Broken Swords: The Last in Line

Chapter One - Intro

Let us go on a journey. Together.

This journey gathers the past into its wake. This is where we shall spend most of our time and memory.

As with any journey it also bears mention of the future. For the journey shall eventually lead us there, at the end of all things.

We begin on a day much as the day you see outside your open door or the window at your side. Is it raining? Does the spring morning air tickle the hair of your neck? Do the nighttime stars twinkle and glimmer in the dark sky and cast hazy shadows into the sand that blows across the sill? Does it smell of soot and grime or salt and spray?

It certainly must be one of these. Or, of course, thousands of others.

At that very moment, three gathered. 

The first stepped from the sun, brightest of light reflecting with blinding intensity miraculously wrapping itself around edges and corners to illuminate all. The figure, encased in perfectly crafted armor of light and fire, stretched forth a hand. Fingers uncurled and within, beginning to coalesce, pulling matter and form and essence, a small globe of air. It spun lazily, suspended above the outstretched palm.

The second climbed from the night, shadow and secret to temper the light. Wisps of smoke and shade hovered and flitted. It offered the quick glance of a shape, a line, or form. But then, almost there before realized, something stretched out from within the whirling darkness. The smells of wood and earth wrapped themselves, entwining, with the globe of air still hovering above the palm of the first.

The third came from within the globe itself. It started as a vibration in the edges of the whirling orb, but quickly coalesced into rivers and streams of energy and luminescence. The viscous tendrils, fluid and formless, moved and wrapped and spun around the shadow and the light. It smelled of storm and sea and small rivulets ran to encircle the little globe of form and substance, swirling to embrace it.

Now where are we? What is it we see? 

Ah, this, of course, is the beginning. All stories begin with the beginning, eh?

But again, this is a journey. Together. Let us continue.

Something whispered. It might have been time. It might have been form. It is sometimes hard to tell in these stories. But tell it, we shall. 

Whatever it may have been, it passed. The three gazed upon their creation, felt the creation itself begin to feel, to flow, to form.

The three each brought two. Companions to ease solitude with friendship and to share memories. Consorts to explore wonder. Compatriots to revel in triumphs. Mirth, Beauty and Battle. Life. Bravery. Justice and Law. The Hunt. Craft and Cure. Chance, of course, came of its own.

The three thrones smiled and knew all was good. The seven pillars stood tall.

Well, all accept Luck who wandered.

But...

Yes, there is always a “but”. It is the essence of the journey of story, of tales, is it not? For without the “but” what would the relevance be? For what reason would the story be told? How would it serve memory and thought?

But at almost the very same time, no, not almost, at the very same time the three gazed upon each other. Each saw in the other their perfection. Their purity.

But...

Ah, once more. Yes, do not weep nor dismay. For all that came before would be firm, all that came after? Without the ‘but’ potential would be moot.

But within each, was the merest, tiniest, most infinitely small and resolute imperfection.

The three saw this.

This could not be. This crack of creation and perfection. It must not be.

Yet there it was. Dark and foreboding, the rancid flesh of the long dead and the murderous intent of eternal gestating hatred. The deep, deep, well of the unspeakably unknown. 

These three upon the thrones and the banes of their being.

But...

What to do? It had been born into existence, along with the three themselves. This could not be undone. As words spoken can never be reclaimed.

In an instant, though, what is an instant to divines such as these, seconds, years, centuries, beyond? In an instant the three saw their need and reaching into one another, three into one into three, drew out the blemish, scrubbed free the stain, shed light on the unknown.

But...

Where, now, should these dark forms be contained? For held they must be. To allow them to roam free within time and form would mar the perfection of their creation.

Again, within the same breath the three came to realize their need. They would bind these dark urges, as it were, into vessels, containers. Vessels of their making. Knowing the power of hatred, plague and fear, these vessels, sadly, could never be eternal. But they would, of course, live free. Some would embrace the wind and the rain, the sun and ice, others would relish in pain, terror and disease, but still, the free live free.

And, of course, there was always Chance.

Because of the seductive and degenerative power contained, the time of these vessels would be short, far too short for the satisfaction of the thrones whose hearts broke and wept at the battle they knew their vessels must face.

