The Great Wave, Understudying at Berkeley Rep

Quick Ketchup

Holden (Me) and Black (Melanie Marshall) in Auantum Dragon Theatre’s production of  Fahrenheit 451

Holden (Me) and Black (Melanie Marshall) in Auantum Dragon Theatre’s production of Fahrenheit 451

First entry in a looooooooong time. Over a year based off the “Standstill” post below. I’ve mainly been working in theater lately. Doing readings for various theater companies in the area and doing a full production of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Yes! The book you had to read in high school Ray Bradbury. He adapted his book into a play after having watched the movie adaptation where he decided, “I like this part better than what I originally wrote. Now it’s in the play I WROTE.” Had a lot of fun on that one. Quantum Dragon Theatre is one of the few theater companies in AMERICA that does only fantasy and science fiction based plays. Super great crew of people.

Currently

Right now, I have been working with one of the biggest regional theaters in the Nation, Berkeley Repertory Theatre. This past Tony Awards, they sent Ain’t Too Proud to Broadway where is received 11 nominations. So yes, where talking big deal here.

I have been fortunate to be cast as an undersudy for their current production of The Great Wave by Francis Turnly. It follows a Japanese family of a mother, Etsuko, and two daughters, Reiko and Hanako, in which one of the daughters goes missing. Beginning in 1979, the events transpire over 20 plus years in a slow burn thriller to find the answers to her disappearance. I’m understudying as the sisters’ childhood friend, Tetsuo, who begins the story as the prime suspect.

The experience working with theater creators of such a high caliber has been an education in how to act. The director, Mark Wing Davey, dropped little bits of wisdom in the rehearsal room every day, and the actors were putting on masterclasses of how understanding and mastery of an actor’s instrument (the body) can allow for the work in the rehearsal space to be one of creation rather than education.

This production also marks the first time I’ve ever been cast in an Asian specific role. Every other casting has been either racially non-specific, ethnically ambiguous, or Asian added simply for diversity. It marks a point in my career that I am immensely grateful for, knowing full well it may be quite sometime before it happens again. So I am taking nothing for granted in this experience. I showed up for as many rehearsals as I could, watched (and will continue to watch) the show many, many times. Learned my lines way in advance. If I ever have the chance to go on, I want to do this character, this play, the actor I am understudying for, the Asian American community, and myself proud. Knowing that the amount of work and effort I have put into this project is my new bar, I intend to maintain it with future productions.

Invigorated and ready to keep my art and business alive and thriving.

Keep Hustling and Stay Goofy,

James Aaron Oh

Standstill - Principal Filming Finished

Alex (me) and Tracy (Kaylamay Paz Suarez) making the leap. (Prior to color correction)

Alex (me) and Tracy (Kaylamay Paz Suarez) making the leap. (Prior to color correction)

So this past weekend was CRAZY. My brother and I just finished filming my first short film, as writer and producer.

I thought acting was difficult, but adding in paper work and contacting people and making sure every one (with multiple dietary restrictions) as enough to eat added a whole new layer of challenge.

That being said, I couldn't be more grateful for the experience.

A month ago, I was seated in my room, looking at my window and thinking, "I want to write a movie using the backyard gazebo." So I continued to sit down, pumped out the script that night and gave it to my brother.

I asked a friend to play the other lead, wrote 6 more drafts, and 2 weeks later, we were contacting rental houses for equipment.

Tracy pumping up Troy (Pablo Zavala) to make his own leap. (Prior to color correction)

Tracy pumping up Troy (Pablo Zavala) to make his own leap. (Prior to color correction)

We hit a bit of a snag with cast and crew as my friend had to drop and then I asked another friend. Who also dropped. But we came out with an awesome actor, Kaylamay Paz Suarez (check her out at KaylamaySuarez.wix.com/actor)

My brother handled the crew and damn, were they awesome. Working in 100 degree weather, they were on top of their work and remained positive throughout the shoot.

I am proud of what we were able accomplish and looking forward to what the final product will become.

Many thanks to:

My brother, Michael Oh, bounce board for the script and the director of this project.

My mom and dad, for letting us kick them out of the house for a couple of days and executive producers.

Luci Liss, for making sure Tracy (character in the film) was not a stereotype, but a full-fledged person.

