Monday, October 31, 2011

Drama - an Actor's Education

by John Lithgow

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Through the vivid stories in "Drama", John Lithgow shares a backstage history of his struggle, crisis, and discovery, and the scenes of his early life and career that took place before he became a nationally-known star. Above all, "Drama" is a tribute to the most important influence in John Lithgow's life: his father, Arthur Lithgow. An actor, director, producer, and great lover of Shakespeare, Arthur brought theatre to John's boyhood, where performance and storytelling were a constant and cherished part of family life. Lithgow brings the theatre worlds of New York and London to life as he relives his collaborations with renowned performers and directors including Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma. Lithgow's ruminations on the nature of theatre, performance, and storytelling cut to the heart of why actors are driven to perform, and why people are driven to watch them do it. At once hilarious and reflective, "Drama" pulls back the curtain on the making of one of our most beloved actors.

For such a mundane and simple cover, I was dazzled at the direction the book and Lithgow's life took. He moved around a lot because of his father, who had this dream of starting the next great Shakespeare festival. So for all the goofy roles you've seen Lithgow in, he's been acting in Shakespeare plays since he was a child. John writes of the excitement of acting as a child, but his real dream was to be an artist. His parents were so supportive, they even sent him to an art class for teenagers in New York when the high school's class was too rigid.

But he continued to act, for his father and in high school. If you've ever seen Buckaroo Bonzai, you will remember Dr. Emelio Lizardo. He says that not only was this his favorite role, but he played it based on Dr. Pinch whom he played way back in high school.

While doing the art and acting, he was also a model and active student. Graduating with honors, he attended Harvard on a full scholarship. He had planned on pursuing art, and his father took him to see a respected artist and the guy's question to Lithgow was "If you want to be an artist, why the Hell are you going to Harvard?" It opened Lithgow's eyes, it really didn't have a program that would take him where he thought he wanted to go. When he got there he fell in love with the Drama area. There wasn't an actual program, but there was a theater and students working in it. He majored in English and went to town with the other Drama students.

He married before he finished college and went to London on a Fulbright scholarship to study acting. It had been decided, he would be an actor. His wife was a special education teacher, 6 years his senior. She went where he went, working to support them and occasionally acting with him. He worked for his father first but then moved on to pursue more challenges. He really had a slow start, but by the 70s he was a Broadway actor, in fact he was in 12 plays through the 70s. He's done some movie work, and some TV but he absolutely adores the theater.

I had no idea I would enjoy this book so much. He didn't have a terrible childhood, his parents loved him. The only trauma that shaped him was the constant moving around. But it certainly helped his acting career - he knows how to fit in. He didn't spiral out of control on a drugged-out bender. The worst period for him was in his 30s when adolescence finally hit. He was an ass, and he admits he was an ass. I finished this book with a lot of respect for the man, even though some of his actions I didn't like or agree with.

I also learned that I really enjoy a well-written autobiography.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment. :0)