Posts Tagged ‘acting’

Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Was Comes” Wows Audiences at The Barter

Monday, September 26th, 2016

#BarterTheatre #RayBradbury #SomethingWicked

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Breathtaking production values are both the strength and the weakness in The Barter’s current presentation of Something Wicked This Way Came. The costumes transport the audience beyond the nostalgic world of the 1950s, the time period for the play, into a fantasy world full of amazing and frightening creatures.

Act I begins ominously with Jim Nightshade (Barrett Guyton) and Will Halloway (Joseph Matthew Veale)  greeting a lightning-rod salesman who’s sleazy pitch prophesizes that Nightshade’s house will be struck and burned to the ground. A mystery fueled by dread is in the air and randomly reinforced by threatening distant rolls of thunder. Once underway, Act I is so shrill that it is almost painful to sit through. Nighshade is all for bringing on whatever trouble awaits, while Halloway takes the side of caution. Emphasizing the point that both boys are only 13 years old, they tussle and yell at one another about the intriguing arrival of a carnival. Guyton and Veale inject their roles with adolescent exuberance – no doubt as directed. They romp vigorously around the stage. As a result, several things the playwright may have intended gets lost.

Halloway is a good lad. He tries to get Nightshade to be careful, avoid cursing, and generally be more thoughtful. Trouble is, aside from the lines he recites, Halloway’s dynamics mirror Nighsade’s. Push. Yell. Push some more. Yell louder. Nightshade is a voyeur. Halloway pleads that he come away from the window in a gratuitous scene intended supposedly to dramatize the difference between the two boys. Perhaps a contrast is being established. One boy, Halloway, wants to live by the rules whereas his pal, Nightshade, wants to break out from under them. Neither character, their slight differences notwithstanding, gives us much to like. When Act I ends we really don’t care what happens to either of them. Teenagers have a full repertoire of manipulative behaviors available. Ask any parent of a teenager. The two guys on stage come off as one dimensional.  Seduction, intrigue, curiosity are not in the mix. Simple bombast carries the action.

Too Much Reflection . . .

The Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA

The Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA

Before the carnival makes a formal entrance into town, a hall of mirrors appears. Playwright Ray Bradbury seems to suggest that too much reflection in life is dangerous. A person entering the hall of mirrors is exposed to images of the self that span a lifetime. Life is the mystery. It’s not quite clear why this is terrifying. Whether to accept where we are at any given point or pine, as Mr. Halloway (Will’s father) does, for our younger days is a universal predicament, a passage on the path to self-acceptance. But the hall of mirrors is a horror. Looking back is fraught with peril. No ambiguity here. Nightshade charges ahead disdainful of any threat. Halloway wimps out in the challenge to restrain him.

Act II, gratefully, begins with a quiet dialogue between Will Halloway and his father, played by Rick McVey. Mr. Halloway is 54, an old guy as the script would have it. Most of his life passed before he knew what was going on. His son is his principal achievement. He’d give just about anything if he could run again as his son does. Mr. Halloway is a wiser parent because he can recall his boyhood. The rapport between father and son is almost too idealistic to be credible, especially as the father vividly recalls his boyhood and recognizes how life is for his son. Halloway, for all his sanguinary recollections, becomes the protagonist, usurping the distinction from the boys who carried Act I with their hi-jinks.

Pushing ahead, Act II turns into a nightmarish extravaganza. The carnival arrives, or maybe it was there all along. The hall of mirrors, introduced in Act I, takes its place near a fantastic carousel with elegant horses – man, what elegant horses! The carousel becomes the center of action. Both attractions produce the same dreaded outcomes. They take people backward or forward in time, and if the reaction of the cast means anything, then falling victim to either is terrifying. Except for Jim, of course. He wants to become older right away. Perhaps he’s trying to out run his rage.

A Bad Dream . . .

Joseph Matthew Veale and Barrett Guyton as Will land Jim

Joseph Matthew Veale and Barrett Guyton as Will land Jim

As in a bad dream, things that are assumed at one point become not true at another, and there is no accounting for why things turn as they do. The playwright indulges all kinds of license. Miss Foley is taken back physically to her childhood self only later to appear again returned to her adult self. She brushes off the terror of the experience as if it were nothing. Jim and Will have their ears stopped by Mr. Dark but later come back onto the scene understanding everything being said. A lot happens that just doesn’t matter. One of Mr. Dark’s sidekicks, also a villain, is turned into a boy and later, after being executed in an electric chair, a zombie. It doesn’t matter. The audience never liked him. It is all utterly unnecessary.