Kaylamay Suarez, for jumping on the project a week before shooting for bringing Tracy to life in ways I did not expect when conceiving her.

The crew of Jordan Castro (DP), Bernard Jee (1st AD) Sarah Jaffe (1st AC), Mickey Zavala (2nd AC), Fatima Coleman (Art Direction), Peter Tripodi (Sound), Kevin Fernandez (Boom OP), Michael Robertson (Gaffer), Pablo Zavala (Actor of Troy and Grip), Chris Murillo (Grip), Julian Sabolboro (Grip and PA), Daniel Kelly (Script Supervisor), Tatiana Castro (BTS), Guthrie Kornbluth (DIT), Stefan Vereen (Composer)

I'll keep y'all updated as things happen!

 

Keep hustling and stay goofy,

Brothers who make films together, scowl together

Brothers who make films together, scowl together

James Aaron Oh

Lindy Bout XII: An Exercise In Patience

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I've always advertised myself as a dancer when speaking with non-dancer friends. I like to move, I play music in my room and dance for the hell of it and I also compete in Lindy Hop competitions around the world (if Canada and the US was the world)

One month ago, I was world-treking in the far away land of Vancouver, British Columbia for my favorite Lindy Hop weekend in the whole, wide world (of US and Canada), Lindy Bout.

This was my fourth time going and was excited to see my friends from Seattle and Vancouver, eat amazing food, buy everything at 23% off (USD to CAD) and just have a good time. But I also went into this competition with great trepidation.

July of 2017, I sprained my ankle dancing, healed it (poorly) and re-injured it in October. Come November, I had stopped dancing, running, anything that required me to be physical on my feet. Having been dancing for 5+ years straight, this was a daunting task. Dancing was my drug. My high, my escape from the pressures of reality. And just like that, poof. I didn't dance for 4 months. 

I bought my ticket for Lindy Bout December 2017 and told myself I'd heal by April. March rolls around and I try dancing again. Braced, one hour at a time, I danced a total of 6 hours in the month of March. 

With April came Lindy Bout. I boarded the plane excited and anxious; excited to see my friends, anxious to see if I would break during the weekend.

Fast forward to the first night of dancing and the first competition was an endurance competition. I did it with a partner I only danced once with. We got third out of 20+ couples. I didn't break. I was out of breath, shaking, sweating, coughing, bent over, nauseous and tired. But I didn't break.

I woke up the next morning sore, but not in sharp pain. I was happy.

The nights progress. 5 competitions on the docket. I make finals in 2 out of the 5. Both of them partner draws, in which your partners for prelims are random and as well as in finals.

The first was the Knockdown (Intermediate) Mix-and-Match. I was nervous, again worrying I was going to break. I remember standing by my partner thinking, "This is where it is going to happen. Right here. Right now. And ev-" We get pushed out to dance and my perpetual smirk kicks into gear and we dance. I don't remember any of it because I kept thinking, "This step it's going to happen. This one. Nope, I guess this one." By the end of it, I'm tired from overthinking and accepting my fate that this was not my best dance.

The second was the Interregional Mix-and Match, where partners are paired from different places in the world and the music is not of the swing dancing variety. Here is where my acting skills came to play. Being non-swing dancing songs, the true nature of this competition is fun and whether you and your partner are connected. If you know the improv adage of "Yes and...", then you would do well in this comp. Like above, I didn't remember any of it. But not because my mind was wrapped up in worry. I couldn't remember any of it because I was focused on my partner and the music. So thoroughly entranced I was; seamless interactions of leading and following, offering and receiving,  action and reaction.

The night ends and I've only danced a few social dances and partied like no tomorrow. I focused less on the quantity of the dances and focused on the quality. Like in the interregional, being focused on my partner and the music.

Awards day comes and the call up the finalist for each competition. The Knockdown was first. Standing by my partner, I looked down the line of finalists thinking, "That couple definitely won." The emcee stood by the mic, "And the winners of the Knockdown Mix-and-Match Partner Draw are.... Sean Dunn and James Oh!"... Jaw drop. 

Interregionals. I stand with my partner. Everyone did incredibly well and there were so many performances in which you thought, "That one is going to be the winner." "And the winners of the Interregional Mix-and-Match Partner Draw of Lindy Bout XII are... Miranda Longaker and James Oh." ... Jaw Drop.

