Tag Archives: acting

Why You Should Always Read the Book First

the giver bookWhen I was in elementary and middle school I was the level reader snob that competed in an annual competition called “Battle of the Books.” For thos unfamiliar, BoB as we affectionately called it, was a competition where students had the entire school year to read a list of 20 or so books, or as many of them as they could. Then they would compete in a team against other schools in their district by answering questions that always began with “In which book…” Three points if you could correctly identify which of the 20 books and the author the questioned event came from. Two points if you only got the title correct or answered the question after the first team didn’t give the right answer. The team with the highest cumulative total of points at the end of the day wins. It’s basically a wet dream for library rats who have a penchant for trivia.

Battle of the Books is responsible for me discovering many of my childhood favorite books, some of which are sitting on the book shelf next to me because I couldn’t bear to part with them even during a 3,000 mile move away from my parents’ house. Ella Enchanted, Lily’s Crossing, Trumpet of the Swan all top the list. And then there was The Giver. The Giver is a book by Lois Lowry (Number the Stars) set in the future when humans have created a way to eliminate suffering by basically suppressing all basic human emotion. People are assigned their role in the Community when they are 12 years old and are to accept it without question. When Tobias is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory he learns the truth about human history and how to feel – and it begins to make him question things in the Community. Soon his probing begins to unravel the very fabric of the existence he’s known his entire life.

I was in 4th grade when it was first put on the list. It’s insane now to think about reading that book at 9 years old considering how it grapples with death, sex and that bit at the end (spoiler alert) about forced abortions. I read it again in middle school when my ability to comprehend the underlying messages of the book was a little more advanced. I re-purchased it recently when I heard they were turning it into a film. The trailer for that film premiered today:

And it concerns me. It’s not just a feeling of “Oh god, the movie is never going to live up to the book.” (Please see: The DaVinci Code, most Stephen King novels etc). I know why The Giver was finally produced now despite being around for a couple decades. The time is ripe for dystopian young adult literature. ‘Sup The Hunger Games and Divergent. I see you hanging out over there too, The Maze Runner. The difference is that TGH, Divergent and The Maze Runner work on a broader scope – their worlds are so large they demanded cinematic attention. And, not to put any of them down because they are all great series (Okay, The Maze Runner has some sexism issues but that’s another blog entirely), but their messages are pretty direct. The Hunger Games is separate but equal isn’t equal with a bit of commentary on the inevitable corruption of oligarchies (There could also be another blog on the essential facts that were left out of the first film that dulled Suzanne Collins brilliant writing, but again that’s another blog). Divergent is about finding your identity and the freedom to be more than one thing. The Maze Runner focuses on the importance of working together and finding yourself in the face of adversity.

The Giver’s message is more opaque though. It’s hidden in the memories that Tobias receives from his mentor. The fact that the first half of the film isn’t shot in black and white and then transitions to color as Tobias learns more about the Community’s shared history is a big red flag. That’s a huge part of the novel – that being emotionless may lead to a more colorful life but also a grey one. As Tobias starts to fill in the colors, that’s also how he begins to find the truth. The trailer seems to focus more on the adventure aspect of the book – which is really only the last couple of chapters. Can you really show Eric from True Blood killing babies to a young adult audience and maintain a PG-13 rating? Are you going to be able to do it in a way the depravity of this way of life despite it being founded in the name of human preservation? Despite my high hopes with actors like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep backing this, the fact there’s an alien like space ship chasing Tobias to close out the trailer doesn’t make me that optimistic anymore. (Did I mention that Taylor Swift is making a cameo in this movie? Yeah, that’s a thing.) It seems to me that film companies were just trying to cash in on the Young Adult angst craze making crazy tons of money at the box office these days at the sake of great literary works of art.

The movie junkie in me is hoping that they do it right. The cautious book nerd is saying don’t take any chances – read the book first.

August Osage County: The Fall of Woman

august osage countyHoly Hannah. Can you spell d-y-s-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n and m-i-s-e-r-y?