The plot buried deep underneath the flamboyant staging is that Jim needs to be saved from the carousel, which is to say, from himself. He is so eager to grow older he removes the lightening rod protection from his home with his mother (figure that one out – he wants her dead, burned no less?). But to round up, everyone, including the nonchalant townspeople strolling by as if not a thing in the world is amiss, needs to be safe from Mr. Dark, powerfully played by Nick Koesters.

Age and wisdom ultimately prevail. Mr. Dark and his horrible minions feed on the fear the mortals in the town. Halloway, played most credibly by the able Rick McVey, puts the Act II on his back and carries it in a 10K uphill soliloquy during which he instructs the audience on everything. Good thing, too, because bewilderment reigns at this point. Dark and his entourage are so scary, it is really difficult to know what their intentions are or how they are ever going to vacate the town square. Evil, yes; but not very aggressive. Jim, Miss Foley and Mr. Halloway are drawn into the menacing carnival world but all escape unscathed. After all, the uninvited guests are wicked which is not necessarily to be equated with evil.

Readers’ Digest . . .

Halloway figures it all out. There’s an antidote for fear. Laughing past the cemetery. Right. Turns out, laughter is the cure. “Where’d you’d put the most recent Readers’ Digest, dear?” Halloway enjoys the last laugh. His son steadies his aim in destroying the Dust Witch, (got to be some symbolism there somewhere) and at 54 he finds he can run with the boys again.

The Horses from the Carousel - Magnificent.

The Horses from the Carousel – Magnificent.

The actors, to a person, turn in excellent performances. The play is a gaudy muddle. Audiences will end up dazzled and confused, reminiscent of an old salesman’s adage, “If you can convince them with logic, baffle them with BS.” The problem with the play could be in the script. Leaving an actor to explain everything in the middle of Act II suggests we are seeing a draft rather than a finished script. None of the characters draw upon the sympathy of the audience. Mr. Halloway is the only character with any depth. No tears of relief are shed in the saving of Jim. No joy in the downfall of Mr. Dark. The plot builds very little tension. Dark and his carnival finally go away. The audience jumps to its feet at the curtain because they have been wowed by the staging. The costumes are amazing. The set, except for the unexplained visage of Felix, the Cat peering over all the proceedings, is fanciful and fun. Richard Rose’s direction seems to dwell on the obvious at the expense of the subtle and the nuanced. If it is loud, then it’s got to be good. Then, again, the script may not have much that lends itself to shading and contrast.

Rose gets credit, however. His Something Wicked This Way Comes manages to be very entertaining and off-the-chart dramatic without being very good drama.

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Cast Overcomes Flawed Script in The Three Musketeers at The Barter Theatre

Monday, September 14th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

The Three Musketeers was presented for the first time ever on Saturday, September 11, 2015 at The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. Artistic Director Richard Rose made sure his audience was aware of the occasion in his opening remarks. Over they years, The Barter has many notable successes in presenting dramas that were not originally written for stage. Whether the company will enjoy the same with this play was still somewhat in doubt at the final curtain, although with the audience on its feet for an ovation, all bets are on the side of a good run.

The performances by the cast are uniformly strong. Joseph Matthew Veale is perfect as the young, idealistic D’Artagnan who arrives in Paris with a letter of introduction from his father that will allow him to enlist in the King’s Musketeers. Veale is an energetic presence on stage, thoroughly the young man from the country that he claims to be. His strong voice and athletic moves convince the audience that he will succeed at whatever impossible feats he attempts. He is at a loss for words when he meets the beautiful Constance. Their encounter is delightfully humorous and goes beyond the laughter to reveal a thoroughly believable innocence in D’Artaganan – a point of contrast with almost everyone else in the story, save Constance herself.

The plot gets underway quickly as D’Artagnan’s letter is stolen by the nefarious Rochfort. Rochfort is the strong-arm henchman of arc-villain Cardinal Richelieu. Nick Koester, as Rochfort, is an arrogant, cruel sociopath who takes his orders directly from Richelieu. Koester has the physicality for the role and delivers a flawless performance. Richelieu, meanwhile, is impeccably portrayed by Michael Poisson. Poisson brings a chilling surgical touch to the dark role of Richelieu as he delivers his more vicious lines with rapier precision. His final concession to D’Artagnan is a calculated acceptance of his circumstances, and the audience is left feeling Richelieu is not going away; he may have lost a battle but the war will go on.

