Acting & Experiences, Life in General, mental illness

The Now on which the Shadow Stands.

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Loving life…all of it!!

This is one of my favorite quotations. As far as I  know the author is anonymous, and this poem is inscribed on the base of a sun dial at a University.

The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour, 
In darkness, and beyond thy power.
Behind its unreturning line, 
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,-
The NOW on which the shadow stands.

The reason I’m sharing this today is that I’ve had a sort of time warp jump illustrated to me in my life, perhaps in a way, a very external one, that few people will experience.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve done a film or TV. I have no regrets.  I’m so glad I took the time to be with my girls, and there’s no question that the theatre I did in that time has made me twice the actress I was before, but what an interesting thing to see myself on film again with a decade jump.

Now, forty to fifty is a big leap, and Scream at the Devil is far from a Vanity piece. You don’t play a woman tortured by schizophrenia with full make up and fake eyelashes. Not if you want any kind of reality, and I certainly did. Actually, I’m fifty-two now, so call it a dozen years. And I look different. I’m in good shape, but I have cellulite, and a few more pounds. I have the same cheekbones, but the skin is a big looser around my mouth. My eyes crinkle when I smile, and let’s face it, extreme emotion is seldom physically flattering.

And I’m all right with that. Of course, editing is a strange process, you can, and often have to, change the tempo of scenes, choose shots that make the scene work or fit into the other actor’s improvised lines, it’s not anything like choosing the best still photos from your vacation or head shot shoot. What I’m hoping for here is a performance that moves those who see it, and that honors the suffering of those affected by crushing mental illness and chemical imbalance.

I know, though I don’t care all that much, that people will judge my appearance in this film, and compare it to my much younger self. Why? I don’t know. I suppose as actors and performers and even as a people, we have allowed judgement of physicality and age to so infect our perceptions that even the judged have bought into it.

Big mistake. And here’s why. I don’t care how young you are, how beautiful, how sexy, or how much you place your self-value in those traits, you will age. And I wish for you the same joy in it that I have found.

I’ve never been happier, or felt more beautiful. It makes me so sad when I see women who are in their fifties still trying to sell themselves as ‘sexy.’ Not that they aren’t, of course, they are, but it’s a different sexy, it’s a confident, feeling sexual and contented on the inside instead of counting on others feeling that you are what you want to be.

Does that make sense? Once when I was in an intensive scene study class, a very attractive blonde young actress was struggling to do a scene from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and the coach was trying to get her to embrace Maggie’s sultry, seething sexuality, but she just coudn’t. Finally I said, “I can help her!”

David, the coach, looked at me and said, “Fine, Shari Shattuck wants to tell someone how to play sexy. Please, yes, be my guest.”

Instead of speaking up in front of everyone, I left my seat, went down to the stage and whispered in her ear, “It’s not about ‘acting’ sexy, it’s about feeling turned on, feeling sexual.”

She nodded, started the scene again and virtually slithered over furniture and the actor playing Brick like a cat in heat.

David turned to me and said, “What the f*ck did you say?”

I just winked at the actress and said, “It’s a secret.”

But it’s not, or it shouldn’t be. Ladies, gentlemen, embrace your age, be the best you can be, and smile at the fact that the twenty-somethings will get more attention than you. That’s okay, it’s a relief really, to stop being thrown into the arena of physical competition. Don’t let anyone do that to you anymore, and don’t, please, I’m begging you, do it to yourself.

I’m very excited about my life now. I’m calmer and happier, and more fulfilled and focused than ever before. I have as much, maybe more energy than I did in my twenties, I am so much better at dividing my time and knowing what I want and who I want to spend my time with. What a gift!

Take that gift, reach out and grab it. Unwrap it and smile and rejoice. The gift of now, the culmination of all your work, realizations, epiphanies, emotional growth, and wisdom.

Who could ask for anything more?

With love and contentment,

Shari. June 30th, 2013.

Life in General

Dream Scream Team

 

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Me, my husband, Joseph Stachura, and one of the film’s wonderful actors, Marco Neves, at a film festival for Joseph’s film “Redemption” held in the iconic film location for so many great westerns. Ironically, the images that define ‘the American west’ in movies like “Fistfull of Dollars” are mostly from this location in Spain. I know, right?

