6/22/20: Charles Grodin #poetry #successandfailure #rejection #choice

character film

6/22/20: Charles Grodin #poetry #successandfailure #rejection #choice

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem

Charles Grodin went back to the Neighborhood Playhouse in 2008

He had studied acting there

He didn’t have much good to say about acting teachers

“They are usually too self-important”

“If I were teaching acting I would get out of the way. Just create a place where people can get up and act in front of other people. That’s the whole point of acting class. You can’t get work so you go get some experience and the experience teaches you. If I were teaching, I’d be sure not to say anything negative. Let people do scenes again and again. They will get better with repetition — simply learning from the experience.”

Grodin was talking to Dabney Coleman, another talented actor who didn’t have Grodin’s self-esteem.

Coleman loved the Neighborhood Playhouse because he was accepted there and recognized for who he was.

Grodin didn’t really love the Neighborhood Playhouse.

He appreciated the fact that it gave him a space to get crucial experience.

Grodin didn’t need the approval of the other people. He didn’t need acceptance or to be recognized for who who he was. This attitude inoculated him from the grinding rejection of pursuing a career as a professional actor.

In a certain way, Grodin didn’t pursue a career as a professional actor. He simply “wanted to get good.”

He took each rejection and either used it as a lesson in how to get better, or trusted his own assessment of the value of his work. He never saw that a person’s position of situational authority necessarily meant that they knew what they were doing.

Grodin is a compassionate man who shares his wisdom about:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” and “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” and self-esteem —

with anyone in the general public who is ready to listen.

It is no accident that some of Grodin’s first opportunities to act in challenging roles came in separate projects directed by Mike Nichols and Elaine May.

Nichols and May began with the Compass Players

whose foundational acting methodology came from the work of Viola Spolin

Spolin rejected (rejection is a two-way street, and on closer inspection almost always mutual) “success and failure”

and replaced those oppressive concepts with “play” (which in my writing I usually call “art”)

Spolin transcended “social acceptance and rejection” and wrote of getting beyond “approval and disapproval”

She did not see the group as a collective of conformity. She saw it as a collective of play.

Spolin rejected “teaching”. She wrote “No one teaches anyone anything.”

Spolin knew that experience is the only teacher

and that all authority in the person of a boss, leader or group

is false.

Self-esteem and real connection.

Spolin asserted another kind of “acceptance”

not as an antonym for “rejection”

but as an embrace of truth

Grodin and Spolin believed in achieving our individual highest potentials in loving congress with the world

There is something very profound in this play

Spolin’s son, the theater director and teacher Paul Sills, loved the philosophy of Martin Buber … I and Thou … 

this mystical interaction between the self and the world

resulting in an at-one-ment

a unity

Peter Brook, a great theater director, who never worked with any of the people previously mentioned here, I don’t believe

described theater as “dreams mixed with shit”

Grodin tried to achieve that mixture

and had moments

a few

when it came to pass

but largely he found it impossible to prevent the shit from overwhelming the dreams

He left acting

and did other things

occasionally returning

only to be freshly disappointed

This dissatisfaction is not a bad thing

We don’t care about success or failure, remember?

Certainly, most pseudo-improvisational acting is a betrayal of Spolin

paying formal lip service to exercises, games and rules

to serve the value systems of the advertising agencies and commercial film and TV studios

that are devoted to the antithesis of what Spolin was

or what Grodin is

My own experience has taught me that I feel good in the company of Grodin and Spolin

and in the company of Jesuits

who also believe in learning through experience

the blossoming of the individual in loving intercourse with the world

and a mystical contact with the All which is beyond faith

and can be accessed through exploration and reason …

I feel good there with those people

I feel bad with:

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” not “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” not self-esteem

Grodin writes

and so do I

The theater was never what I loved

it was that Grodin/Spolin thing

that way of living …

Another actor, Alan Alda …

(these actors know some things)

said that you can’t go around difficult emotions

you can only go through them

Grodin says that he saw through rejection

He lived another way

I still think he felt it

so did Viola Spolin

I don’t think they could have spoken and written about it so beautifully if they hadn’t

I told a now lost friend

lost before he died

that people had criticized me but I proved them wrong

I was so proud of who I am and what I have done

and he looked perplexed

The next time I saw him, he said “your value is not determined by what you think — what matters is what other people say”

It hurt me so deeply

It was irrationally painful

I couldn’t even admit to myself how painful his statement was

it seemed so stupid

I felt so vulnerable

and childish

why did I care so much?

The lessons which I learned through my own experience

that I try to communicate to you here by talking about Charles Grodin and Viola Spolin and Jesuits

They are all me

just as Grodin was Spolin before he met Nichols and May

It hurts to lose a friend

It hurts to think that you are welcome somewhere and then you are not

If you don’t feel hurt you were never there

If you get stuck in the pain you are no good to yourself or the world

If you don’t go through the pain you don’t learn anything

and have no higher consciousness to express to the world

I learned in my pain

more about what a friend is

I needed someone smarter and more secure

(I met Dabney Coleman once when we were both much younger — he was insecure then too — his classmate Grodin is more my speed)

I need someone who doesn’t believe in

Success and failure

Acceptance and rejection

“Rich and famous” instead of “getting good”

“Anger and aggression” instead of self-esteem

I teach and write

I need friends and groups where I can teach like Spolin and the Jesuits in my own unique way

and write with the same spirit as Grodin in my own unique way

This is all about me and my transforming relationship with the world

It’s not about Charles Grodin or Viola Spolin or the Jesuits or my lost friendship

The black and white film of the Neighborhood Playhouse

The “successful” old alumni coming home

The black box theater

and the dance rehearsal area

the dressing room and the lounge

the administrative offices serviced by the tiny old elevator

littered with posters and props and playbills from student productions from years gone by

the play is not the thing

it is the old actors themselves

some nervously looking for approval

igniting the flames of long-forgotten rivalries

some nostalgically wandering through the premises

clinging to a moment when they were young and loved

and Grodin detached

making the past something else

suffering and liberation

Life Lessons.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas












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