I want to think the main characters in August: Osage County are just cinematic creations—the vitriolic pill-popping Violet and her three daughters—tight-jawed, unforgiving Barbara, quietly wounded, faithful Ivy, New Age escapist Karen. But no.

The film induced too many pangs of recognition, reminders of my own alcoholic step-father and his verbal abuse; the unhappy weirdness of so many of my friends’ parents growing up; Mommy Dearest sitting on book shelves; alcohol and drug abuse statistics; news stories. And from the murmurs, gasps and reactions of the audience it seemed pretty much everyone else in the theater was personally affected too.

“I always wondered if my mother killed my father,” the middle-aged woman behind me stated calmly to her seat-mate as the credits rolled. Really?

“I always knew I’m fucked-up because of my mother,” another woman said, strolling past on her way to the door.

“Holy crap.” Francesca, the friend I’d gone to the film with, turned to me, eyes wide. “Is the world really like this?”

Is it? I’d like to know! Comments please!

For sure the film drives home the point of just how much pain there is locked up in human beings—and how suffering, meanness and abuse are passed from one generation to the next. The sins of the fathers and mothers as it were—not “sin” as in doing bad and wrong, but sin as in missing the mark on life—relentlessly passed from one generation to the next, century after century until?

Until we get to see it.

Sin was originally an archery term that meant you “missed the mark” or bulls eye—your targeted goal. And what is the targeted goal of life anyway? Being a better person? Figuring out how it all works? Having fun? Contributing to the wellbeing of the whole? Having interesting experiences? If so, surely we’re ready to stop seeing this kind of experience as interesting? Like, maybe soon we’ll have had our fill of meanness and sorrow and be ready to call these kinds of people and their drama-filled lives “boring?”

But until that happens audiences will pay to see stories like these. It’s what theatre was designed to do from the most ancient times.

Stories let us witness ourselves. They let us stand (and sit!) safely outside our pain and see how it contaminates and ruins everything—how we unconsciously contaminate and ruin everything—how the bleakness that rules so much of our lives happens. The camera zooms into Violet’s face as she sits on the swing telling the story of her mother’s Christmas present to her and we get it. We can’t hate her. We want to, just like her daughters and everyone else around her want to. But she is us. Her story is our story, tirelessly passed along—the story of the ravening dark Goddess that lives in us all; the maddened Goddess that shows herself most clearly through women.

Beyond doubt, August: Osage County is a story of the Fall of Woman and what has happened to her. The men, who clearly are not without their flaws, mostly move around as loving foils enduring abuse. Even Violet’s husband’s suicide occurs off-screen. It isn’t important. It’s simply the kind of normal fall-out that happens when The Feminine is too deeply wounded to care about anything or anyone anymore.

The image of The Feminine we enjoy seeing and being around does not live in this film. The light side of the Goddess is beautiful, lyrical, self-sacrificing, loving, passionate, compassionate and inspiring—like Arwen, the elven beloved of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. In Violet we see the opposite. Here She is the equivalent of the Orc and the Uruk-hai—the fallen elves, tortured and mutilated beyond endurance until they become a force for evil.

The blessing of August: Osage County is that here evil has a human face on it and we are able to see Violet is not evil at all, just wounded. We are able to see what pain does—how it looks, what it says, how it lashes out—and finally have compassion. We see the light, love, beauty and hope in us all—the young woman in Violet’s wedding picture—marred and twisted into unrecognizability and we feel for her and feel for ourselves.

It’s not an easy movie to watch. But then life is not an easy movie to live. And in both there is hope. One day all of us will get in a truck in our pajamas and move on.

The Power of Intention: A Little Touch of Cancer

 1. Prevent Digestive System CancersBy Betsy Horn

When I started studying acting with Robert Lewis, co-founder of Actor’s Studio, one of the first things he said was that in rehearsing a play, you have to figure out what is your intention.  The same thing, I learned, is important in life.  What are we doing, what do we want, and why?

We’re told by our parents, mother usually, that our health is our greatest gift, that without that, you won’t be able to have the life you want.  It almost goes without saying that for much of our lives, we take our health for granted; it’s something we don’t think about when we are young.  We are invulnerable, untouchable.  Yet we are not, especially in today’s world.

