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INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

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Artists

 

 

subscribe
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artists resources

 

books
&
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INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

PHYLICIA RASHAD

BILLY CRUDUP

CAROL LAWRENCE

ANDRUS NICHOLS

MARTY RAYBON

ALONZO KING

JAKE LANDERS

KERRY GILBERT

YI-MIN CAI

MICHAEL SHANE NEAL

TONYA S. HOLLY

CAROLYN PALMER

Spotlight On
International
Artists

subscribe
now

 

artists resources

 

books
&
plays

 


Essays

Ingredients Of A Creative Life: Sketches Summer 2017

The Method Acting Exercises Handbook

The Laboratory Instinct

All People Are Famous: Instead of an Autobiography

“CREATE! How Extraordinary People Live to Create and Create to Live”

Films That Make a Difference

Witness to Spirit: My Life with Cowboys, Mozart & Indians

My Life and Art

A Healing Art: How Eurythmy Lives in the World

Dramatic Circumstances: On Acting, Singing, and Living Inside the Stories We Tell: Teaching Through the Lens of Neuroscience

Chasing Light: Notes on Creativity

Changing Ourselves to Change Society

An Excerpt from DAH Theatre: A Sourcebook

I Can Resist Everything Except Тheater: the Work and Role of The Macedonian Centre — International Theatre Institute

Real Life Drama

Hirschfeld

“To grasp the full significance of life is the actor's duty, to interpret it is his problem, and to express it his dedication.”  
– Marlon Brando

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
– Helen Keller

“The theatre should be treated with respect. The theatre is a wonderful place, a house of strange enchantment, a temple of illusion.”
– Noel Coward

“Cultivate an ever continuous power of observation...see the sunlight and everything that is to be seen.”
– John Singer Sargent

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
– T.S. Eliot

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world."
– Harriet Tubman

“Feel is if you are reborn each day and rediscover the world of nature which are joyfully a part.”
– Pablo Casals, at the age of 96

“The secret of all natural and human law is movement that meets with devotion”
– I Ching

“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self.”
– Richard Bach

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
– Wilma Rudolph

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
– William Faulkner

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
– Ernest Hemingway:

“Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
– President Lyndon B. Johnson

“My favorite piece of music is the one we hear all the time if we are quiet.”
– John Cage

“In a moment of grace, we can grasp eternity in the palm of our hand. This is the gift given to creative individuals who can identify with the mysteries of life through art.”
– Marcel Marceau:

“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.”
– Ludwig van Beethoven

“Use your knowledge, and your heart, to stand up for those who can't stand, speak for those who can't speak, be a beacon of light.”
– Julie Andrews

“...Beneath the surface of an ordinary everyday normal casual conscious existence there lies a vast dynamic world of impulse and dream...”
– Robert Edmond Jones

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
– Samuel Beckett

“Transform the work, yourself, and everybody around you...Kindness is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow upon another. If someone is in need, lend them a helping hand. Do not wait for a thank you. True kindness lies within the act of giving without the expectation of something in return.”
– Katharine Hepburn

“Being an actor is a religious calling because you've been given the ability, the gift to inspire humanity.”
– Sandy Meisner

“Whenever you are reading beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul.”
– Alice Walker

“The only reason to write is from love.”
– Stephen Sondheim

“To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.”
– Georgia O’Keefe

“The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”
– Albert Schweitzer

“A word does not start as a word – it is an end product which begins as an impulse, stimulated by attitude and behavior which dictates the need for expression.”
– Peter Brook

“The power of art is the power of truth.”
– Julian Beck

“The key to the mystery of a great artist is that for reasons unknown, he will give away his energies and his life just to make sure that one note follows another... and leaves us with the feeling that something is right in the world.”
– Leonard Bernstein

“In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalog. Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
– President Lyndon B. Johnson

“If you take the trouble to really listen (to the music) with your soul and with your ears - and I say soul and ears because the mind must work, but not too much also - you will find every gesture there. And it is all true, you know.”
– Maria Callas

“An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.”
– Langston Hughes

Ingredients Of A Creative Life: Sketches Summer 2017

Petronia Paley in “On the Way to Timbuktu”

Routes Sketch #1

I grew up as an only child in the segregated Georgia. As only children know, you either love or hate it; I was the former. It taught me that aloneness wasn’t loneliness, that curiosity, rather than killing the cat, feeds her, and that self-reliance is as welcomed as a popsicle on a hot summer's day. I loved dressing up in my grandmother’s floral dresses, singing along with my mother's records, collecting ants and fireflies in glass jars, and  having tea parties with my dolls. Of particular fascination was my aunt Rubye’s wedding dress, sleeping in tissue paper in a large box beneath the bed. With the reverence of an acolyte opening  a saint’s reliquary, I lifted out the gown and slipped into its shiny skin and became the veiled lady in the billowing satin and lace dream of happiness ever after. Bedtime, before drifting off, I mentally created serial stories, and though I’d only seen a ballet on our black and white TV, I created dances.