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

Nicholas Piper as Monsieur de Treville is also perfectly cast. Piper plays Treville as the politically savvy commander of the Musketeers, a position that must have been as muddied for him as it was for the audience in that the King has soldiers as does the Cardinal, and they are often at odds with each other as well as the musketeers. Yet Treville always seems to know the score even without being entirely sure of where his own men are in the city. His Musketeers respect him, although any one of them could physically get the better of him. It must be the touch of the director, Katy Brown, that Piper, like other major characters, refuses the easily accessible melodramatic reading and chooses a more mater-of-fact delivery that makes his performance credible, perhaps all the more so because it runs counter to audience expectations of swashbuckling histrionics.

Sean Maximo Campos as Athos might bring Johnny Depp to mind for some in the audience. Personal tragedy drives the wily Athos, and Campos delivers as much as any audience has a right to ask in the final but unfortunate scene of the Act I. Porthos and Aramis, competently played by Andrew Hampton Livingston and Justin Tyler Lewis respectively, exchange quick witted repartee with their buddy Athos. Hannah Ingram’s Milady de Winter is a reserved villainess, stealthily in step with the other characters. The audience knows from the onset that she is a really bad lady. Ingram’s confident portrayal never lets the image slip.

Annie Simpson plays Constance Bonacieux, the youthful blond beauty with whom D’Artagnan is smitten. And why not. Simpson is angelic. One of the funniest lines in the show takes place when D’Artagnan falls to his knees proclaiming love to Constance upon first seeing her. Bewildered, Constance looks to her father. “He’s from the country,” her father observes as if it explains everything. The father, by the way, is played by the versatile Zacchaeus Kimbrel. Kimbrel appears in several key roles. His portrayal of the narcissistic, affected King Louis is wonderfully funny.

Derek Smith’s set design captures the darkness of the story line. Not everything turns out OK, after all, as American audiences might like. Sumptuous costume design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan dispels any notion that Musketeers is to be dismissed as mere fantasy.

Richard Rose has pushed the envelope for The Barter several different times during his years as the Artistic Director. The Three Musketeers is another one of his laudable efforts. It remains to be seen, however, whether Rose’s reach has exceeded his company’s grasp. The acting, under the very capable direction of Katy Brown, is superb. Stage combat is seriously dangerous stuff. With the season advancing, perhaps the actors will become more relaxed in the combat scenes. In the first show, however, the action was awkwardly hesitant. Audiences accustomed to cinematic portrayals may find the sword fighting to be noisy, staid and unrealistic.

The Barters Three Musketeers (l to r) Campos, Lewis, Veale and Livingston

The Barters Three Musketeers plus one (l to r) Campos, Lewis, Veale and Livingston

The program does not list a playwright. Katy Brown is named dramaturge. The weakness in the show is not in the acting, the direction, or any of the production qualities. It’s in the script. Without giving the show away, the action in Act I is sustained by the suspense that Richelieu’s plot is going to bring down the queen. The plot is resolved before Act I ends. No tension whatsoever sustains the audience in the final scene of the act which comes off as something thrown in by the playwright to quickly background the audience for the rest of the play. This is where Campos puts Athos through a tortured drunken soliloquy about his own tragic past. Athos’ intoxication as the reason for his disclosure. Drunkenness is a gimmick, in other words, because there is nothing in the story line motivating Athos to confess to anything. The entire scene has the audience wondering where the plot is going next. It’s great acting; but bad drama.

A better script would have placed snippets of Athos’ past history earlier in the act. Milady de Winter should have been handled in the same manner and it would have created more intrigue for her character. Perhaps her fleur de lis branding would be discovered earlier. Other credible means hinting at the relationship between the two could be worked into the script. Curiosity should have been building about these two major characters throughout. As it is now, the justification for the last scene of Act I is not presented until after intermission in Act II. It would have been far better to sustain the suspense of the Cardinal’s plot to discredit the queen through the end of Act I or even beyond and integrate Athos’s tragedy organically into the flow of drama.

As it stands, the drama comes off as two one act plays strung together with the last scene of Act I serving as a lynch pin. Perhaps this weakness in the story line was to be overcome by thrilling sword fights and swashbuckling action. It wasn’t. There is good writing in the script but the basic development of the story is fatally flawed and unworthy of the legendary Dumas. The entire script needs a reworking that it is not likely to get.  It would be challenging task, but if the play has a future at all, the hard work of rewriting is needed to rectify its defects.

