Theater Conservatory Confidential: The Home Stretch

Eli Diamond navigates his first Christmas Break back home.

“It’s only been a semester, but already I feel college has done a number on all of us.”

My dear friend Michelle said this to me during lunch the other day, and it took me a while to realize what she meant. I had seen numerous college folk since I’d returned from school, and to me, Michelle seemed exactly the same. A little more confidence maybe, but more or less the same girl who I sat next to for four years in high school. I was really surprised though, by one of my friends.

This friend, who shall remain nameless, spent her last year with me driving around, occasionally smoking weed or drinking, and partying. When I called her up and we agreed to meet up, I was ready for some more insane adventures that all high school kids dream college kids experience everyday. Instead, I was greeted by a girl who decided to go substance-free, hated parties, and was on her way to becoming a frugavore (only eats raw fruits and vegetables. Vegan to the nth degree).

We talked for a bit about how college really isn’t the fantasy that high schoolers think it is; about how the party life is a kind of a lame substitute for real life. We both were semi-partiers in high school, and spent lengthy periods looking forward to college frat parties, but now, nothing could really disgust us more. To us, college is where you learn to be a social human being, not where you walk around passed out drunk people who are almost certainly going to be taken advantage of.

Some of our friends also spent time living the high school fantasies that they never had, only to discover that it really was not worth the wait. These experiences are what changed us. The realization that college is not some dreamland really brought us back to reality. And I feel that’s the change that Michelle was talking about. We all feel real to each other now. College is a different world for each of us, and we all have our stories right now about how we may have had that “one crazy party”, or that “god-awful teacher”, but the thing is, we’re relating in a way that high school students often fail to do.

Of course, I still do treat some of my friends the exact same, because in the end, I’m still Eli, and they’re still whoever they were. We connect on that high school level, but the distance has allowed us to connect deeper. I’ve heard it said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and I concur.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: It’s The End Of The First Semester As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Eli Diamond closes out our blog for the year with some final thoughts on 2012 and an eye to the future. 

So if you believe in all this stuff, it’s December 21st, 2012, the end of the world. If you don’t believe in it, it’s December 21st 2012, average Friday. To top things off, I’m home with a new set of resolutions for the break and next semester. It’s a strange feeling though, not having seen things such as my grades yet. But, to reflect, there is so much I could have done better. I needed to increase my motivation somehow; to keep myself from missing as many classes as I did last semester. If anything hurts my grades this semester, it was definitely that. I don’t know why I missed as many classes as I did. I think it was a mixture of depression and laziness. I was never the best at doing anything. I could come up with ideas and everything, but recently it’s become so clear to me that intelligence and creativity are nothing without motivation, and self-awareness.

I am now aware that no one is responsible for my happiness except myself. Coming back has made me more aware of that. I’m finally given the chance to breathe after two straight months of increased heart rate. It’s been a nice time home. I’ve been practicing a little bit for next semester, going through some basic voice and speech work, along with some occasional analysis work. My days have been mainly spent with my parents and my girlfriend, and its a nice change; no more nights where my social life feels more like a chore than anything else.

I watched in college as some of my friends made the realization that school wasn’t for them, or drama wasn’t for them, or any sort of thing. And for a while, I questioned that for myself as well. But, now it seems clear that the question isn’t whether or not acting’s my thing, but whether or not I have the energy and motivation to put myself into the work. I feel a little bit guilty for how much time I took off my school, and I hope that next semester, I can change that.

Anyways, enough circular talking, the break has few real plans for me. A few auditions, a few holiday gatherings, a few friends getting together with me, but nothing that stresses me out too much. I’ve been reading a lot more, which has definitely improved my mood (The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño – read it), and I’ve also had the resources to actually do things I want to do, like dinner and movies. The balance is going to be much easier over the break, and hopefully, will be something I will be able to carry into the next semester.

See you next year folks! 

Theater Conservatory Confidential: This Is The Work

Eli Diamond checks in after a few weeks of radio silence.

Once again, I feel an urge to apologize for this being incredibly late, but now I can safely say it: My semester is done. All I have left to do is to send in a paper analyzing A Serious Man through the lens of Schrödinger’s Cat, and I’m done. Kaput.

And, in all honesty, it’s kinda bittersweet.

I know I’ve ranted and railed on how much I want to go home, and see my girlfriend, and get real food and family time, but right now, all I can think of is how much I want to get back in the work.

Final Scene day was remarkable. It was truly interesting to see each student, even some I’d never seen, perform for us. It really helped nail the fact in that this technique works. It’s a universal technique the same way that there’s a universal skill for carpenters or painters. Through this, I’m learning how to truly express myself in the work. And after about 15 hours of rehearsal with my lovely scene partner Brigette, another Bay Area actress, we finally got to show off our scene from Dinner with Friends, and it was so fun. The work we put in escalated us to a point where, for me at least, it didn’t even feel like work. We went on, let the scene happen, left, and when we got back, neither of us remembered what happened onstage we were so in character.