Petronia Paley as Linda Loman, Justin Emeka as Biff, Avery Brooks as Willy Loman, Darryle Johnson as Happy in “Death of a Salesman” at Oberlin College

My maternal great grandfather was born after the end of slavery. He was a master builder, having built many of the fine old homes of the white gentry and he was an entrepreneur. My grandfather continued his father's legacy — Slater’s Funeral Home. And most days after school, I stopped by, developing the habit of “viewing the dead.” There they lay finely attired, coiffed, powdered and roughed in their cushioned resting places. A guest book lay on the podium nearby and I, like any dutiful mourner, signed it.

Without knowing it then, I developed a respect for and not fear of the dead and death; it was the other side of life, as common as the pecan trees lining the streets, a conduit to the imagination. Katy’s House of Beauty, while serving the “colored” ladies, who got their hair pressed into lacquered black ribbons, curled into tight rows, then styled for church going or a good time, was as much a part of the life of the place as the dead. Katy also groomed and beautified the deceased. The sweet smell of Dixie Peach hair pomade mixing with the pungency of embalming fluid was as familiar a sensate expectation as my grandmama's roses.

Petronia Paley with her artwork in “Inspirations” Art Exhibit at the West Side Arts Coalition, 2016

My other stop, was my mother’s cafe, just around the corner. My favorite snack was her fried chicken sandwich served on white soft, spongy bread (no one had any other kind) with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.

My Mama's Fried Chicken Recipe:
Chicken cut in pieces, flour, salt and pepper, brown paper bag for shaking and tossing, cast iron frying pan, and hot oil. Salt and pepper pieces, put in bag with flour, toss, shake off excess, drop pieces (carefully) in hot bubbling oil until golden crispy brown, then turn. Continue cooking until done. No buttermilk needed, no double dredging, just finger licking good! Nobody did it or does it better than my Mama. Enjoy.

“Dancing Blue” by Petronia Paley

I’ve always loved good food, being nourished on great southern cooking. Some have opined its unhealthy, with an abundance of the fried kind, but that was not my experience. We ate lots of vegetables, true they were overcooked, but they were delicious and fresh.

As my beloved grandmama Essie, advised, “Drink the potlikker, it’s good for you.” (potlikker: the seasoned broth after cooking greens). And true, we had only iceberg lettuce, but it was served, not only in salads, but as a canvass for shrimp, tuna and fruit salads and always topped with a maraschino cherry. 

Childhood fed my body, fired my soul with horror stories of lynchings and cross burnings, fueled my mind with limitations to be overcome, and flattered my imagination with the possibility that better things awaited in New York City. And there — was a street called Broadway.

“Madame Longlegs” by Petronia Paley

Relax  Sketch #2

Today my mind’s a kaleidoscope, shifting like colorful shards, between projects and to do-lists: rearrange the collage, learn the scene for your acting project, research the staged reading you're directing and cast an actor, study audition sides and, on and on.

Then the tranquil voice of  Swami Bua, my beloved yoga teacher intones, "Relax your body, relax your mind, mentally message your body, give a mental message...relax, relax, relax. Let the breath be deep and long. You are not this body, you are not this mind, you are something divine." And it works! Calm and focus are restored. I've been practicing pranayama and yoga since I first discovered Lilias Folan on late night TV.  It was life changing, setting me on a course of body awareness.

Through the years, I’ve sought various teachers, gurus, saints (and at least one sinner) with whom to deepen my practice and to learn various ways and means to keep body, mind and spirit in health. These tool-kits are indispensable and positively invaluable in performance.

“The Jazz Man” by Petronia Paley

My Front Yard Sketch #3

After pilates class, I retreat to my “front yard” — my go-to place, to learn lines, read, or just be. In my imagination, thousands of years ago, the Lenape, the original island inhabitants, held sacred rites here while dancing to the spirits of Earth and sky (incidentally, they called the island “Manahatta"). Where once there were grasses, now the ground is paved, tall whispering wisteria trees shady canopies, trilling and cooing birds frolic in a tiered waterfall, and flowering begonias and petunias, reminiscent of a Georgia O’Keefe painting, keep silent watch on the “natives” in flip flops and sunglasses.

