The Soul of the American Actor

INTERVIEWS with ARTISTS

BEN VEREEN

JEANINE TESORI

PSALMAYENE 24

SYLVIA MCNAIR

MICHAEL McELROY

DEIDRE KINAHAN

BOB ARI

PAUL TAZEWELL

PATRICIA ROZARIO

NANCY RHODES

MAIA DANZIGER

EARL “PEANUTT” MONTGOMERY

WILLIE RUFF

DENNIS D’AMICO

GRACE CACHOCHA

KAREN SAILLANT

JENNIFER HORNE

JEANIE THOMPSON

ROBERT PERRY

WAYNE SIDES

JAMIE LEE McMAHAN

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artists resources

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SPOTLIGHT ON ARTISTS

Zana Marjanovic

Dr. Ashley William Joseph

M. Safeer

Kevin Kimani Kahuro

Ilire Vinca

Avra Sidiropoulou

Sujatha Balakrishnan

Mihaela Dragan

Farah Deen

Katy Lipson

Juan Maldonado

Odile Gakire Katese

Hartmut von Lieres

Dragan Jovičić

Sachin Gupta

Jill Navarre

 


Essays

LIFE AND ACTING: Techniques for the Actor

Let These New Plays Happen to You

Celebrating Uta Hagen Centennial at the HB Studio

Taking the Business of Acting Online

Mary Overlie: Original Dance Anarchist and Post-Modern Evangelist: A Tribute to Mary Overlie 1946-2020

The “Real” Illusion of Mime

Art is the Means by which We Make Ourselves Visible

Theater - A Celebration of All Life

To Think the Thought

Yat Malmgren and the Drama Centre, London

Directions for Directing: Theatre and Method

Writing for Life

Our Theatrical Mission

Strolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney

A Great Reminder for Us All

by David Amram

H20 – Paintings of and About Water

A New Way of Professional Theater

“Let Thousand Flowers Blossom”

A Double Life: My Exciting Years in Theatre and Advertising

“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

“Each of us have a gift given us freely by the universe. And each of us with every breath gives something back.”
– Kim Stanley

“We all bear within us the potentiality for every kind of passion, every fate, every way of life. Nothing human is alien to us. If this were not so, we could not understand other people, either in life or in art.”
– Max Reinhardt

“All kinds of art serve to the greatest of the arts - the art of living on earth.”
– Bertolt Brecht

“The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.”
– James Madison

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
– Martha Graham

“You have to live spherically — in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm — and things will come your way.”
– Federico Fellini

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and make a change.”
– Michael Jackson

 

“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

Strolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney

When Finney celebrated his ninth birthday, his home city of Salford, within the Metropolitan borough of Manchester, was ablaze with bonfires and fireworks. The festivities were not to commemorate his birthday. Even Finney was not so precocious as to be feted at the age of nine – although given his subsequent achievements nothing would surprise me! It was, of course, to mark VE Day, the end of the Second World War. May 8th,1945 – which fell the day before his birthday.

Finney recalled: “I’ve always found light magical and still find fireworks magical because it seems to me that in many ways they’re a bit like lives, about existence because the energy takes it somewhere and then it’s gone. I think in some ways our lives are like that. There’s hopefully a burst of something or an ascent in some way and, then, it’s over. That had a big effect on my life.”

Such a major event would have had a major impact on a young boy. And, of course, so with the image of Churchill – whom Finney would portray some memorably more than a century later – giving the crowds in London a victory salute. For Finney, the war years in Salford were sometimes scary and bleak and the blaze of color that day proved unforgettable.

Albert Finney in 1966

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Charles Laughton invited Finney to Stratford. The veteran actor was to play Lear, and also Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He wanted Finney in the company. Finney had little choice but to follow his mentor. Finney’s period at Stratford, however, was not happy. One of the problems was that at drama school, and then at Birmingham, Finney had been feted as the great young leading man. At Stratford, however, Finney found himself surrounded by seasoned players – and he was still only twenty-three.

Charles Laughton

The stars besides Laughton, were Paul Robeson as Othello and Laurence Olivier as Coriolanus. Other veteran performers included Harry Andrews whom Kenneth Tynan had described as ‘the backbone of British theater’. Also, there was Angela Baddeley and Edith Evans – the latter, Finney always said, his favorite leading lady. If only cameras had captured what must have been an extraordinary season. Of these performances only “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was filmed for posterity.

Paul Robeson

Zoe Caldwell recorded the magnificent impression made by Robeson: “We all nervously awaited the arrival of Paul Robeson from Russia. Paul was, in so many ways, a giant of a man. All his life he had excelled – as an athlete, a scholar and a singer – and because he seemed to have no fear he spoke out against injustice wherever he found it.”

“I think envy had a great deal to do with his being driven from his own country. He was a Gulliver among us Lilliputians. He spoke to everyone in the same voice, no matter how grand the person, no matter how small. And he never mentioned his race.”