Safe to say, I made it through the weekend without breaking and coming home with a few mementos. But largely, it came from the patience of saying to myself, "You need to heal just a little longer. Wait til March and you will be happier for it." And I was. Did I perform as well as I did pre-injury? No. But taking time off my feet and focusing on other things (Core, core, core, core, core) made sure I was better during injury.

So I guess the take away is, be patient with yourself. Pushing yourself too hard will result in pain that you may not be able to turn back from. Taking time to rest and breath can do wonders for who you are, mentally and physically.

So, until next time, keep hustling (safely) and stay goofy (always),

James Aaron Oh

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Lecture at Berkeley City College: The Relationship Between Director and Actor

Yesterday, I had the privilege to speak to a directing class at Berkeley City College that revolved around the relationship between a director and actor. It largely revolved around basic acting principles and terminology so that the directors could have  a vocabulary with us just as they do cinematographers, editors, costumers, etc. 

Below are notes I typed up for the lecture and I believe them to be helpful to any actor or director who is beginning their journey. It revolves around communication and as collaborative art form; theater or film, knowing how to communicate with others can help solve problems quickly and efficiently. So here are the notes:

Four (Five) Simple Things (Actors Look for In Directors)

-          Aside from being a decent, compassionate human being, there are 4 director specific things an actor looks for in a director

Trust

-          Trust DPs and Gaffers to do their jobs, trust the actors to do their's

-          Create an environment that we can work in safely; especially intimate, sensitive or violent scenes

Vision

-          We want to be able to trust that you know what you are doing or are confident enough to say when you don’t so we can work on the problem together

-          Not only up to us make it happen, a conversation about the character and our acting

-          You need to be the beacon of calm within the storm

-          Patience to get the shot right as well as the wherewithal to know when you have the shot

-         Unfair to have this responsibility? No. It is your job. You are the Captain of the ship, you direct us to where we need to go, but you also don’t go around hoisting the main sail or running up to the crow’s nest

Communication and Direction

-          Silly, but most film directors do not direct actors. Content to leave them be.

-          Tell DP to soften or rack, tell editor to tighten up a cut; same with actor

-          We want to be directed so the cohesive film isn’t dragged down by our performance

-          Perception of acting: Anyone-can-do-it and mystification

-          Different styles, there is still the underlying foundations every actor goes through to create a character; Roger Deakins and Rachel Morrison. Different styles of DP, still communicate with base language

-          Different people, actors are typically empathetic beings so we feel a lot. Again, creating an environment in which actor can work and understanding how each of us work.

-          Foundation is where you can communicate with other departments, which includes actors

-          Given circumstances, objectives, actions

Pre-Production

Audition

-          1 step audition? Do it in person and give direction. Minimum two times

-          Give sides ahead of time. No one is going to do their best work in an audition

-          Get a feel for that person

-          No one knows what you want from a character

-          See if they can actually take direction and see if they can transform

Rehearsal

-          Do it before the shoot

-          Helps everyone. Line up shots, when we get to set, we can produce at our best without having to ramp it up by rehearsing on set

-          Builds relations between actor to actor and some of the crew.

-          Get on the same page, figure out how you work and how they work

-          You get to find where the builds and tensions are in the scene. Be able to highlight them better

-          10 hour shoot days, we can finitely produce so much. Doing prep work makes sure we aren’t dying by hour 6 having down rehearsals on set

Production

-          Communicating with the actor

-          Applies to auditions as well

Given Circumstances

-          Who, what, where, why, when, hows of a character before the story starts.

-          Any RELEVENT information to the character’s journey WITHIN the story

-          We start mining for what is on the page, then we use our imagination to fill the rest

-          Simple and uncluttered so messages can be communicated clearly

Objectives

-          From moment, scene,  act, to ultimate objective by the end of the story

-          “I want____” or “I want you to___” or “I want to ___ to you” create active dynamics between characters as opposed to passively waiting for things to happen

-          Something the AUDIENCE can see and/ or hear

-          Did the achieve it? Yes? Yeah! No? Try again (if they are able)

-          Characters want things desperately

Actions/ Verbs

-          Chasing objectives through actions informed by given circumstances

-          I want you to smile. How would a character go about doing that?