Audiences are nevertheless likely to be pleased throughout the current season with The Three Musketeers which is a tribute to The Barter, its production staff, and its company of fine actors.

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Barter Theater Stage II “Driving Miss Daisy” is a Must See!

Sunday, October 19th, 2014
John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

John J. Hohn,Writer and Reviewer

Barter Theater’s Stage II performances of Driving Miss Daisy continue through November 15. Go see the show!. If you have other commitments, cancel them. Driving Miss Daisy at The Barter Stage II is a once in a life time opportunity not to be missed. You may think you know the story from the movie starring Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd. But there’s no way the two dimensional silver screen, or worse, the flat screen set in the living room regardless of size, can match the intimacy and power of seeing actors at the top of their art perform this amazing play in the round.

Mary Lucy Bivins is a memorable Daisy. As the show opens, she is the consummate woman of her era, the 1950’s, as she is overly concerned about appearances and what others think. A widow, she is near the top of 1950’s Atlanta society, and oddly, uncomfortable in her affluence as she reminds others of her family’s poverty when she was a girl. Her pettiness attests to the rigors of growing up poor. Bivins plays her to perfection. Daisy denies being prejudiced after reeling off a litany of stereotype traits that she finds true of all black people. Daisy equates racism to hatred. Daisy doesn’t hate anyone. Thinking less of people because of their race, however, is another matter entirely in her mind.

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

Daisy’s African-American chauffeur, Hoke, is superbly played by Jasper McGruder. The audience realizes quickly that Hoke, though illiterate, is smarter and wiser than Daisy. He accepts her stubborn rejection of his services and her slights until she finally relents and allows him to help her. When Daisy discovers Hoke can’t read, she reciprocates by helping him master the skill. The common ground between Hoke and Daisy is struck more profoundly when they discover together that the temple has been bombed. Daisy does not want to believe it. Hoke, however, recognizes her victim-hood as something in common with his own. He has dealt with hatred all of his life.

Bivins is superb. She presents Daisy with all of her mannerisms, speech patterns, and nervous tics. The result is a toughly credible and moving performance. Daisy is the last of a vanishing breed, the pampered, sheltered woman of the house. Her role is enabled by her son Boolie who, despite his frustrations with his mother, looks after her dutifully. The height of Bevin’s performance is reached when, late in the play, she slips mentally back into time and frets painfully about disappointing her students. Her anguish is wrenching. Older audience members feel compelled to reach out to her and comfort her. Her fears and crushing remorse over imagined failings become a vision of what could lie ahead to the dreaded of all seniors. Hoke, rather than coddling Daisy as she has been most of her life, appeals to the woman’s stronger core and demands that she snap out of it.

McGruder is every bit the match to Bivin’s Daisy. Steady, patient, kind and selfless, Hoke takes charge of Daisy welfare. He plays Hoke with a strong, quiet dignity and becomes a commanding presence on the stage. Theater in the round is the perfect venue for an actor of McGruder refined skills. I sat within three feet of his performance. Everything about the actor – his eyes, his posture, his tone of voice, and his gestures – were thoroughly Hoke, clearly a man of generous spirit and hard-earned wisdom. Hoke is no Uncle Tom. He may acquiesce on trivial matters, but he staunchly defends his rights, his values and his prerogatives on matters affecting his dignity and pride.

Mary Lucy Bevins and Jasper McGruder as Miss Daisy and Hoke

Mary Lucy Bevins and Jasper McGruder as Miss Daisy and Hoke

Director Richard Rose puts the story of the relationship between the black man Hoke and the white Jewish widow Daisy on a precarious line in many respects. A fragility in the balance keeps the audience enthralled. At one point, the message seems to be that love needs to be protected by convention. How else account for Hoke’s devotion to Daisy and Daisy’s late-in-life delight with his company? As long as both know their place, then affection and care is possible. Surely, however, Playwright Author Alfred Uhry is not suggesting that social boundaries need to be respected in order for caring friendship to flourish. His message is more subtle, and Rose captured it by calling for restraint in his cast’s performances. The script could open itself up to thigh-slapping humor and serious social indictment, but Rose avoids these excesses and the show is much the better for it.

The message of Driving Miss Daisy is that love is always possible, despite differences in background, social standing, religious convictions, or race. It is possible when patience and understanding take a hand and little is at stake except the appreciation of another human being for who he or she happens to be.