Putting together a film crew, cast, and post-production team is something most people will never do, which is a good thing, because it takes more work, finesse and time than most humans have the patience for or the endurance to survive. Lots of people think they could make a movie, but actually doing it, from setting up contracts with lawyers, creating LLCs, dealing with countless union contracts, finding exceptional people for countless jobs, and managing the entire thing, (not to mention raising the money, and finding distribution) is very similar to setting up a multi-national corporation while walking a tightrope and appeasing over a hundred, overly-sensitive, creative ‘types,’ in a high wind. 

Fun right?

One of the things I like the most about working on a film is the always unique combination of personalities and talents. And each and every one of them from the ‘star’ to the production assistant who works for free for the experience and learning, is equally important. 

Think I’m wrong? Try to make a movie by yourself. That’s what I’ve always said to actors who behave as if they are more important than anyone else on set. 

What helps us in this ‘peopling up’ process is what I refer to as our ‘calling card.’ this is primarily my husband’s amazing body of work. As the writer/director, each person from the Director of Photography to the wardrobe designer, from the accountant to the set painter looks to him and his ability to make them look good. 

Last year, Joseph released the film “Redemption.” A film made with very little money, the assistance of many friends and cohorts, lots of passion, and very little sleep. It’s wonderful. Based on the heart and quality of that film, we were invited to many film festivals, at several of which the film won top honors. 

But what impresses people the most is Joseph’s, (and my, on a much smaller scale) theatre background. Producing over 300 shows in nearly 20 years, building a working company of actors, directors, set-designers, producers, etc tells people who know what to look for that this is a man with an awesome talent, the perseverance of a saint, the charisma to lead, and the sheer will-power to ‘get it done.’

And, on a personal note, (’cause it’s my blog) he’s the most romantic man I’ve ever known. He makes me feel like a treasure every single day, would kill to protect or care for our girls, and works his butt off to provide not only a home, but memories and life experiences for us. And it is an honor to collaborate with his very rare combination of business sense, technical skill and artistic ability.

Damn, I love my man. 

But what is most rewarding, at this point of pre-production, is the fact that based on the script, and Joseph’s vision of the film, people are clambering to get on board. They can see that this project will be something special. Not something thrown together like a prefab McMeal you know people will eat no matter how tasteless, but a viable, uber-creative project that they are hungry to be a part of. 

Now, nobody is going to get paid top dollar to work on this potential heap of art, yet we’ve had people from top films knocking on the door because they’ve heard about it, and seen what we’ve both done in the past, well mostly him. It’s the director that counts in the industry, I have no illusions about that. I believe, even in this cynical, reality show world of canned ‘entertainment’ that artists are bleeding for a project they can be enthusiastic about, contribute to, and ultimately be proud of. 

And these people know that Joseph, and I, will be proud of them, will expect their best, will value and trust their contributions. A film is a group project with a dictator. Without an overall decision maker with a master view, you would end up with mush, but with someone who can pull the best from everyone involved, you end up with the best of everyone’s best. 

I’m so excited, and tired already. I don’t think Joseph has had a full night’s sleep since we started in earnest, and he won’t until the movie is finished post-production and delivered to the distributor. That will be months from now. 

So, if you’re one of those people who only notices the actors in a production, and have fallen into the habit of crediting them with it’s success or blaming them for it’s flatness, look again. See the way the colors of the room don’t exactly match, but beautifully compliment the wardrobe? That’s the art director’s choice and contribution. Does that blue dress and the cold ‘starlight’ add to the sense of loneliness in a sad scene? Give the credit to the costume designer and the Gaffer, (lighting director). The way the camera begins to move in on the actors face when they realize that they are in love, so that we are drawn into their joyful amazement, that’s an emotion created by the director of photography. When one actor says a funny line and before it’s done, we cut to an eyebrow lift from the supporting actor, which tops it off, the editor knows what he or she is doing. And it is the director, on a small film especially, who chooses and empowers them all. 

And on and on. I love this whole process and I love being a part of it. 

Meanwhile, on top of setting up meetings and overseeing design choices, I’m devouring books on schizophrenia and it’s processes. I’ll talk about that journey next time. It’s not possible to create a character with normal, linear history or straight sensory work when that woman is insane. 

Or is she? 

Mwuh, ha ha ha hah! (that’s my evil laugh)

Gotta go help set up a green screen for behind the scenes interviews tomorrow. 

Such a glamorous life I lead. 