Meanwhile, Finney, playing Edgar watched as Laughton, then pushing sixty, wrestled with Lear. An air of sadness surrounded the production. For forty years, Laughton had studied the role of Lear. Intellectually and emotionally he was ready, but physically he was not. He walked unsteadily, occasionally veering to the side. According to Caldwell, who played Cordelia:

“He was grossly over-weight and standing was a chore. He loved to sit on a chair at the center of a circle surrounded by young people sitting or kneeling, listening to his wisdom… Charles had left out the large ingredient for the big roles: stamina.”

Zoe Caldwell believed that Laughton, who, we should remember died three years later, had taken on Finney as a young protege and was projecting on him his throated ambitions.

“I think Charles felt somewhat vicariously, that he could play the roles that he had never played – Romeo, Hamlet, Henry Y, through Albert. This is something older actors sometimes do and it does not help either the younger the older actor. There was a danger in Albert on the stage but like all young actors he had to make his own mistakes, his way in order to develop his own talent.”

Albert Finney in “Night Must Fall” (1964)

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Finney later said he felt imbued with energy, even after a colossal part like Hamlet. It was though the play, as written, fulfilled a cathartic need in an actor: “The great difference between stage and screen is that in the theater, if you’re playing a demanding part, you can get a physical sense of repletion.”

“At the end of the evening, you really feel it you’ve been used and stretch physically, mentally, emotionally. Playing Hamlet is extraordinary that way. You go through the whole evening talking, talking, talking. And then you get to a duel with Laertes, and you feel you’ve got nothing left. But because the playwright asks you to do something physical, it’s actually a very energizing moment in the play. You’re using a different part of yourself for five or eight minutes after all this ‘To be or not to be’ stuff.”

“Having been an actor, Shakespeare understood how it would work. In movies you don’t get that physical fulfillment, because you spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for just a little burst of energy. You go home mentally tired, but you’ve not used your body. Some days are very frustrating, when you go in full of beans, and three-quarters of the day is lost in lighting the scene.”

Albert Finney

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“One of the terrible things about the sense of permanence is that you’re not open to possibilities. I find possibilities very pleasurable and sensual and exciting… What I do is resist seeming to be one thing. I may be deluding myself, but there’s a sense of the rogue and vagabond, the strolling player, seeing what comes up – Where do I want to go next? How do I feel? It actually means I don’t have to fit within society, into a particular mold. I like the sense that one might still be surprised by life.

(L.-R.) Anthony Perkins and Albert Finney (as Hercule Poirot) in a scene from Agatha Christie’s “Murder on The Orient Express,” 1974. (Photo: EMI Films/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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His other reason for staying in the UK was that Finney felt that, in America, a commercially successful film brought untold pressures on its leading actor.

“In America there’s pressure to stay on the treadmill and follow up a movie with a movie with a more successful movie. That’s impossible of course. Nobody’s career has ever continued to go upward and down and onward without a few backward steps. The graph of any life fluctuates. All graphs go up and down. Look at the great acting careers in England – Olivier and Gielgud and Richardson. They’re working actors. They don’t worry that they shouldn’t do theater or television because they’re movie stars.”

“Picasso didn't paint a masterpiece every time he stepped up to the easel; sometimes he just did little sketches, but he kept working. That's how Richardson, Olivier and Gielgud feel. If they’re not doing a movie or play they’ll do a television play or radio play, just to practice their craft. It’s tougher to do that in America.”

Brian Cox, in a recent interview, made the point: “It is important to know the roots of things, where you are from and how acting developed… the passing of people like Peter O’Toole and Alan Bates, people of that generation, they belonged to something which was quite revolutionary, previous to that it was the Olivier’s, it was the Gielgud’s.”

“Knowledge of yesterday’s great was essentially,” he said, “to establish that sense of a continuum, and where these actors broke ground in very different ways. It just needs attention, if nothing else. I think one of the problems of the day is that history started five minutes ago.” •2017 (Excerpts from Strolling Player: The Life and Career of Albert Finney by Gabriel Hershman, published by The History Press. Reprinted with the permission of the author.)

Gabriel Hershman  Editor, Biographer. Mr. Hershman’s first book was the biography of the late Ian Hendry, “Send in the Clowns.” His second book, Strolling Player, a biography of British actor Albert Finney, was published by The History Press in 2017, and his third biograph is of the late Nicol Williamson, “Black Sheep,” published by The History Press in 2018. He has had features and articles published in many magazines  including “Counter Punch,” “The Jewish News” and “The Salisbury Review.”


"It is a law of life that man cannot live for himself alone. Extreme individualism is insanity. The world's problems are also our personal problems. Health is achieved through maintaining our personal truth in a balanced relation of love to the rest of the world. No expression is more emblematic of this relation than the creative act which we call art. No art by its very constitution typifies the social nature of that creative act more than the theatre. The theatre, to be fully understood and appreciated, must be seen as a manifestation of this process of interchange between society and the individual. It must be judged as a continuous development of groups of individuals within society, a development which becomes richer, acquires greater force and value as it grows with the society in which it originates. Only in this way can the theatre nourish us.  - Harold Clurman

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