As an aside, when standing-by for Cicely Tyson in “The Gin Game” on Broadway, my daily routine was to spend hours here learning lines. I knew I’d be going on with James Earl Jones, for whom I have the utmost respect. In addition to being a two-hander, the actors have the added challenge of playing cards with skill. It was a wonderful experience, my front yard was a charm.

But today, my goal is to learn lines for the scene I’m working into “The Lady M Project.” It’s my latest effort in developing another solo piece. I decided, a few years ago, that waiting for work was redundant not to mention reductive, so I wrote my first one woman show, “On the Way to Timbukto.” It was successfully presented in several venues garnering several nominations and one award for solo performance. Again, Shakespeare’s my muse and again a psychologically challenged lady is center stage, though not a musician, I want to create its “music.” 

“Thai Dada” by Petronia Paley

I’d been working on it for months before I was cast as Queen Duncan, this past spring, at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C., directed by Liesl Tommy. As a member of The Actors Studio, I can continue to develop it, then present in session. I’ve done so three times and the last, to my great surprise, the moderator was Jack Garfein, with whom I’d studied directing. He’s been living in Paris for many years and I’d often thought of him.

Sitting in the shade, I observe two women chatting. One of them I recognize. As always, she’s stylishly colorful, be-decked elbow deep in silver bangles. She once told me, “I don't eat slave food” (the food of her ancestors), which I found rather amusing, but kept my thoughts to myself. I hadn’t seen her in years. She was from a past re-invention of myself, a time when I wasn’t booking roles, needed a survival job and became a substitute teacher. She was a teacher for whom I sometimes “subbed” in schools. 

She was the only person I told I was an actor, because I liked her, enjoyed her class (English) and she had great lessons plans (cherished as an actor’s prop). We talked until she and her friend headed off to a film. It wasn’t the time to tell her how she'd played a supporting role in my writing. There are many memorable experiences that could inspire wannabe plays, but one particular class of hers, actually did.

The students were to watch the film, “Night and Fog” by Alain Resnais. It's a graphic depiction of the Holocaust, and of the events in the book, Night by Elie Wiesel, which the class was reading. “An Eduction” was the resulting one-act. As in most fictional work, the events are factional.

“Nana with Tignon #1” by Petronia Paley

There’s another student's story I long to write, but start it only to stop. Seeing the New York Public school system up close and personal was a daily lesson in improvisation, a “living in the moment” experience as only you can when facing a room full of teenagers “pissed” or overly excited that their teacher is absent. “Subs, (the abbreviation speaks volumes) gets no respect.

My sincere respect goes out to teachers who, in all too many instances, encounter students, who seemingly have no regard for or thought about the need for an education. The system is failing inner-city students, literally and figuratively. Arguably, there needs to be more innovative and creative ways to challenge and guide all students through this very crucial stage in their development when the provocations facing us nationally and globally are daunting. The 21st century is not the former,  in spite of those who want to take us back to a halcyon time that, if ever existed, excluded most.

In hindsight, perhaps being in those classrooms with homeless, emotionally and mentally challenged, talented and smart, hurt and angry, ninth graders, medicated and those in need of, and immigrant students, who were so eager to learn and be here, was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was always their student, they my teacher. The journey always leads us to the path we need to travel. The Buddhists say, “Enjoy the journey.”

Art and Anna  Sketch #4

In summer of 2016, I was given an art exhibit at “Cheri,” a Harlem bistro. That summer I participated in three art shows, but “Cheri” was special and solo. I called the show, “Breaking Tohubohu: Collagology from Berkeley,” because it was the first time I was showing my collages.

Petronia Paley in Ronald Bunn’s “Routes”

While performing in “The House That Will Not Stand” by Marcus Gardley at Berkeley Rep, I didn’t have the usual “stuff” for painting and as a fan of Romare Bearden and David Driskell, collage was ideal. My creating art had become as essential as acting, yet its requisites are different. It gave my unconscious unbridled freedom, self-criticism was forbidden and there were no lines to learn, no director’s dictates and notes, no playwright’s words to make my own, and no fellow actor’s stuff. The two-year-old in me was very happy “arting.”