Shari, January 11, 2013. 

 

Life in General

My Chillen’

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I would call them ‘my children’ but they are so much cooler than that even with, or perhaps in spite of, the natural tendency toward mortification in all teens.

I’ve directed a few show in my day, everything from Shakespeare to original pieces, but it’s always been with groups of professional actors. You know, if they don’t show up or learn their lines, I fire them. It never comes to that. It’s amazing how quickly someone will step up when you explain that you have someone waiting to take over the lead.

But now I’ve been asked to direct “The Importance of Being Earnest” for my daughter’s eighth grade production. No understudies, no alternates, and a couple of extra parts written in.

Here’s what I’ve got going for me. 11 really fabulous 14 year olds, the fact that they have been educated by a Waldorf school system, and the resources of a creative community.

Waldorf is an amazing way to develop a brain. The kids all knit, woodwork, blacksmith, make stained glass, play musical instruments, sing chorus, study Spanish and German, have physics lessons outside where they use a pulley system or create science experiences, they all learn to write beautifully with real fountain pens, and on and on. It’s amazing to visit the high school and see boys knitting during an English class, or girls outside hammering copper into bowls. And the college placement? Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Rhode Island School of Design, etc, forty percent of the graduates go into the sciences, and I mean they become top doctors and research scientists. There is much to be said for teaching kids to think, instead of memorize. Every kid speaks at graduation and most of them mention that they want to do something to make the world a better place. And they do. One of the kids in the first graduating class was Paul Newman’s daughter, who went on to create the line “Newman’s Own” which donates most of it’s profits to charity. That’s the kind of human Waldorf produces.

In my daughter’s class, there are two, ‘special needs’ students. One is a boy with HDHD, it’s hard for Jay to be still or quiet, but the kids let him know when he goes to far. In rehearsal, this sometimes results in a “Jay, shut up!” but it’s good-natured, and they are all learning something valuable. Jay is experiencing the fact that the world will sometime reprimand him for his erratic energy and he must learn to control it, and the other kids, that the work environment is not always ideal—and that’s okay.

The second kid has brain seizures. Jenny is beautiful, bright, fun, and incapable of learning to read. She participates in most of the lessons, and all of the art, she is well respected and liked by her classmates. I didn’t realize the extent of her differences until I asked her to write down that we needed glasses for the play. One of the other girls asked her, very matter-of-factly, ‘do you want me to write it for you?’ And did so, meanwhile, Jenny had drawn a picture of the glasses, problem solved, no judgment.

Wow.

The other thing that impresses me, is that these kids get it. They speak to me as an equal, with respect for me and for themselves, they laugh heartily at the dry, clever wit of Oscar Wilde. This is amazing to me, and half the battle as the director.

We’ve worked on speaking distinctly with a British accent, (some get it, one is hysterical) we’ve worked on where in our bodies the character comes from, (the snooty aunt leads with her nose in the air, the cocky young man swaggers from the hips), we’re learning to listen and react, not just act. And we’re making excellent progress on lines.

Now, I’m not expecting a Knightbridge Theatre production, of course. But, even in the early stages, I’m very taken with each of these kids, their efforts and their natural ability to, not only perform, but to throw themselves into it, encourage each other and set aside their teen angst self-consciousness.

And for 14 year olds, that is no small thing. It is a huge thing, and they are all champions.

I did have one problem. The young lady playing Cecily came running to meet my car this morning, her face a mask of panic.  “Shari, Shari, I have to talk to you,” she panted. “Do I have to kiss Steven? The script says he kisses me!”

I reassured her that we would stage it so that no actual contact would take place. The terror subsided and rehearsal began.

The best thing about this process is, I’m the one learning the most. Isn’t that always the case? When we set out to teach, or to lead, we must listen and learn how to do that. And the gift is mine, I am the receiver of learning to love each of these outstanding young people more than I did before. I’ve been on camping trips with them, worked festivals, had some of them over for sleepovers, but this is different. I’m counting on them to be their best, to be proud of their uniqueness and their special talents, to learn to love another aspect of themselves.

Or, as Oscar might have said, “Learning to love yourself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Merry Christmas from me and Mr. Wilde.

Shari, December 20, 2012.

Shakespeare, Theatre

And…we’re off!

