Vincent Dowling

Upon first hearing that Vincent Dowling had passed this month, I felt that pang of loss that’s commensurate with the sort I’ve felt before when a colossus of an artist is no longer with us. But very quickly after that I felt a swell of appreciation for having seen and known his artistry. I’d been lucky in the way one is lucky to step out into a dark summer night, look up at the black sky and see the miracle of a shooting star flashing by. That was Vincent Dowling on stage.

I’d been to see his work at the Miniature Theatre of Chester and his terrific performance in “The Gin Game” with Kim Hunter when it toured nearby inspired me to direct that play as my new company’s first production many years ago. And that’s how I remember him: inspiring. What a legacy to leave!

If you didn’t get to see him, you missed witnessing someone do for theatre what I hope at the end of my days to be able to say I also did: tell great stories in compelling ways with little concern for anything other than doing it well.

That, my friends, is the best applause I canVincent Dowling offer this great man. Bravo! Vincent Dowling! And thank you.

 

The Continuing Scandal in the Catholic Church

Cavan town, Ireland. Overview - Church of Irel...

Cavan town, Ireland. Overview – Church of Ireland on the left, Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim on the right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The scandal enveloping the Catholic Church in Ireland has called into question the central pillar of Irish social and political thought. The church has pretty much directed both society and politics among the citizens of the Republic since its inception. The play (“The Kiss”)  provides a window through which to observe contemporary Irish society as only a fine piece of writing (and acting) can manage”.

Tim Little

Dating and the Arts…

When I was growing up in a small New England town, interracial marriages were non-existent. In fact, I never saw interracial relationships of any kind. Yet here we are some years later and those constraints no longer exist. Halleluiah for the human capacity for change!

Sadly, one thing that ought to have changed long ago but remains a stubborn social relic for the women of my generation is waiting for the man to do the asking. Most, if not all of my single female friends are past mid-life and still waiting for a man to ask them out on a date. I want to tell them that this is the 21st century, that their daughters are practicing the freedoms these mother’s have supposedly won through the “women’s lib movement”. But I’m not sure it will change how they feel, what they believe, or how they behave. One woman I recently asked about why women our age still wait for a man to “make the first move” related 2 or 3 early attempts at being the initiator failing and so she gave up.

I don’t know what the statistics are for the average number of times a man asks a woman out and gets rejected, but if I had quit after 2 or 3 tries I would have led a monastic life and never enjoyed parenting my two lovely children. As any male in America can tell you, you just have to learn to pick yourself up and try again. It’s unpleasant, but part of the responsibility of having the need for intimacy. If you want something and are exercising your right to be free, then failure to reach your goal comes with the exercise. Occasionally, by some mysterious process, you do, in fact, succeed.

One of the many roles that artists play is that of social critic or revolutionary. As filmmakers or actors, for example, we have to know about social norms and cultural constraints in order to honestly portray and explore the humanity of the characters we represent. And in doing so, we get to poke fun at, satirize, ridicule, even create new versions of human behavior in film and on stage. It’s both a thrilling and weighty responsibility.

Anthony Hopkins at the premiere of Proof at th...

In “Howard’s End”, for example, Anthony Hopkins’ character must remain silent about his feelings for Emma Thompson’s: those were the social constraints of the times. But, I can’t help wondering what those marvelously gifted actors thought about their characters and those times and how that research affected their personal lives. I was squirming in my chair every time Hopkins’ character didn’t reveal his love for Thompson’s. I was ready to scream out, “Tell her! You fool!”

This is one of arts’ many gifts: shining a light on the way we behave and letting us question whether such behavior is worthwhile, necessary, or helpful. We tell and listen to stories to see if and how a character changes and we learn from that. Sometimes we learn that it’s painful to keep behaving the same way while expecting different results. Sometimes we learn that certain social constraints are no longer necessary or functional.

So, to all those mid-life women living in that old, sad story where they are waiting for a man to ask them out, I ask: Aren’t you ready for a change? Just look at what it’s gotten you… I’ve been listening to your stories and the evidence is clear. As the writer William Edward Hickson wrote:

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.

Charisma, Shyness and the Performer’s life.

Elephant Self-Portrait

Elephant Self-Portrait (Photo credit: Cybjorg)

“… one of the conclusions that really struck home for me was the idea that we all become the thing we are most afraid of.”   Michael Caine in “The Elephant To Hollywood”.

I was chatting with a friend recently about the notion of charisma and how some people seem naturally gifted with it while others develop into the “work the room” sort and still others seem completely lacking in charisma and are either pained by that or accepting.

But what is charisma? According to Webster, charisma is “an exceptional ability to secure other people’s devotion or loyalty.”

Seems like an awful lot of effort of will is required by that definition. Look at words like ability, to secure, devotion, and even loyalty. Maybe that’s why the charismatic person who  “works the room” seems to be involved in a sleight-of-hand act all the time. Pretending not to be doing anything while, in fact, doing quite a lot.

But “an exceptional ability” can describe a gift, too. The gifted charismatic person is, in fact, doing nothing at all, yet people—of their own volition—are devoted and loyal. It’s a mystery how this type of charismatic became gifted in the first place. Ask someone who’s charismatic how they got that way and the answer is usually, “I dunno” or some reference to genetics.

While it might be true that one cannot claim a gift one wasn’t born with, I believe we can learn about and even embody qualities we admire in each other. We’re mimics, after all. Aren’t we fascinating? I absolutely love exploring the inner workings of our humanity. And I suspect if I were charismatic it probably wouldn’t be of interest. That kind of exploration doesn’t seem to be part of the job description of the charismatic.

As my friend and I continued chatting, I observed something further: charismatic people seem unafraid of the world around them. They seem comfortable in their own skin in almost any environment, perhaps because their experience tells them “all will be well.”

For those of us who are without charisma that kind of security must be learned. “I think I was the shyest little boy I’ve ever come across and it could be that I became a performer to overcome that fear of being in front of people.”  Michael Caine in “The Elephant To Hollywood”.

If “all the world’s a stage”, someday I hope to be at ease on it… Until then, I’m so glad my profession let’s me pretend to be!

Originally posted on Cui Bono:

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“You’re wrong,” is what I wanted to tell her.  “You don’t give people a chance.  You’re just a spoiled snobbish whining brat without the slightest concern for someone else’s problems.”  That’s what I wanted to say. Instead I shook my head, grinned, and pretended to sympathize with the Irish girl—the ridiculous things she said.

In the cool departing daylight of late summer’s afternoon, seated outside at a corner café, I wanted it sweet.  I was swirling a third cognac, getting ‘up to speed’ as Parisians flew past, allegro ma non troppo, moving like the Métro.  I had dubbed this motion the Paris Sidewalk Surge. Even our café crowd raced, running their rapid chatter of demi-tasse and cigarette ash, making the Paris al fresco experience feel like bathing with an immersed electrical appliance.

I sat with a young cousin who, for no valid reason, resented this stimulated city.  Paris was…

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