Posts Tagged ‘Ann Sachs’

My Inner Critic, My Friend

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

This piece was originally published in July, 2014, and recent conversations with friends prompted me to post it again.

Clearing out stacks of old boxes recently, I re-discovered my old theatrical reviews. The crumbling newspaper clippings instantly transported me back to the ’70s and 80’s, those 25 years I worked as a professional actress.

Ann Sachs, Frank Langella. DRACULA 1978. © Martha Swope

Ann Sachs and Frank Langella in DRACULA on Broadway in 1978. © Martha Swope

Re-reading the notices, I marveled that every production was still with me. But something was missing: I had no memory of the good reviews. One flattering phrase after another felt as if I was reading love letters I’d never seen before! Yet I knew that for at least one fleeting moment once-upon-a-time, I had treasured every word. 

The bad reviews? (Those from… how shall I say, the “Outer Critics”?) felt as if they’d been on CNN this morning!

Partial amnesia regarding reviews is one of many occupational hazards of being a performer. Most actors, especially early in their careers, tend to believe the good OR the bad, but not both. With me, unfortunately, the bad always came out ahead. I’ve been hard on myself for as long as I can remember, and the negative reviews sounded as familiar as the ones I had always drafted for myself.

Many years ago, when the whole routine had become rather depressing, my dear husband suggested that I create my own system to evaluate my work. He said “It’ll give you feedback you can trust.”

So… before and during rehearsals for my next job, I kept track of everything I was worried about:

1. Belief that I was miscast
2. Working with a new dialect
3. Tension with the director
4. Physical costume challenges
5. Too much or too little chemistry with my leading man

The list went on and on, and as I tried to invent ways of becoming comfortable with my crazy-making stuff, my “Inner Critic” introduced herself to me. Note: I tend to refer to her in the third person, as if she is real.

S-l-o-w-l-y, she and I began to build benchmarks based on habits and pitfalls I had supposedly learned to manage: 

1. Ease (or lack thereof) getting off book
2. Number of crying jags (joyful)
3. Number of crying jags (furious)
4. Sore throats, rashes, headaches, mystery pains
5. Degree of neurosis during tech rehearsals

Truth be told, my Inner Critic IS real, and over the years she has become a trusted part of myself. 

In the mid-1990s I was thinking about shifting the focus of my work… doing something other than performing.  Almost everyone I knew was shocked that I might “walk away” from my career; many tried to talk me out of it. My Inner Critic was with me, however,  and we weighed the points of my colleagues, friends and family. Ultimately we took a leap into the unknown side-by-side. That was when I knew that she was a friend for life.

So… as I was recently rifling through those boxes, reading my old reviews and was catapulted back into believing the bad ones, I wondered where the hell she was!?

But not for long. As expected, she made her entrance just in time to set me straight.
 
She’s on my shoulder now. And I’m deeply grateful she is here.

_______________________________________________________

Critic* \’krɪ-tɪk\ noun 
1   a: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
      b: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances  
2  one given to harsh or captious judgments
*From Merriam-Webster® An Encyclopedia Britannica Company 

On Mothers Day: A Letter From My Daughter

Sunday, May 11th, 2014
I received this beautiful letter today from my daughter, Abigail, who lives in Los Angeles. She asked my permission to share it on her acupuncture blog, MAMAFLOAT. Of course I agreed. I’m bursting with pride as I write this and forgive me, I asked her if I could post it here. Thankfully, she also agreed. (This post is not part of Theatrical Intelligence except by association with me.)

1981Dear Mom,

On this 39th Mother’s Day since you became a mother, I am writing you a love letter. You know I love lists.  So here’s a Love List!

I love you for patiently waiting 43 weeks for me to make my arrival, and for giving birth to me naturally, bravely ignoring the 12 men staring at your vagina in that teaching hospital.

I love you for rocking and nursing me in the Stickley Chair (which I now have in our living room), calmly convinced that it was normal for a baby to cry for 6 months straight. Colic. How did you survive?

I love you for introducing me to chocolate peanut butter cups.

I love you for loving lilacs.

I love you because of the way you always look me right in the eyes when I have something to say, your head perched between index finger and thumb.

I love you for saying about my spirited child: “he just has a hard time getting through his day. Like you did as a baby.”

I love you for saying “yes, and…” when everyone else said “no.”

I love you for making Fiesta Ware our everyday dishes.

I love you for raising me and Sam in Manhattan, where the nuts come from.

I love you for sending me to the Bank Street School.

I love you for flying 3,000 miles to meet my firstborn, arriving when he was a mere 20 hours old, and arranging fresh flowers in my bedroom every day.