Opening night! I spent most of the two hours, I got to the theatre early, before the show fixing peoples costumes, (why can’t twenty-somethings handle a needle and thread? Who wants to be that helpless?), setting props and, finally getting myself dressed and ready. I didn’t have time to be nervous. Until our stage manager, Ashley, called ‘places’. Now, here’s how it works. She calls dance call about thirty minutes before the show, we all go on stage and run through the dance, we wander off. She calls warm up about twenty before, we go on stage, squeeze hands, do a shake up, wander off. She calls ten minutes, “Thank you ten,” choruses from the gang. She calls five, “Thank you five.” She calls, “Places,” That means the audience is in the house and it’s time to get to our opening positions. Mine, is waiting in the main entrance. 

So that’s when the nerves hit me. I’m standing in the dark, able to see the faces of the audience on both sides, I’m not really concerned about knowing my lines or acting, but things happen, lines slip away, from you or a critical cue from a cast mate. I notice that there are not one, but two women in the house who auditioned for my part, that’s always fun, looking out at someone with their arms crossed staring hatefully up at you. 

 

But I take a deep breath, plant my feet and step forward, “I pray you sir,” I mostly shout over the air conditioning and fans, “Is Senior Montanto returned from the wars or no?” And we’re off!!  I make it through the first scene, grateful for the rehearsal that keeps me from seizing up, and then, it all calms down. By the time I’m trading quips with Benedick, we’re all good. Nice house that night, but an audience of smilers rather than laughers, it happens. We do get laughs, but now what we expect. Peeking, unprofessionally, out from backstage however, I see broad smiles of enjoyment and amusement on most of the faces, that’s good too. On Sunday, my nephews, 8 and 10 are in the house, and I’m so preoccupied with entertaining them, that I go cartoon, which is probably real close to what the Bard was going for with this one. 

So, now to  settle into the next five weeks, and get back to writing!! I’ve just had an edit in on a new book, so I’m off to try to please a single editor instead of a full house. I’ll start a blog on that one, for anyone who is interested!  

Excuse me, it’s my cue for the second scene. I enter, “How tartly that gentleman looks. I never can see him but I am heart burned an hour after!” I see you out there, wink wink. 

Acting & Experiences, Shakespeare, Theatre

3 To Get Ready.

We’re down to the wire, only three rehearsals left until we open on Saturday. We’ve had air-conditioning problems at the theatre, during one of our hottest weeks of the summer, so it’s been ‘hell’ week in more ways than one. The AC should be fixed today, I hope so. Aside from trying to project lines over four noisy fans, let’s just say kissing someone drenched in sweat isn’t optimal. Oh, it might work if you’re in love with an Olympic athlete and you like that sort of thing. I’m reminded of a girlfriend who referred to her exercise-crazed boyfriend during an Atlanta summer as a ‘big ol’ slip and slide,’ but on stage? Well, I’m just glad Benedick is my husband. In the meantime, costumes tear, lines flee from your head when they are needed most, and we have to remember not to ad-lib things like, “Waz up?” or, “Sweet rags,” when called upon to be background on stage during the masked ball. The worst thing last night was the director getting a little personal about the Hero-Claudio kiss, which I though was a bit rude and overwrought. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be chaste and all that, but come on, they’re both young, gorgeous, and you get bored doing these scenes over and over. Personally, I’m all for it. Plus, Claudio is one of those handsome young devils with a body fat ratio of .00023 so he doesn’t sweat as much as my hubby, who has a hundred or so pounds on the young squire. 

Acting & Experiences, Shakespeare, Theatre

Rehearsals!

So, I just wrapped up a weekend of rehearsing “Much Ado…” which can be so frustrating and so funny. Terrific cast this time, and of course, the Bard’s words are an amazing joy to do. Literate, literal, audible art. Words that flow and sing and only come truly understood when spoken with feeling.
And then, there’s the dancing. No problem for me, I dance, but for the gentleman playing Don Pedro, the prince, it was clearly a moment that panicked him. Ultimately, he deigned, “The prince does not dance, I just decided that.” After a round of laughter, the director concurred. Then he stood around smiling and gesturing as the rest of us moved through it.
I spent the rest of the day weeping and cursing men in general in the ‘my cousin is belied’ scene. It impresses me so much that Shakespeare, in a time when women were not even allowed on stage, wrote a female character who says the line, “Oh that I were a man, I would eat his heart in the Marketplace!”Now that’s art that a girl can really sink her teeth into.