Therefore, it was decided, each of them would offer a gift, something to hold and stand against the forces that would seek to undo them. Braced by the pillars, this gift would prolong their existence, allow them to fulfill their purpose, to seek their destiny, even if just for the merest instance longer.

The light gave them honor and courage. The night gave them knowledge and guile. The other gave them spirit and incantation.

But...

This was not all that must be done. Removed from their essence the three were now perfect, no longer marred by the stain. How could they remain so? To be in the presence of their creation they would most certainly become corrupted once again.

As one, the three decided.

The creation would be safely contained.

Is this story satisfying? Do you find it worthy? Ah, you feel something has been left unsaid?

Yes, well, once contained, the pillars of the stars and the thrones on high would forever be separated. Their tragedy. They would gaze upon their creation with awe, wonder, and elation but they could never again be in its presence.

A great wall, set between the great halls and the fragile realm.

But they would never wish to leave their creation completely alone, without guidance, without hope.

Instead, the Patrons, saints to the divines, would walk the earth, guarding the secrets and the knowledge of the creation, sharing. No better, no worse than their fellows. Carrying the burden of their aspect and the weight of immortality.

Some say the first of these was the Heart of Belief. Others the Patron of Ingenuity. Perhaps the Hand of Friendship, the Flame of Hope or the Speaker of Oaths.

No, it was none of these. Or in many ways, it was all of these. The first was the Saint for those who knew the highs and the lows of this walk of life and death better than all others.

Me?

No, of course not. I am second to the first. For though I may tell the tale, the first has lived the journey.

Now the story ends.

Of course I jest.

I am the Saint of Stories. These words, and those before and those after, are etched upon the foundation of time. What does the future hold? Why do we forget what is behind us? What becomes of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?

Only time will tell. Only time.

*****

Like Sentinels on Guard

I never liked riding in limousines. It’ uncomfortable, like the first time you get your teeth cleaned after two years. Well, if you go that long. Even after all the time I'd spent in them it never got any easier. Today was really no different.

Except for the fact that after today no one would feel the same again.

Except for the fact that I was missing the last six weeks of my life.

Except for the fact that I was on my way to bury my best friend.

The drive was interminable. A short six miles from my home. It felt like six hundred.

The sky was virtually clear of clouds, a bright, fall blue washing sunny resilience across every reflective surface in sight: chrome bumpers, mirrored sunglasses, plate glass windows and coated plastics. It was a nice day for St. Louis in the end of August. Not much humidity, heat not too bad. The lamb skin gloves on my hands didn’t look as ridiculous as you’d think. Over the years, as my finances had improved (listen to me, I sound like my mother) the gloves had felt more and more natural. Well, at least as natural as having a second skin could get. There were actually times when I forgot they were on.

Jimmy pulled into the cemetery, the gates wide open; stark black iron girders, pitted and weathered, built long ago to keep the dead in their place.

Hell, Ian, why'd you have to go?

I could see the funeral procession across the hills. The cemetery was large, hills and dips peppered with headstones of varying sizes and shapes. Roads wound through the fields, little pathways to the land beyond. Small copses of budding trees dotted the roadsides and hillsides like sentinels on guard.

But you couldn't miss Ian's procession. There were so many cars and trucks and limousines and vans it looked like the entrance to one of the band’s venues. A sea of people surrounded the spot. It made me smile. Ian was loved, that was certain, and I could slip in without being noticed. I didn't want today to be about anything else but him. About honoring possibly the bravest man I'd ever known.

"Put the gun down, Lance. It won't solve anything."

Tears streamed down my face, mixing with the rain. "I can't do it, Ian. I can't. I've lived with this for too long. I can't stand it anymore."

Ian's face was strong, lined and chiseled from the ice that surrounded him, hugged him close. He held a hand up between both of us, turned it one way then the other. His gaze shifting only briefly to stare at the hand and then coming back to me. "I understand, Lance, believe me, I do. And it’s okay to be afraid."

He paused a moment, the rain around us pelting the roof top and dancing in puddles making white noise. Then he lowered his hand, his crystal blue eyes stark against the muted grayness of his icy skin. "Buddy, what I know I have to do, I can't do it alone. I know you don't want to be part of all this. I know you want a normal life. I can't give that to you. And you have no idea how sorry I am that I can’t. But I can stand between the rest and give you some peace of mind. I just need your help. I need you to just be here. To just go on with everything else."