I love you for taking G to the museum while I labored with L… and getting to meet her just a few hours later.  Her middle name is your first.

I love you for showing me what marriage can be: you and Dad, after 43 years, make it look easy.

I love you for introducing me to Shakespeare.

I love you for your curried chicken salad, which is totally delicious and just a little bit weird.

I love you for showing me the value of two simple beauty products: Yardley’s lavender soap and Keri lotion.

I love you for letting me fall asleep with your nightgown on the nights you and Dad left us a with a sitter.

I love you for my annual birthday gift of a trip to the Town Shop (for real or online) for new ladythings.

I love you for the cheesy way you always say “This is God’s country!” the moment we open the car windows on the drive into Keene Valley.

I love you for finding your writing voice as a Woman of the Fourteenth Moon.

I love you for suggesting I apply to Bard College.

I love you for inspiring me to become a woman business owner.

I love you for your many scarves; I always said I’d never wear them.  Now I have 14.

I love you for showing me that motherhood could be the most important job you (or I) would ever have.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I love you!

YLD,

Abigail

Written by Abigail Morgan, L.Ac., all rights reserved.  Photograph (1981) courtesy of Roger Morgan.  This post was inspired by a writing project I’m part of called 40 Love Letters in 40 Days.  Special shout-out to Stacy de la Rosa.

 

On CRITICS, CRITICISM and READING REVIEWS

Friday, August 30th, 2013
 
critics-corner-promo-01-4_3

The definition of the word CRITIC, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, seems simple and sensible. To me, however, it’s the most complicated of the 8 roles of Theatrical Intelligence.

CRITIC:  from the Greek κριτικός (kri-ti-kós), Latin criticus (noun) “able to discern”.
1: one who expresses a reasoned opinion on any matter especially involving a judgment of its value, truth, righteousness, beauty, or technique
2: one who engages often professionally in the analysis, evaluation, or appreciation of works of art or artistic performances
3: one given to harsh or captious judgment
 
CRITICISM: ˈkri-təˌsi-zə(noun) the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature:
1. expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes: “he ignored the criticisms of his friends”.
2. analysis and judgment of a literary or artistic work: “methods of criticism supported by literary theories”.

When I speak about the roles of Theatrical Intelligence, I always introduce the Critic last. Why?  It’s the final role in the collaborative sequence, and… well, I want to delay the inevitable groans: “No-o-o! How could you? Critics? What do they know?!”   

It’s tricky to think of critics as part of the collaborative art form that is the theatre. They are in a position to champion or kill a play, a performance, or an entire production. They don’t work directly with the other 7 roles, so it doesn’t feel like collaborators. But they are. In fact (depending on the phase of development) their objectivity is essential to the success of the project. 

Many years ago when I worked as an actor, I remembered every bad review I ever received. Verbatim. Everyone did. It seemed to be an occupational hazard to remember the awful ones and forget the raves. My theory for this (and I’m not alone) is that no one can be as harsh a critic about me as I am about myself, so whatever is written by a critic is already imprinted on my brain.

Once, a notoriously mean-spirited critic compared a performance of mine to an electric blender. Yes, you read that right. My friends thought it was a hilarious achievement and therefore a wonderful notice, but I thought I’d never get over it. 

Recently I decided to re-read my theatrical notices, figuring that 20 years would give me enough distance to gain some objectivity. It did. I admit that the blender paragraph still stung a bit, but most revealing was that I had no memory of the good reviews. It was as if  I was reading love letters that I’d never received, yet I knew I’d read every one of them. Selective amnesia. A theatrical phenomenon.

The insightful quotations below are from ten stellar theatre critics who reflect on their profession:  

Brooks AtkinsonBrooks Atkinson (1894 – 1984)

1. “There is no joy so great as that of reporting that a good play has come to town.”

********

*********

Pauline Kael (Chris Carroll)Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001)

2. “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.”

****************

***************

Walter KerrWalter Kerr (1919 – 1996)

3. “It is not a reviewer’s business to “sell” plays, but surely it is a playwright’s business not to write plays in such a way that the barest, most gingerly mention of the plot material in a review will kill the play dead on the spot.”

*************************

**************************

 

KennethTynanKenneth Tynan (1927 – 1980)

4. “A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening.

********************

********************

 

Wendy RosenfieldWendy Rosenfield  (Born 1969)

5. “I don’t believe arts criticism is itself art. But that doesn’t mean it is without its own merits… criticism (and even reviews, if you choose to make that distinction) offers a record of how our civilization responded to the arts. Theater critics are not theater artists, but we are recorded proof that theater mattered, and for me, that’s more than enough.”