The only bad thing about this, is that now I really, really want to get into 10 minute scenes, like we will next semester. And I really want to expand my voice work, and begin to work on my speech. If the goal this semester was to make me a believer in Practical Aesthetics, then it succeeded. With flying colors. Through all the suffering, hard work, tears, and bloodshed, I discovered a method of acting that allows me to truly express myself as an artist. The biggest difference next semester though, is that our group of 16 people is going to be dismantled, and as much as I hate to say this, it’s for the best. I am ready to meet new people and work with others. And even though I’ll miss most of them, I’m sure we’ll stay in touch and everything.

Now it’s time to go home though. Time to bring all the work home, possibly go on a few audition rounds, and sleep. The only difference is that where once I couldn’t wait to come home, now I can’t wait to go back. Because, as my teacher Hilary Hinckle says, “This is the work”.

And this is a work I can see myself loving.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: The Break

Bay Area actor Eli Diamond continues his path through his first year at NYU, braving natural disaster, academic confrontations and artistic growth with equal aplomb. 

First off, I would like to apologize two weeks ago for the delay. In case the world did not notice, there may or may not have been a hurricane that devastated New York, specifically the area of New York that I call my home, and well… It was really really bad. We did not have school for the week, and we spent the time we would’ve spent at school searching for non-perishable goods, electricity, and, if all else failed, a hotel. Eventually, due to a major falling out with some friends, we did end up finding a hotel in the middle of Morningside Heights, though it may be more aptly described as a crack-den.

Nothing occupied the room except for a bed and a dresser, the nearest bathroom was about 7 or 8 doors away, and a piece of the door was lying on the floor. It, suffice to say, was not good. The three of us spent most of our time there watching television, trying to fight off the madness that unfortunately came with the territory. Dinners consisted of KFC and possibly Chipotle, if we were feeling fancy. Most stores were closed down, and the entire place had a sort of dead feel about it. The day after the Hurricane, the streets began to resemble the sub-par Will Smith film I Am Legend.

The worst part of the Hurricane and its aftermath had to be the stir-craziness. With nothing to do except talk, and watch TV on our computers, we quickly ran out of jokes, and ways to amuse each other. By the end of the Hurricane, we had all agreed not to speak to each other for the next two weeks, hoping that by that time, we could reinvigorate our friendship with a well needed shot of adrenaline.

When classes started again, I felt almost broken. I needed to go back home, I got very upset and irritable very easily. I started not going to some of my academics, and at one point lay in bed for almost 2 whole days. It escalated to the point where the head of my studio called me in and gave me a number for a shrink, saying “Hey, we’ve noticed something”. After a while, and some wonderful scene work with my friends Kane, Brigette, and Alex, I was able to get back into the flow of things.

On that same note though, it’s hard. I feel the need to return home now more than ever, and even though my parents came up for Thanksgiving, that does not quite compare to having my own bed, in a city where I can go visit my old friends, while I eat a home-cooked meal. And with only final scene day on the horizon, it looks like the only thing I need to kill right now is time.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: New York City and San Francisco: A Comparison.

Eli Diamond, having returned to New York after a brief visit home to the Bay Area, continues his musings about life as a newly enrolled theater major.

Prior to actually attending NYU, the main thing everyone told me about was the city, a lot of “You must be so excited!”, “I’d kill to live in New York!”, “The city’s gonna be so much fun!” Recognizing that this is only my second month of living in the city, I have only one thing to say about it: Meh.

You see, New York City has been described to me as having a very visceral “heartbeat”. You feel as though the city is alive, almost like some sort of organism. This is something I would agree with, but with a little footnote. The city has a heartbeat, but it’s not a healthy one. When asked to describe the feeling of the city, I tend to describe it as “It’s as if the entire city were late to work.” Everyone is always on a rush, you can always hear cars moving and speeding through the street, people don’t wait for traffic lights. No one’s really given the chance to chill.

Compare this to my hometown, San Francisco. San Francisco is a brilliant place for someone who just wants to live. It has its quieter areas, like the Sunset or Golden Gate Park, but it also has most bustling city streets around Union Square and Downtown. No matter what you are feeling, odds are San Francisco has a place that gives you an outlet for that feeling. There are many days where I would just sit in Delores Park with a journal, and just write. They say I could do that in Washington Square Park here, but it’s not the same. No one’s just sitting and relaxing, people are constantly charging through, searching for their next class. It’s not only tiring, it’s depressing.

I returned to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago to visit my parents, my old friends, and my girlfriend, and although it’s been a while, I did certainly notice a change in myself. No matter where I was, or what I was doing, I felt stressed. Stressed that I was missing something, stressed that I was going to fuck up, stressed about the weirdest shit. It took me a while, but near the end of my visit, I was able to get back into the mindset I wanted. The mindset of someone who just wanted to breathe, and let life just flow over him. Perfect timing then, to jump right back into New York and have a bit of an emotional meltdown.

Not that the city is all bad, of course. There’s a lot to do and many, many wonderful people to meet, but, sometimes, I just think it’s important to take a step back and breathe.

Eli Diamond keeps learning to breathe (and maybe discovers the quieter neighborhoods of Manhattan are mostly at the top of the island), in the next installment of Theater Conservatory Confidential.

