Archive for Heath Ledger

“I’d like to thank…”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2009 by erikball123

A head held high or one for the record books? Which would you prefer?

Slumdog Millionaire just won Best Picture. You might have heard about Heath Ledger (saw that coming!) and Sean Penn. Penelope Cruz might’ve surprised a few…but for the most part we watched  yet another predictable telecast of a mostly entertaining Oscar ceremony led by one of the industry’s most charismatic leading men. I liked some of the new formats presented and for the first time in years I wasn’t bored to tears. (Although I admit I was working on a few costume drawing for Seussical the Musical and tore myself away.)

One thing stood out in the program, and ironically is was a simple clip from a vignette and a movie I haven’t seen in a long time. You all remember “Good Will Hunting” right? Robin Williams’ character says “…you have to love something more than yourself…”

I don’t know what it’s like to be a movie star. I can’t fathom the paparazzi, the exposure…the lavish lifestyle and living in a fishbowl. But I can imagine that that sort of thing would certainly come in between what you do as a performer and how you do it.

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Sean Penn, tonight, was praised as someone who doesn’t allow the fame to get in the way of his process, and for the record I have nothing against Penn personally. I enjoy his films. But, I was disheartened to see that on the heels of someone praising his ethics and poise when approaching the craft of creating a character and his unwavering ability to not allow that to be compromised by the heavy chains of stardom, he accepted his award and used the acceptance speech time to get on a soap box and speak about a current political issue on gay rights. Granted the film is about gay rights…but the award is a acting merit award, given to honor the actor and his/her craft. It’s not a promotion. It’s not a platform. And yet, all too often actors (or rather those who routinely gain exposure) use that opportunity to further themselves or their beliefs.

Let’s bring this down to high school theater at Faith Lutheran. We just finished a successful first week run of our high school play. The students did amazing and I felt that the audiences were very receptive. I watched as those bright-eyed students munched on bite-sized cupcakes after the show, still in make-up. These enthusiastic hopefuls, who, at the very least, want to impress and do well onstage made up of a variety of personalities. Some want a career in performing. Some simply enjoy the ride. All too often, as their teacher / director, one of the hardest things I have to do is to attempt to break down that wall that society (and oftentimes their parents and peers) builds up around these young actors. It’s a wall of self-worth, entitlement and pride. I’m guilty of doing it myself.

Acting is appealing in high school because anyone can do it. If you have no arms or legs, you can still be an actor. What separates a good actor from a bad actor is determined by their self-discipline and what others think. It’s subjective. Kids want to fill a fundamental void in their lives by stepping onstage. They’re escaping…gaining acceptance…finding an outlet…utilizing the stage as a surrogate therapy session. Whatever the reason (subconscious or not)…everyone onstage in high school, WANTS to be onstage for a reason. How do you get past that as a teacher, and help those students realize that the craft of acting is MORE than that, and that they need to love it more than themselves in order to truly do it to the glory of God?

My job is part time counselor, theater teacher, drama director…and I carry lots of school keys. Every day changes and shifts into something I never would have guessed. It’s a roller-coaster. The other day I was nearly brought to tears when a first-time actor came off stage and looked me in the eye and said “I’m so happy!” and then rushed away. (You had to be there.) I was also recently nearly brought to tears when I was told a long-time student of mine might consider going to another school, known for the performing arts status symbols and community-recognized talent pool and opportunity.

High School is high school. It shouldn’t be the NBA where kids are drafted or selected or chosen. It should remain a secondary education platform for all students to broaden horizons and expand on things that interest them. We can channel interest, but to focus on a single one and drive it home prior to graduation is setting students up for failure in my opinion.

Leading roles are fun…and exciting, and challenging. But, it’s a supporting role world. Faith Lutheran does not have the best drama program in the country. (It’s DARN close, I’ll tell you!) But, should we even care about that? Is that the goal? To be the best…to get a leading role….to accept an Oscar? If that’s the goal…then count me out. That’s using the talents God gave us as a springboard for our own personal interest and ultimately looking out for number one.

Self promotion gets people in the seats, and I suppose one might argue that you have to be brilliant in marketing before even thinking about opening a show on Broadway or at Faith Lutheran. Entertaining comes with a price. But, the process of shifting focus…redirecting…and remembering not to upstage God…that’s the continuing road every performer must travel.

I look forward to SEUSSICAL auditions in two weeks. In three weeks I will do my duty as grief counselor to those who worked so hard and didn’t get that leading role. It’s all very perfunctory and while I do care for these students and their feelings very much…it’s a very hard job to look them in the tear-filled eyes and explain to them that this is ONE musical. One opportunity…one show…and they are only 16 years old. It’s not about the show…not about the role…not about the opportunity. It’s about knowing why you love something so much, and then investing yourself in that one thing to the point to where you can love it more than yourself. For them, the high school student…it’s recognizing why they wanted that role…and why it’s okay to be upset, but knowing WHY they’re upset. Is it because they lost an opportunity for themselves?

I don’t think I’m there yet. I love the applause at the end. I love the glow of the spotlight. I love make-up and costumes, and props. Love it! Heck, this whole blog post can be construed as my own little soap box! And as a dirty, scummy sinner…I can love my God enough to know that I’m going to have a hard time teaching my students to get past the role and show, and do their best in God’s name, when I struggle to do it myself.

God gave me talents to use onstage to His glory. He did the same to my students and the Academy Award winners. I will pat my students on the back offering a “good show” sentiment, and I can look forward to next weekend’s round two and the auditions afterward. I can maybe even look forward to next year’s Oscar awards. Maybe. But, one thing is for certain…there is no trophy shelf in heaven. As much as I want to be that actor that performs in the name of the Lord…I’ll have to start breaking down my own walls of entitlement and self-motivation.