Until I was 60, I had taken my health for granted.  First, my mother’s great mantra was that her greatest gift to her children was perfect health, “wonderful genes.”  How she knew that in the 50s remains a mystery to me. But I went along with it, until one day in May, over a decade ago, I went for an annual ultrasound to monitor a pesky ovarian cyst which hadn’t bothered me too much for over seven years, but having been told to check it annually, I did so – and got the shock of my life! Suspected ovarian cancer, and not only that, “aggressive ovarian cancer.”  I knew little about ovarian cancer but soon found out it was one of the most lethal and difficult to diagnose of all the female cancers, known as “the whispering disease” because the symptoms are so subtle, a paradox, as the disease is so very dangerous.

As my doctor told me this, although he was gentle, he was also straightforward, I collapsed inside.  I remember saying to myself, (the mind can have so many messages almost simultaneously), “Now, stand up straight and show you are OK.”  I remember pulling back my head and lifting it and looking at the doctor as if bewildered.  Tears were forming as I thought, “It’s a beautiful day outside and I have come in touch with my mortality.  How is this possible?”

Back in my car, in a cavernous garage, dark and empty, I railed, first at my mother, for the perfect genes which turned out not to be and then just at my frustration.  I had done so much work on myself and now this.  But I am fairly pragmatic and while driving back to New York City from New Haven, I regulated myself fairly quickly and started making mental lists. In times of dire circumstances, a good list can come in handy.  From then on, I did everything to stay healthy and prepare for surgery.  I bought a wonderful book by Bernie Siegal, Love, Medicine and Miracles which I highly recommend.

It turns out that my intention was strong and already forming as a plan for my survival. I would find out everything I could from reliable sources, go to the therapists I already knew, including my GP and do everything anyone smart told me to do as preparation. My intention was to survive and beat it but then to get as healthy as I possibly and follow whatever regime, diet, exercise, meditation and all of those to stay grounded, calm and alive.  So far, it’s worked.

***
Betsy Horn’s book, A Little Touch of Cancer and How it Made Me Well one woman’s travels through ovarian cancer, is now available on www.betsyhorn.com through a direct link to Amazon.  

“Suite Life of Zack & Cody” Star Dylan Sprouse Discusses His Decision to Leave Disney

enhanced-buzz-6400-1325188412-27The rhetoric surrounding fame and fortune in our culture tends to say: everyone wants to be rich, everyone secretly (or not so secretly) wants to be in the spotlight, and if you have the option to become a superstar, why wouldn’t you take it?

In some case, though, as with child stars, fame develops as a condition of life, and the individual has little say in the matter. In such a situation, stardom may actually turn out to be the last thing that person wants or needs. Case in point: the Sprouse twins.

Born August 4, 1992, Dylan and Cole Sprouse (a.k.a. Sprouse Bros) began acting at the age of 8 months. By the time they appeared in Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy in 1999, the brothers were no strangers to entertainment. You probably know them best, however, as the Disney stars from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, from which they became the fourth highest paid child actors in the world. That is, until the twins decided to walk out on Disney altogether, pursue college, and pave their own paths.

In this candid interview, Dylan Sprouse discusses his and Cole’s decision to leave Disney and the silver platter of child stardom behind:

Given what many child stars have to endure as a cost of fame and over-exposure, it makes sense the Sprouse brothers might want to leave that world behind. Now in their early 20’s, the challenge will be developing lives for themselves that transcend the tidy career and identity compartments child stars inhabit. What college, adult life, and future creative pursuits hold for Dylan and Cole stands to be seen. But we wish them the best of luck!

What do you think? Are you a “Zack & Cody” fan? Tell us your thoughts!

Master the Art of Empathy

In today’s episode on 30 DAYS OF INTENT, Iman and Natalie meet with Diana Castle for an acting lesson and empathy workshop. Diana teaches theater through her original method, THE IMAGINED LIFE™, which emphasizes the role of empathy in creating and portraying dramatic roles. We interviewed Diana on the importance of empathy, on stage and in the world.

