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Moth Theatre’s unconventional un-blocking of plays

February 28, 2010

As light draws a moth, ‘no-blocking’ a play draw actors. “If something happens physically or emotionally,” says John Markland, Moth’s Artistic Director, “then it happens organically. No two shows are the same because actors aren’t going through the same stuff in their own lives every day. Who knows what they dreamed the night before.”

What started as a simple workspace on Melrose, Markland says, has evolved into a theatre where more and more actors want to audition. But it demands utter honesty. “It’s like faith. ‘I will be emotionally honest and look for the truth in myself’. The human condition finds itself.”

Markland veered from the more traditional path he learned while training with Sandra Seacat who subscribes to The Way, or “dream work.” It uses Jungian psychology to compel actors to bring characters to life from their dreams. The Way evolved from Method acting.

 “That sense of risk crosses over into the audience who, really, becomes eavesdroppers,” Markland observes. “Actors are sometimes tempted to be a little too self-indulgent, but the love of the craft brings them back.”

It’s becoming more and more popular, apparently. Markland took over Theatre Neo’s lease four years ago and had no intention of operating a theatre there. He wanted to use the small space to work things out, explore. But, as often happens in the world of drama, real drama occurred, and some of the actors he worked with left. That opened the door in a serendipitous way for Jamie Wollrab.

“John and I were in the same acting class two years ago. I came to him with Edward Allan Baker’s play, North of Providence.” It was a one-act that Markland liked and the two staged it. Moth can seat about 40-50 people. Word of mouth brought in more and more, and Markland extended the play another five weeks. “It caught on like wildfire,” he says. By the final bow, Wollrab estimates a thousand people saw it.

As for the idea of not blocking a play, Wollrab finds the result to be wholly voyeuristic. “We’re looking at real people, not just actors reciting lines. Everything changes, if the actors are honest.” The audience often has an opportunity after a show to mingle with the cast and, in some cases, ask the kind of personal questions one would never ask in polite company.

“The audience,” Wollrab says, “sees themselves in the actors. They can say, ‘Oh, I bet she’s going through the same thing I’m going through’.”

“I tell actors who hang around after a show to remember one thing,” Markland says. “Anything an audience member says to you is not about you, but what you elicited in their own lives.” That’s fine, if the audience is as informed as the cast….

You can see how unnerving this might be for some actors.

When the actors rehearse, the words ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are never used. “We’ll ask whether it was honest. No apologies by anyone. No one needs to please. We’re all about looking for the truth, not placating.”

Then what’s the job of the director? To un-direct?

“Yes,” Markland says. “You have to tell me if you’re being honest on stage. There is a certain plot instructor within you,” he maintains. “It’s not really improv. It’s a journey.”

Markland adds, “It may take an audience time to understand our unconvention. We still implement Meisner and Adler techniques to our no-blocking philosophy, but there’s a looseness to it all.”

“John got a chance to switch roles,” Wollrab says. “This time, he’s the actor and I’m the director.” It’s really given Markland a fuller perspective. “It’s helped me to see again – and to see better – what the actors encounter when I direct.”

“We’re doing Sam Shepard’s Geography of a Horse Dreamer,” Wollrab says. “It’s a good play for us now as we go through this gestation period, debating which plays we want to do. But they’ll definitely be works that focus on relationships and the soul, not on events.”

“We’re a company of about 50 or 60 actors, a fairly loose group,” Markland adds. “And if you think of how jazz music is performed, you can get a sense of how we work. A sense of adventure and exploration with a stable thread weaving through.”

“More than anything,” Wollrab says, “we’re wounded healers. Each of us. I think that’s why audiences keep taking to our work.” Work, he describes, as fragile and beautiful.

 Geography of a Horse Dreamer is scheduled to end its run on March 7. Next up is John Markland’s The Quarry.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Elaine Miller permalink
    March 2, 2010 9:27 pm

    I find this extremely interesting & informative. It is a new concept for me. Thank you, Charlotte, for sharng it with me!

  2. March 4, 2010 1:29 am

    Moth theatre is a sanctuary for a plethora of artists in LA. After seeing two raw and evocative productions: Red Light Winter and Geography of a Horse Dreamer, I feel Moth Theatre offers the most exhilarating gift to an artist; freedom.
    Working with actor and director Jamie Wolrab has awakened a newfound power and joy inside of me. Moth theatre is indeed a special place in which all of its artists can open themselves and stoke the flames of their own light.

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