And even then…how do you pass that down? Loving the art of acting is easy, but loving the Lord more than you love yourself is hard…even in a leading role.

“wHy so sERIous?”

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2008 by erikball123

I was inspired by my MS Clowning & Puppetry Class to talk about the world’s coolest villain: the Joker. Yeah, I’m a die-hard Batman fan. Forget web-slinging fools or Superdorks in spandex, the Bat is the man. In class my students are working on building their own clown characters based on classic clown types, which can be very hard to do. Clown characters are supposed to be extensions of yourself…to a degree. They are exaggerated, overly physical, comedic beings that are supposed to be offered as a “caricatured you.” Everyone, of course, wants their clown to look like Heath Ledger portrayal of the The Joker…and at that age, everyone seems to associated clowns with psychopaths. (Not a class period goes by when I ask for examples of Whiteface Clowns that a student doesn’t shout out “IT!”….from the Stephen King movie/novel. Like, I’ve seen it, or something! Heh!) But, truth be told, clowns (whether good, bad or ugly) remain a highly respected and under-appreciated form of performance art to this day.

But, back to Batman. First and foremost, I must give kudos where they are deserved. I’m not one to throw award predictions around or make idle comments on the scope of an actor’s worth based on a single performance…but if Ledger gets an Oscar nod, or an actual posthumous award, I wouldn’t be surprised. His portrayal of the deformed, destructive, smiling lunatic in THE DARK KNIGHT, is simply amazing. What a multi-layered performance! I truly enjoyed the movie.

But, I grew up with Batman. Reruns from the 60s series ran at 6:30am before I went away to school everyday. (And, no I did not grow up in the 60s.) I used to LOVE the Penguin…he was my favorite villain for a while on that show…but after catching Grumpy Old Men (that cinematic masterpiece), turns out I only really like Burgess Meredith. But, the campy series was like eating a handful of marshmallows. Not much substance, very sweet, easy to swallow…and leaves a weird taste in your mouth afterward. It was just a smidge….eh…..weird. I categorize it under the same file as old-school Star Trek. While a fan…there’s just something about those types of shows that seemed almost “underground” and unpolished. It was like I was watching a late night, cable-access, University television show produced by obnoxious frat boys and brilliant chess club geeks collectively, complete with choppy editing and lame plot structures. But it was fun.

However…I need to talk about the Joker on that series. (Played by a forever mustached Cesar Romero.) First of all, shave your stinkin’ mustache if you’re playing the Joker, dude! I don’t care how in-style they were. Some say it was Romero’s monniker. (Much like Marilyn Monroe’s beauty spot.) Whatever. Under all that make-up Romero just looked….well, skraggly! Second…the dude never smiled. He always looked like he was in pain, and being shocked by a Tazer gun at the same time. He bounced around, and while the contrived laugh he cranked out every now and then seemed out of place at times…it was kinda creepy. The lavender suit, phoney laugh and cheesy plots all kinda ran together for me. Sometimes “Joker episodes” would leave me very unhappy.

I’ve never caught the Batman animated series, but…check it out…Luke Skywalker does the voice of the Joker. What the stink!? Joker Skywalker! Eh. Doesn’t seem like a good fit for me. But then again, who else with ANY star power are they going to find to voice the guy. Hayden Christinsen? Nah. Harrison Ford is still frozen in carbonite and is a bit unavailable.

Then there was Jack Nicholson. There is nothing bad anyone can say about this guy. I think he’s borderline brilliant…and the fact that he’s a grade-A arrogant slob in real life, doesn’t really bother me much. There is something about the way he carries himself in every picture that just “sells!” If you look back at that first Batman movie….completely out of context in comparison to the later Batman films…you HAVE to agree that this film was HUGE back when it was released. Just HUGE. It was the rebirth of Batman….they had huge star power behind the film…and it was a lot of crazy movie magic. Win, win, win. Granted…Nicholson’s Joker wasn’t nearly as tragic as Ledger’s…but the fun house approach to the character was so cool. Everyone wanted to be the Joker after the movie came out. (Just like my students now!) And I think there are moments in that film that are just plain freaky. When the surgeon, in the abandoned hospital carefully unwinds his bloodied bandages….and then the impatient Joker pushes him aside and rips of the rest, grabs the mirror…and slowly laughs as he stumbles away…..so cool.

So that leaves us with Ledger, who I would argue, presented the Joker character in the flesh for the first time. (Which is something that I think is hard to do with comic book characters. I rarely see it. Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy and Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luther are only a few I can think of. I hear Iron Man is good.) Ledger’s Joker was fun to watch and we wanted to know more about the character so badly that we almost ended up rooting for the guy in the end. The only criticism I had about the movie, and it may be simply because of Ledger’s sudden and tragic death, was the fact that the Joker overshadowed the other characters. Put Ledger the actor aside for a moment…take a look at that storyline and the those performances. It’s actually a brilliant film. Dang…Two-Face is cool, huh? Loved that subplot. But, the film itself won’t get the recognition it deserves because of Ledger’s passing and the fact that for his final performance…he delivered.

I’m not a horror movie fan. My wife is…and if you know her, her soft-spoken, caring and intelligent approach doesn’t seem like the slasher type, but she really loves ’em. I don’t see too many, quite frankly because I like to sleep at night. But there are some movies that skate the fine line between horror and action or fantasy. I can handle those. The Dark Knight was one of those films that really got me pumped up for the closing sequences.

So, my vote goes for Ledger, followed by Nicholson in a close second….followed by anyone without a moustache. Sheesh.

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