Always as ardent museum-goer, but in the 80’s, I attended an exhibit at The New Museum of Contemporary Art that was seminal. Raw and brutally wondrous, it was the work of Cuban born artist, Ana Mendieta. She called it an “Earth-body” work and had documented it in photographs. Her nude body was canvass, nature her paints, whether covered in mud, feathers, flowers, twigs, sprawled face down in the earth, floating in a stream, or traces of incorporeality imprinted the earth, the work was a primal scream of feminine power, of her union with creation and Earth. When wrapped in white blood soaked cloth, the work conjured the dual meaning — the violent assault or rape inflicted on women and girls and/or the vicissitudes of giving birth. Always the images pulsated the celebration of womanhood. She was influenced by Mesoamerican art.

Now years later, I, too, find inspiration in the ancient art of Mesoamrica, having created a collage series, “Nana with Tignon,” inspired by a Tlatilco maternity figure with two faces. Duality, the Janus mask, masks, and ancient art depicting females are ongoing curiosities and inspirations.

Initially, I traced my interest in Mesoamerican art to a production of “King Lear” at Yale Rep, directed by the great director, Hal Scott. The world of the play was set in the time of the Olmec civilization which flourished millennia ago. There were lots of feathered costumes and a colossal golden Olmec head, reminiscent of the La Venta Head, dominated the stage. And of course, we were provided with archaeological images of statuaries. I loved them. One was particularly endearing, a woman holds a small dog on her lap and they're kissing.

It’s a timeless testament to humanities enduring love of pets. But on reflection, I think Ana’s influences predates that experience, but the Olmec opened my eyes to the rich and stunning art of the Americas.

Ana’s art and life, her tragic death have ebbed and flowed in my consciousness. She died in ’86, having fallen from her 36th floor window. Her sculptor husband was reported to have said, “She was somehow gone out the window.”

Ana claimed her art space, creating the world in her image. As the the feminist Tamil poet, Sukirtharani, writes, “If anyone asks me I speak up bluntly, I am Paraichi.” Both artist sing their song, dance their dance, claim their space as women and artists.

Living a creative life, is all I know, all I seek to know. On whatever path it takes me, I will follow. My inspirations are the intersection of childhood, food, gender, culture, politics, the good, bad, and ugly, known and unknown forces that made and make me into the person I keep growing into, in order to keep becoming.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King: “There is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole.”

A friend often says: ‘In order to drink the milk, you must feed the cow.” Harthor, the ancient Egyptian Cosmic Goddess (depicted as a cow) is the personification of the great mother. If anyone asks me about creation, I say: “I drink the milk of the Cosmic Mother.” • 2017

Written exclusively for “The Soul of the American Actor.”

PETRONIA PALEY Actor, Director, Playwright, Visual Artist. Her Stage appearances include “Gin Game,” and “On Golden Pond” on Broadway and at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, her one-woman play “On the Way to Timbuktu” receiving the Audelco award at the Penumbra Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and at the Turtle Theatre, “The House That Will Not Stand” at Berkeley Rep and Yale Repertory, “Coriolanus” at Take Wing and Soar Theatre Company receiving an Audelco award nomination, “King Lear” at Yale Repertory, “Trojan Women” at the Shakespeare Theatre receiving a Helen Hayes Award nomination, “The Oedipus Plays” at Shakespeare Theatre, and “Herod Atticus” in Greece, “Electra” with The Classical Theatre of Harlem receiving an Audelco award, “Hamlet” at Take Wing and Soar Theatre Company, “Relativity” at the Ensemble Studio Theatre receiving an Audelco award nomination, “The Revenger’s Tragedy” with the Red Bull Theatre, “The Cherry Orchard” at The Classical Theatre of Harlem receiving an Audelco award nomination, and “The Trial” at the New Federal Theatre receiving an Audelco award. Ms. Paley’s televison work includes “Billions,” “Blue Bloods,” “Damages,”  “Another World,” and “Guiding Light.” Her film appearances include “2 Days in New York,” “Almost Summer,” “White Girl,” and “The Transporter.” Ms. Paley’s directing includes “Munched,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Medea,” “Daughter,” “Kernel of Sanity,” and “Ascension.” She founded “I the Actor Acting Studio.” Ms. Paley’s writing includes “On The Way To Timbuktu.” She is a lifetime member of The Actors Studio.

 


“Above all, you must remain open and fresh and alive to any new idea.” - Laurence Olivier

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