comfortably read smaller text and after a couple of years of this happening more frequently I figured I should move on.

After all the opticians’ warnings I was prepared for a lot of difficulty in getting used to these but I was probably over 80% of the oddness within a day. There was a very slight swimminess occasionally when moving my eyes across some things. And learning to move my head more – to look at far things through the top of the lenses, and close things through the bottom – hasn’t been too tricky, in general.

The remaining 20% is taking longer to become accustomed to. I frequently have to slightly adjust the angle of my head, horizontally as well as vertically, in order to get something slightly more in focus. And the lower-left of my vision seems unusually blurry. But overall it’s better. I’ve put the size of text on my phone and watch back down, and increased the effective resolution of my laptop screen, and I can comfortably read everything without removing my glasses.

§   I finished reading Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway which I’d seen a few people mention and which was very good.

When it’s possible to fulfil everyone’s needs for pretty-much-free thanks to technological advances what happens to society? To those whose wealth is dependent on the (now) artificial scarcities of capitalism, and to those who want to “walkaway” and live a more communal, shared, life away from that “default”? The book doesn’t sugar-coat how difficult such a massive change would be. The way the former powerful group deals with the utopian walkaways is familiar from how any groups today who “opt-out” are treated as soon as they appear to be a slight threat to the status quo. A great read and one that tweaked my view of the world in the way I always hope science fiction will.

§   We finished watching the seventh season of Spiral this week, which continues to be an excellent police drama. I love their sad, crumpled faces as they blunder their way to another resolution, ever more tired and damaged. I thought this was going to be the final season but they’re already working on season eight, presumably without the finally retired Judge Roban.

§   That’s all. There’s a general election this week for some of us. I’m so sorry. Maybe have a nice cake.

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