-          On set, you want an actor shift from poking to something more intense, but you can’t find the word. Solution: I want you to poke her more intensely (gets the point across) OR Actions: the Actor’s thesaurus ($20, physical) or the app ($8, has a search function)

-          Specificity leads to simplicity leads to clarity. Simple does not mean easy

-          Full 180 of an action but don’t know where to go and you don’t want the thesaurus? Memorize these 13 verbs:

Accuse

Ignore ---> Erase

Amuse

Flirt ---> Seduce

Rally

Dispirit (Deflate)

Ask ---> Beg (stronger)

Convince (never EXPLAIN, because it is vague)

Demand

Humiliate

Comfort

Irritate

-         These base verbs were thought up by William Ball, co-founder of American Conservatory Theatre, as the 13 basic verbs in which other verbs branch off from

Other Aspects

Emotions

-          More sadness. More anger. Happiness. Etc.

-          Vague. Why else is it ineffective direction?

-          Focuses on the interior of the character. Emotion is a reaction to something exterior

-          Business of selling emotions. The outer most layer the audience receives

-          Superficial. A veneer is not backed by something internal of the character.

-          Smart actor translates this. Untrained does not

-          Being direct when you direct leads to simplicity and therefore clarity

-         Threatening coldly to angrily. Emotion? No
 

Qualifiers

-          Angrily cannot exist on its own, needs a verb and by doing so creates a more specific action.

-          Threatening someone angrily is by and large eviscerating them

 

Movement and Speech

-          Also valid directions. A trained actor is like a violin and its player. You ask for a Ca above the bar, they provide you with the C above the bar. You ask an actor to saunter, they provide you with a saunter BASED on their understanding of what sauntering is.
*Same goes for actions, given circumstances and objectives. The actor provides THEIR understanding of it

-          Without line reading or body demonstrating. Qualities: strutting vs. gliding, reedy versus authoritative

 Reminding the actors of the situation

-          Where are the characters in terms of the story?

-          Open to having conversations with actors as things are getting prepped. Don’t pass up the opportunity

-          Human psyche questions: “Why haven’t you left?” “Why did you allow her to leave?”

-          Considering these questions, helps actors get into a good mindset before shooting

 

Post-Production

-          Project is “unpaid”? Our payment as actors is the final product. Finish it.

-          If you list payment to be COPY/ Credit/ Meal, a copy of the finished project is part of the payment. If an actor is so inclined, they have the legal precedent to come after you

- That being said, if you are holding footage for festival runs, that is understandable, just let the actor know so they aren't left in the dark

 

Anyway, those are my notes from the lecture, including bits that came up in conversation during a Q&A.

 

Until next time, stay goofy and keep hustling,

James Aaron Oh

Double Header: Cast as Claudio in Measure for Measure and wrapped VO for Perfume

Cast in Theater Lunatico' Measure For Measure

Joining my other Shakespeare brother, Sebastian, this summer is the role of Claudio in Measure For Measure, Shakespeare's "problem" play that depicts a young nun in her battle against a self-righteous man of the law as he attempts to exploit her in order for her to free her brother, Claudio (me).

Really looking forward to this role as I get to play a character with zero power in any of the situations I am in. Every interaction is an uphill battle to curry favor as Claudio is a man wrongly sentenced to death without any power to stop it. He must beg, endear, and puff his chest to remain hopeful in situation out of his control.

Even though I've played characters who are mostly reactive to their environment, I've never played a character who goes into every situation as the underdog, and I look forward to that desperation. Every acting teacher I've met as told me that every scene should have high stakes and every character should want things desperately. What could be higher stakes than life or death and wanting desperately to live? It is going to be some powerful stuff.

Look forward to seeing me and Claudio in these situations July 2018

Wrapped Voice Over on Perfume

Did my final acting bits as Jerry in MTG Production's Perfume. First time I got to do voice over with a team who could easily reset where I needed to record instead of me having to run out of my booth to stop recording and start it up again. It was pleasantly easy to just be able to focus on acting.

Final picture should be down in the next couple of weeks and hit the festival circuit shortly afterwards. After that, I'll make sure to link it to here wherever it ends up on the inter-webs.

That's all for now, so until next time, stay goofy and keep hustling.

James Aaron Oh

Selfie during the break in the Voice Over session for Perfume

Selfie during the break in the Voice Over session for Perfume