Lighting Designer Camille Davis makes the stage seem many times larger than actual. Derek Smith’s set design hints at the vanishing Victorian era in architecture, thoroughly fitting given Daisy’s slow decline as her vitality fades with age. All of the actors age convincing, almost painfully in the case of Daisy and Hoke, as the play progresses – an achievement that the make-up artists backstage and costume designer Lee Alexander Martin deserve recognition.

This review was initially posted on the web site of bookpleasures.com, Norm Golden’s wonderful web site that provides exposure to self-published authors.

Thanks for visiting my web site. I invite you to look through the other pages and enter a comment in the area provided on the “Contact” page. My novels, Breached and Deadly Portfolio, are available in all eBook formats and in paperback. Breached can be ordered through your local bookstore. The same will be true shortly for Deadly Portfolio. Both are available on line in paperback or ebook  format.

 

Fredric March: A Consummate Actor by Charles Tranberg — Reviewed by John J. Hohn

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

#fredricmarch #cinema #thebestyearsofourlives

Charles Tranberg’s biography, Fredric March: A Consummate Actor, belongs in the library of every fan of theater and film in America. Tranberg’s masterful work follows March’s career from his Wisconsin boyhood through to his final triumphant appearance as Harry Hope in The Iceman Cometh released by 20th Century Fox in October, 1973. March was a man of the era and grouped among the many stars who, according to the author, “. . . excelled on both stage and screen.”

March, born Frederick McIntyre Bickle on August 31, 1897, showed an early interest in the stage. Graduating from the University of Wisconsin and after a short stint in the military, March moved to New York in the summer of 1920 to take a job in banking. Fate interrupted his corporate training in the form of an attack of acute appendicitis. During his convalescence, March realized he wanted above all else to be an actor.

Appearing alternately in Denver and New York, his big break came in the role of Tony Cavendish in The Royal Family by George S. Kaufman an Edna Ferber. Based loosely on the Barrymore family, Cavendish is modeled after John Barrymore. March’s imitation delighted the senior actor and for a time the character became a  near alter ego for March. The role followed March into films when he appeared few years later as Norman Maine in A Star is Born. David Thomson, David O. Selznick’s biographer, described March’s performance in the film as “the most compelling thing in the film.” The Judy Garland/James Mason production may be the most widely remembered, but critics praise March’s performance as more subtle and compelling that Mason’s.

MV5BMTk1NTAxNzg3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjU4OTQwNw@@._V1_SX214_Tranberg’s book is extremely well researched. The author reproduces the text of letters, reviews, newspaper articles and the memoirs of peers and the author to track the March’s life from starting on stage to becoming a dominate presence in films. Tranberg is careful to let March’s peers fill in the picture of the actor. The book reads like who’s-who of the era with quotes from the best and brightest of the artists of the time.

March breaks into movies as silent films give way to “talkies,” where his stage training serves him well. For all of his casualness in front of the camera, Tranberg cites repeatedly how diligently March researched his roles, studied his parts, and paid passionate attention to the slightest details. The actor knew his own weaknesses and admonished his directors to keep him from “hamming it up.” As a result, his performances were consistently praised as polished, subtle, suggestive, and restrained.

Tranberg is an accomplished writer. Fredric March: A Consummate Actor gains momentum as the central character’s career expands and the roles become more demanding. Readers may want to watch March’s movies again given the details the book provides about the actor’s preparation, direction and execution.

Big Break . . .

March’s big break comes when he appears in the 1932 release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The film is a box office success. Tranberg pays attention to the technical challenges—no computers anywhere in sight—in making the film, not the least of which is the on-screen terrifying transformation of Jekyll into Hyde.

Fredric March: A Consummate Actor -- Book Cover

Fredric March: A Consummate Actor — Book Cover

The transition from a refined, charitable doctor into a craven rapist-murderer is a curious clue to a side of March’s own personality that is mentioned again and again in the book by those knew the actor well. March, it turns out, was a groper and a womanizer, yet when his wife Florence was around he was a different man, as the author quotes Elia Kazan, “’Freddie was a child who couldn’t keep his fingers out of the cookie jar.’ When Florence did come over for a visit, March, as usual, became ‘another person.’” His wife tolerated his behavior, although it must have mystified some that a man capable of exquisite sensitivity on stage could be so disrespectful and invasive of the dignity of the women with whom he worked. With Florence, however, he was very protective, often lobbying to get her parts and promoting favorable reactions to her performances. Elia Kazan wrote of the couple, “I’d find, as I came to know him, that one of his pleasures was to be naughty and have Florence—his surrogate mother—chide him, ‘Now Freddie.’” Tranberg assiduously avoids commenting as the author on why March behaves as he does and never speculates about the formation of March’s personal character or the psychological forces that drive him.