Theater Conservatory Confidential: Practical Aesthetics

NYU freshman Elijah Diamond continues to chronicle his first year away from the Bay Area, learning the tricks of the industry actor trade.

To put it bluntly, studio has ruined my social life. With nonstop classes from 8:30 to 6:30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have literally no time to do anything except wake up, eat, and sleep. The rest of my day, as you may expect, is devoted to the Studio. Most of “my friends”, the people I met during the first week, have all but dropped off the face of the earth save for two notable exceptions. They’ve been replaced, slowly but surely, by people from my studio, a ragtag group of people, most notable of which being my scene partner, Reina.

That’s right, I said “Scene partner”. Not even four weeks in and already I’m supposed to be performing two scenes. I hoped to have some interesting details on what it was like working on this scene in class, but unfortunately, our scenes been postponed til next Thursday. So if you want to hear interesting details on how Atlantic runs scene-work, or my scene, from Oleanna, you’re out of luck. For now however, I think it’s time for me to describe Practical Aesthetics, the technique Mamet runs.

Practical Aesthetics runs off of one key principle “Think before you act, so you can act before you think”. There are other anecdotes that influence the technique, such as “You are what you are, and that’s all you need to be”. Most of the technique revolves around you being the most “you” that you can be. The technique does not want you to give anything more than yourself; no faked emotions here. In order to fulfill both of these statements, the technique has four major steps.

Literal: What is the character literally doing in the scene? Figure out what he’s doing without any form of interpretation whatsoever. An example: in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, there’s a conversation about selling the flat which really represents the relationship. You would not talk about the relationship, just that they were talking about selling the flat.

Want: What does the the character want? What does the character desire? And what is his goal? This delves more into the subtext of the scene, and less on the literal.

Action: What is the essential nature of the scene to you? Note that we’ are not talking about the character anymore. The focus of the scene instead has turned to you as a person. Actions include “To put someone in their place”, “to wake someone up to reality”, etc. The only rules for the action is that it has to be something you want the other person to do, it has to be specific, and it has to have a “cap”, an endpoint.

As-if: Here’s where Practical Aesthetics really shines for me. You apply the action to your own life, find something that you want/need to do in your regular life, and use it to stir up your viscera to reach the emotional level you need to be at for the scene. The as-if helps make the scene spontaneous, helping to fight off any possible tedium that may eventually occur in the scene.

So yeah, that’s Practical Aesthetics, a technique created by David Mamet and William H. Macy. Hopefully next time, I’ll be able to tell you what it’s like to work on a scene in this environment.

Check back in two weeks for the latest on Elijah Diamond’s navigation of the Atlantic. Get it? 

Theater Conservatory Confidential #1

Today we launch a new on-going guest blog spot with Eli Diamond’s “Theater Conservatory Confidential”, a semi-monthly chronicle of this young and accomplished Bay Area actor’s first year as an NYU theater student. What will happen when West goes East for fame and fortune? Check in every other Friday to find out!

“Oh brave new world…”

As a young man growing up in San Francisco, I spent a lot of my time figuring out how to get into an acting career. I mean, everyone knows how to get into an acting career: You audition for shows, you (hopefully) get a part, you make connections, you leave. But sometimes things are not as simple as they seem. For example, how do you become a good actor? Is it just something you’re born with? Or is it something that can be taught? Is it something that it’s worth spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on? Is it something that you should consider getting a degree in? These are things that I hope to discover over the course of my college experience. But before that, I should look back on how I entered this strange, colorful, world of theatre.

Early on in my high school days, I started doing plays and musicals, as an arts credit. But where some people just stuck to the school-produced shlock, I went outside looking for some theatre. Over the course of my high school career, I performed in over 35 different plays and musicals; professional, youth, school-related, and otherwise. To put it bluntly, theatre had become my addiction. I surrounded myself with my cast-mates, former and current, and I spent every waking moment at a rehearsal for something or other. To give you an idea, I was in rehearsal/performing nonstop from May 2011-June 2012.

But then, my senior year of high school came, and the big question emerged: Where should I go to college? I already knew that I wanted to act, so I did my research, and I decided to apply early decision to NYU Tisch School of The Arts. One 5:30 AM audition, tons of paperwork, and $67,000 in student loans (kill me kill me kill me) later, and: Ta-dah! Elijah Diamond became enrolled in the BFA Acting program at the Atlantic School for Acting, a subdivision of Tisch.

From what I had heard, Atlantic seems to be a pretty big deal. It has a militant reputation, namely because they lock the doors to their classes 15 minutes before they begin. It also has a fantastic history, having been founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy. Numerous actors have been through there; actors who’s names you would recognize, but I admit to being too lazy to look up. All that I remember is that Jessica Alba went there, for better or worse.

Right now, I am preparing on leaving: Packing up my life, abandoning the world I know, and heading into the unknown. I leave for New York on August 23rd and will be filling this blog with my (legal) exploits. Hopefully, this will be full of interesting and exciting adventures. Worst case scenario: you all feel like you’re stuck in school again. But if this works well: You’ll receive an insider’s look on what it’s like to be an Acting major in the heart of New York.

Keep checking in every other Friday for Eli’s updates as he navigates his first semester at NYU.