The Chopra Well: You are an acting instructor and also teach empathy skills. How are empathy and acting related?

Diana Castle: Acting is all too often thought of and even encouraged to be a narcissistic profession – and yes, there are plenty of cultural narcissists today. However the truth in the art of acting is to be found in the heart of empathy. A great actor is that human being who is willing to exchange his or her personal interpretive framework for an alternative interpretive framework, or as Atticus Finch said in To Kill A Mockingbird, to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.

We learn and experience more about ourselves from accepting other people’s stories as a possibility for us. Accepting the human story as our own, I call “living from the I AM.”  When we accept every part as a part of us, we learn to live a more integrated, whole-hearted life. The art of acting is living from imagined possibility and so is the art of empathy.

CW: Why is empathy so important – not just for acting, but for life in general?

DC: There would be less fighting with each other and more dialogue, education and cultural exchange. As we widen our empathetic embrace, we widen our experience of the world. That’s what happens when we go see a movie or a play or read a book that affects us emotionally.

The individual strings of our independent identity are only parts reflecting the whole.  If we lose our capacity to put ourselves into other peoples shoes, we lose our capacity to experience what is the truth of our inter-relatedness and interdependence. When we lose that, we lose our connection to the fact that if we try to destroy others we only destroy ourselves. This includes our environment which is a reflection of our empathetic embrace as well.

CW: Is it hard to practice empathy? As you say, the world would be a very different place if everyone lived intentionally and empathetically. What gets in our way?

DC: Our Ego. Our Ego is vital of course for discerning: “I’m in here and you’re out there.” However, neuroscience now teaches us that if you lose your arm and have phantom limb pain and someone sits in front of you, mirroring you, and gets their arm massaged, your phantom limb gets relief!

Shakespeare’s advice to the players in Hamlet when he encourages them to “hold the mirror up to nature” should now be thought of as holding the “mirror neurons” up to nature! This is the amazing truth of life. What happens to you actually is happening to me.

CW: Do you have any simple tips or strategies for practicing empathy that we can incorporate into our daily lives?

DC: When we experience a belief or behavior we don’t like or understand, a good reaction to practice is: “That’s me!” “Hello, myself!”

In the daily practice of seeing in others a reflection of our possible selves we start with: I ACCEPT this belief and behavior as a possibility for me. I don’t encourage asking “Why?” does he or she behave this way. I encourage accepting the beliefs and behaviors as a possibility for you.

My rule for actors when they are asked to believe and behave in ways they don’t understand is: Don’t ask why. Justify. We can always justify any behavior through conditions and circumstances. This is what allows for empathy with the human character as opposed to ideas of “other” and creating caricatures.

Try this exercise:

There is no “other”- there is only “I AM”

I AM is a state of pure possibility.

I AM… you finish that sentence. No one finishes it for you. It’s a state of pure creativity. It’s a state of acceptance and possibility.

It’s a pure IMAGINED LIFE™ moment.

When we stop trying to figure out why people believe and behave in the ways that they do with our left brain and use our right brain to imaginatively accept the I AM –  the beliefs and behaviors as possibilities of ourselves – then we come to understand people in very profound ways. We begin to recognize our many varied selves in the mirror. The mirror neurons, I should say.

CW: The story you share at the end of the episode from Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet is beautiful and so inspiring. What is your “I Must” and how has it helped shaped your intentions throughout your life?

DC: I must transform misunderstanding into understanding, suspicion into trust, division into unity.

This begins with transforming my own misunderstanding, my own suspicion and my own inner divisiveness. Because my father survived Hitler’s holocaust and I was raised in the deep south, I have been challenged to become a person who trusts humanity. This challenge became my benefit as I discovered the arts and found the great power of empathy that is housed in art. I deeply believe in arts education as the vital tool for developing empathy. This led me to formulating and teaching my IMAGINED LIFE™ philosophy and practical application.

I must, as Rilke says, “order my life” each day “according to the necessity.”

I must participate in the collective effort to build an empathetic civilization heart to heart, life to life, one person, one engagement at a time.