Telling of the decades during which March worked are the contentious issues of censorship and blacklisting. During this dismal chapter in the industry, March is labeled a communist by irresponsible journalists, an allegation he forcefully denies. March and his wife were citizens of the world and thoughtful in articulating their liberal views. March ultimately won a retraction, but the rumor mill and vigilante press created a climate in which the author states that “it would be several more years before he (March) would be reestablished in motion pictures—mostly in leading character roles.”

Successes on Stage . . .

In addition to The Ice Man Cometh, March’s performances include many classics such as The Best Years of Our Lives, Seven Days in May, and Inherit the Wind. Tranberg rightfully spells out March’s successes on stage also. It is regrettable that all that is left of his performances are the rave reviews.

MV5BNTU0MTQyNjQ5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTI2NTk4._V1_SX148_CR0,0,148,200_Tranberg writes in a conversational style that is easy to read. The attention to detail the author demonstrates in his research, however, does not carry over to his copy editor who failed to catch a number of glitches in the text.. The cast list for the 1935 release of Les Miserables, for example, has Charles Laughton as Valjean, whereas Laughton played Javert. At another point, describing March’s USO travels, the copy reads “. . . a special command performance for the Shah—with whom March also played tennis with . . .” In another passage, the text reads “March said that the retraction gave he and Florence great satisfaction. . ..” A few other typographical errors appear in the quoted passages.

These blemishes, however, do not detract from the depth of the author’s presentation. Aptly titled, Fredric March: A Consummate Actor is a beautifully crafted history of a legendary actor and of the entertainment industry during his lifetime.

This review was initially published in a somewhat shorter form on bookpleasures.com. Thanks for visiting my web site. Please feel free to look through the other pages of my site. I invite you to comment in the area below about any of the content.

Anticipating Mitigates Against Being in the Moment

Sunday, April 1st, 2012
Photo of Greg Hohn, Guest Contributor

Greg Hohn, Tranasactors Director and Guest Contributor

I haven’t exactly ignored what my son, Greg Hohn, has been doing in his theatrical and academic work over the past several years. I have been to several performances of Transactors, and I accepted an invitation to sit in on two of his classes, but I never expected that the work he was doing would have so many parallels in other fields, or life itself for that matter, until I began reading his articles. Well, it is Sunday, and he is back with another wonderful piece  about being in the moment in human relations and communication. Don’t anticipate that because it appears to be about improvisational theater that it doesn’t have much broader implications.  (as I did for a long time.)

Don’t Anticipate… REACT!

Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today. -Seneca

Our society seems to regard anticipation as a very valuable and necessary skill. Everyone seems to want to anticipate what’s going to happen or they’re ready to excoriate someone else for not anticipating something. I’m a fan of planning but not so fond of anticipation. Allow me to explain the slight but important difference between the two.

Planning is preparing for some future event. It is achieving a state of readiness for whatever may come. Part of planning is anticipating the range of possibilities that may arise. This foreseeing may be based on facts, experience, intuition, or blind luck and it’s an important facet of getting ready. Once an event—whether it’s a performance, meeting, conversation, or what-have-you—begins, anticipation loses its value and can indeed become a hazard.

There are a couple of improv exercises that illustrate well the drawbacks of anticipation. One is a mirroring game in which two people try to move together as one, alternating and sharing the roles of leader and follower. Another is an echoing exercise in which a speaker’s words are repeated as s/he says them by the listener(s). In each case, I can tell when followers and listeners are anticipating because they make really big mistakes.

Taking People Out of What is Happening

What anticipation is doing in these instances is taking people out of what is actually happening and into what they think is going to happen. They’re responding to their thoughts and not to the moment. This is not where you want to go, regardless of whether you’re an improv performer, a business leader, or a trial attorney.

A ‘real life’ example of the dangers of anticipation is one all too familiar to almost all of us. You’re having a conversation (or what passes for one) and doing the no-fun job of listening to the other person. It’s no fun because it’s much more fun to say your thing. So this other person is three words into her sentence and suddenly you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next. Been there?

Suddenly, at best, you’re only listening to a fraction of what a person is saying, which is kind of lonely and not very nice. At worst, you’re totally misunderstanding them. They may have sounded like they were going one way with their point when in fact they’re going another direction entirely. That’s no good and it gets worse as the stakes of the encounter rise. (more…)