*********************

*********************

 

Jason Zinoman 2Jason Zinoman (Born 1975)

6. “To be a good critic, you need to hustle and be curious and scrap and think harder in a short period of time than anyone else about these plays. You need to be stubborn in your convictions and firm in the idea that the crowd is not always right.”

**************************

**************************

 

Robert HurwittRobert Hurwitt (Born 1942)

7. I subscribe strongly to the idea that all criticism should be constructive. You’re not in the business of tearing people down. Part of your responsibility as a critic is being a consumer advocate. You have to make judgments as to whether a show is something people want to spend their money on.”

************************

************************

 

Oscar WildeOscar Wilde (1854 –1900)

8. “The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.”

**********************

*********************  

 

Andy WarholAndy Warhol (1928 – 1987)

9. “Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”

**********************

**********************

 

Frank RichFrank Rich (Born 1949)

10. “The most wonderful street in the universe is Broadway. It is a world within itself. High and low, rich and poor, pass along at a rate peculiar to New York, and positively bewildering to a stranger.” 

**********************
**********************

These critics are collaborators. And I think I may just love every one of them.

*********************

*********************

Photo Credits: Thumbs Up/Down: USA Today Design; Atkinson:ONB/Wein; Kael: Chris Carroll; Kerr: The New York Times; Tynan: Stuart Heydinger/The Observer; Rosenfield: Ms. Rosenfield;  Hurwitt: San Francisco Chronicle; Zinoman: Splitsider; Wilde: Napoleon Sarony; Warhol: Susan Greenwood/Getty Images; Rich: CNBC

 

When Work Is Play: A Postscript

Sunday, April 14th, 2013
NOTE: This post was originally published in 2009, when I launched my blog. It has been slightly revised. 

When my son Sam was about five – oh, so many years ago – he and his best friend Alex had a conversation in our neighborhood sandbox about the different kinds of work people do to make a living.

I strained to hear as they listed all the jobs they could think of, and the specific work each job required: teachers, doormen, policemen, pediatricians, bus drivers (can you tell they were city kids?) the green grocer, our neighborhood barber… their descriptions were straightforward and accurate.

As they ventured into unfamiliar territory such as street-sweepers (Mayor Ed Koch reached everyone) deep sea divers and astronauts, the job descriptions became expansive. The little guys’ imaginations were limitless as they discussed what they might do as grownups.

A photographer-in-the-making

When Alex’s mom came to pick him up I re-capped my favorite quote of the day regarding our sons’ versions of our work: 

Alex: My Mom’s a writer. She writes. 

Sam: My Mom’s an actress. She auditions. 

Later that night, Sam and I reflected back on the sandbox conversation.

Mom, when you go to work, you do a play, right?  

Yes, I told him.

There was extended silence as he thought this through.

That’s what I want, Mom… a big smile. When I grow up, my work is gonna be play. 

There it was. At 5 years old he had established a vision for his future.

 

Sam with 4x5 MAINE Sam w Digital @ NMAI

As Sam grew, he continued to explore work as play: he was never without a camera, loved playing the drums, developed a hunger for travel and architecture (like his dad), always enjoyed collaborating, and founded a rock band with some buddies. 

Above Left: on the island of North Haven, Maine, preparing an onsite shoot of a Community Center project

Above Right: photographing the theatre at the National Museum of the American Indian, on the Mall in Washington D.C.

Below Right: experimenting with his new 4×5 camera, taking shots of his family in New Hampshire

Sam w 4x5 HANOVER

It has been 25 years since Sam declared that his work would be play. He is an architectural photographer, a back-up drummer for a bunch of bands, and he has launched a photography company that is growing rapidly: The Photo Booth Party.

As I think back on those years watching him exercise his theatrical intelligence (before I had even come up with the term) it’s no secret that I was embarrassingly proud.

These days if you observe my son hard-at-play, his joy is impossible to resist. It is positively contagious.

No wonder.

His vision: “…my work is gonna be play” is now his reality. 

 

Ensemble Studio Theatre Gala

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Ann and JerryScene: Caroline’s Comedy Club, NYC, May 3, 2010.

Event: Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Gala

Picture: EST member (and teenage friend) Jerry Zaks, who presented the “Distinguished Member” Award to me. He recalled that I was in the first play he ever did, and thus was his first leading lady.

My husband Roger got the Award too (what are the chances of that? See photo below) as well as esteemed actor Dominic Chianese. We were told the awards honored our outstanding achievements over the past 40 years. Flattering. Not to mention the real reason: survival!