 

Watch the “Mastering Empathy” episode and then let us know your “I must” in the comments section below!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and catch the rest of Iman and Natalie’s journey on 30 DAYS OF INTENT!

Sharing Who You Are

Sharing Who You Are

There is no greater perfection than being who you are, and no greater purpose than expressing who you are.

But who are you? That is the question that needs answering. That is the urge from the soul within that prompts us to keep exploring life. Every thought, desire and action arises from our depths as ways of discovering and expressing this reality.

Often we miss the mark because we identify more with the characteristics of our personality than with our essence which is soul. When we identify who someone truly is, we are implying their essence. Essence is soul, and soul is that eternal reality manifesting in bodies with temporary conditions.

Soul is characterised by Beauty, Truth and Goodness, not by psychological conditions like fear, anger or prejudice, nor by personality traits such as good looks, intelligence or status. This confusion has led to some distorted understanding about what it is we need to express.

We need to express who we are, because that is our value and that is why we have incarnated. Our purpose in life is to express who we are because that is the finest contribution we can make. Purpose is always about contributing to the well-being of the whole or of what we are part of. Our purpose is never self- gratification, although we will feel deeply grateful and fulfilled when we make authentic contributions to life around us.

Another way of expressing who we are is to understand that we must give ourselves to others. Again, it is not our personality that we give but the Beauty, Truth and Goodness that we essentially are. It is this reality that then resonates the soul within the other and evokes its expression in the lives of others, creating soulful relationships in society.

Become aware of the thoughts you have about who you are. When you are feeling angry or afraid, for example, do not think that is who you are, but that you are experiencing those states as a temporary condition because you are not soul centered at that moment. Those types of emotions are reminders to identify with the eternal, peaceful, tolerant, loving, beautiful dimension of yourself.

Become increasingly aware that what others need from you is your love, your empowerment and your understanding as the expressions of the soul within you, and as a reminder to them of the soul within themselves.

Reflect often on who you are. Meditate on the inner truth of your being. Let your consciousness of who you are steadily grow and become a dominant influence in your thinking, feeling and acting. Share your essence with all you meet. Your presence then becomes a real blessing, and you fulfill your purpose.

Using What You Have To Become Successful

When I say use what you have to become successful, I’m not talking about sleeping with every Tom, Dick, or Harry. What I’m referring to is recognizing your talent or what resources you have, and utilizing them to help you be successful. I’ve been trying to pursue my acting career for awhile now but haven’t landed anything major yet. All I have is a limited acting resume with no major roles on it and a dream to launch my own clothing line. So after many disappointments and false promises, I finally decided to create my own website. Next I thought about my idea to launch my clothing line. Since my plans for that have not settled yet, I thought why not put my name and my website name on a couple of shirts and use them as promotional attire to get my name out. Plus, that would also set the stage for me to launch my major clothing line. What I did was I utilized the resources that I had (my limited acting resume, some photos, and my name) and began the path to my success.

Alot of people think that you need alot of money or experience to pursue a successful career. Yes, sometimes that’s the case. But when you don’t have either one of those, that is when you realize what you do have and figure out a way to make it work. Say you wanted to be a teacher but never went to college and obtained a degree; How do you use what you have to get your foot in the door? Talk to different teachers or friends who may be teachers about maybe getting a job as a teacher assistant or even as a substitute. If you do get a job in any area related to education, take some classes at a community college or apply to a nearby four year school. Instead of saying you can’t afford to go to college, use your resource which is a financial aid officer and ask them about applying for financial aid and other grant programs to help you pay for your school. Once you do that, you have set the stage to become successful.

I finally got tired of people telling me that I did not have enough experience to get an agent or to get a real speaking role. I thought the purpose of having an agent was so that you could get work to get more experience! So instead of just sitting back and waiting for someone to put me in a movie, I used what I already had and started putting the wheel in motion towards my success. So to everyone who reads this blog; After you have finished, I want you to recognize the resources that you do have and began to set the stage for that career or that dream job you’ve been wanting. Once you get into the habit of recognizing your resources, pursuing your goals will seem a little bit easier!

www.valeriesgreen.com

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