Dominic’s band, the New York Sidewalkers got the entire audience to sing along in a rousing rendition of That’s Amore! and many attendees said the whole thing felt like a family reunion. I was glad that I threw away my impassioned but oh-so-serious acceptance speech before the event, and (as is my tradition) expressed my thoughts in rhyme:

I stand here tonight with the clear sensation
That I am just one in the 4th generation
Of Irish Catholics and German Jews
Who arrived in our country and paid their dues
In order to plant the roots of a tree
Whose branches have grown into my family.

Roger Morgan, you’re part of my tale
And Sam, with your bright-bellied sis: Abigail!

The Morgan family is so far-reaching

It’s hard to fathom the depth of their teaching.

I could list the Sachs-Morgans, one by one
With their spouses and children: for me, t’would be fun

For all of YOU tho, t’would be mighty boring

(And it would be awful to cause all that snoring!)

So I’ll NOT list family names at this time

Though tempting it is to make it all rhyme.

My roots are my backbone and why I stand proud
In front of this highly distinctive crowd.

Agnes and John and Ernest and Maisie

(Good lord I’m listing them – I must be crazy!)

Julius and Rosa – Dad, Mom – and Jim

I carry your love and wisdom within.

What is it I’ve learned that makes me stand tall?
My children and friends often ask, when they call.

I think it’s BELIEF, or so it would seem
You gave me this gift: whatever my dream
Belief it could happen, BELIEF with true ZEAL
Would often make my vision turn REAL.

Then, the Theatre’s dose of daily rejection
Developed my armor: mighty protection

Through sadness and failure, all part of the deal

The standard, in fact, I expected to feel.

We all know, in theatre, that things DO go wrong

And staying the course tends to make us real strong.

So what was the dream I clung to these years?
That thing that kept growing in spite of my tears?
It’s really quite simple, though not to say easy

And sometimes I must say it made me quite queasy:
To merge my life and my work into one

Which included my husband and daughter and son

To create a safe place where all is OK

No matter the obstacles during the day

Has been my passion, my quest to feel free

In fact, it’s rather like – yup – EST!

So CURT, and ROGER and BILLY and PAUL
And Denny, two Jerry’s and – yes – to you ALL!

Marianna and Les, two Mindy’s and Chris:
Abigail, Dave, Sam-Jamie-Nancy-Art-Peter- BetsyPollyMelodieJackSusanAnnieDonnaRita….

WHOA!

Thank you. I’m honored. In my tux and my boa.


Roger Morgan with Jim Boese, VP of the Nederlander Organization, who presented the Award after a humorous introduction about representing the FOR-profit theatre world. (Note: Roger’s Award is a beautiful, useable decanter from Tiffany’s.) Roger recalled the first play he was in at age 12, in a community theatre; he was mortified that people might think he was 10, the age of the character.


The Roches (Terre, Left, and Suzzy) who sang their hilarious song from MAMA DRAMA, I’d Like Her To Be Rich. Beginning in 1987, EST member Christine Farrell initiated MAMA DRAMA as an Octoberfest project; it grew into a full length play over several years at EST. Published by Samuel French, it’s produced all over the country, 20+ years later.


Four MAMA DRAMA writers. From Left: Christine Farrell, Leslie Ayvayzian, me, and Marianna Houston. Missing: Donna Daley, Anne O’Sullivan and the late Rita Nachtmann.

There was a lot of laughter that night (and too many suggestions of a GRAND-MAMA DRAMA!)

Me and Tony Soprano?  Go figure!




Welcome!

Monday, May 11th, 2009

Are you wondering what Theatrical Intelligence is? Simply put, it is a process I have developed based on the theatrical production model, to bring joy and creativity into the workplace. It’s the fun part of being smart!

It came about as a result of my personal career shift from working IN the theatre to working ON the theatre, which (for me) meant working in a more businesslike environment.  My first three blogposts form a trilogy describing the way my professional experience gradually grew into this new venture.

Theatrical Intelligence has six principles and eight roles (listed below).

Peak performance - an "A" in lights

THE SIX PRINCIPLES

1. Everyone shares the same goal
2. Everyone shares an equivalent risk
3. Collaboration rules
4. The work matters
5. Failure is your friend, and the fastest way to learn
6. Success comes with the courage of stepping into the unknown

THE EIGHT ROLES

1. Writer
2. Actor
3. Director
4. Producer
5. Designer
6. Manager
7. Technician
8. Critic

I will be blogging about this concept (and related subjects) and you are invited to join the conversation.  

Cheers!