He sat down, on the roof right there in front of me. Even with his thermosuit, the puddles around him crystalized like tiny ice skating ponds. I stood there helpless, aware for the first time in my life that the world didn't revolve around me. I was twenty three years old, I had been to the top of the world, practically a household name, and I was a selfish prick.

The metal in my hands was cold and lifeless.

"Lance, you're my voice of sanity. Leadership is hard. I never wanted it, but I've got it. I'm responsible." He smiled sadly, and held out his hand again. "Now give me the damn gun."

The limo pulled to a stop. Jimmy looked over his shoulder as he swung his door open. "No, Jim, just stay in the car, I'll be all right," I said, the knot in my gut growing proportionately larger with every passing minute. “Just…give me a moment.”

The quiet was breath taking. There was no rustling from the crowd. The light, almost absent breeze, whispered across clothes and flags gently with no echoes. My fingers, tapping absentmindedly against the door handle sounded like gunshots to my ears, but no one turned to look. Every eye was focused on the deliberate and gentle steps of the uniformed procession that escorted a tall, alien figure carrying a simple urn toward an even simpler, large headstone.

Ian Keith. Frostbite. Leader. Hero. Beloved Friend.

The procession stopped. The tall figure bent down gracefully and placed the urn reverently into the base of the headstone. The lit sconces to either side flickering hypnotically.

I took a deep breath and climbed out of the car, quickly before I changed my mind.

To the Actor #8: What If? (Givens)

I’ve worked with numerous actors over the years as an actor myself and, more importantly, as a director. One thing that I find common in nearly every conversation I have or every project I’ve worked on is at some point I hear the phrase “I don’t think my character would do that.”

Really?

Of all the tools an actor has at their disposal the ‘what if’ or in the terms I learned, given circumstances, are potentially the most powerful. Why? Well, play along with me for a moment.

Hopefully you’re familiar with the story of the father lost at sea, both his sons swept overboard and he has to make a choice of which to save.

So let’s say this is a scene you’re shooting. (Meryl Streep doesn’t get to come along though.) So, we set up all the equipment. Everything’s ready. You and I step up to the deck of the boat to begin rehearsing while the crew makes last minute preparations.

Keep in mind, this entire conversation is based on two concrete facts: My job as a director is to guide THE FILM. Your job as an actor is the honest portrayal of your CHARACTER. Keep that in mind because it’s important. You need to fight for your character and I fight for the film. Together that creates magic.

So we rehearse the scene and I feel like the stakes aren’t high enough, there’s something missing that doesn’t make this one of those few rare moments in each persons life where a crossroads is truly met.

So I turn to you and say, “So, which son do you choose?” (We’re tossing aside the script for a moment here but trust me, I’m very protective of my screenwriters – that’s a topic for another post.)

And you respond, “The younger son.”

“Why,” I reply.

“My older son, who is 26 has lived longer, he’s experience more opportunities, our bond is stronger and he would want me to save the younger, who is only 19.”

And I say, “Let’s choose the younger son.”

“My character wouldn’t do that.”

Stop here for a moment and understand, this actor has obviously done a good deal of work for the character. Though slightly superficial answers (and that’s only true because I’m trying to keep this essay short), they are still quite nice. As the director though, and I read people very well, I can tell the actor thinks he’s jazzed by this but it’s not nearly far enough. Remember, my job is to guide the film.

“Okay,” I say. “What if your younger son, in his freshman year at MIT, where he’s majoring in Theoretical Chemistry, has just potentially cracked the code on curing Leukemia. He’s just received a grant for his next three years in school and with his advisors they’ve predicted a positive outcome in less than five years.”

Now that sentence in and of itself can be about ANYTHING. My job is to spark the actor’s imagination, to get it fired up so that I see that light flare in the eyes, the body tenses just a little bit more (in a good way), the wheels begin to churn.

Then, they nod slightly and say, “That’s great. That would make it a much tougher choice, I mean how many lives might he potentially save?”

I nod back. “Sure, but what if your older son, who works for a major financial corporation in downtown Manhattan, was recently subpoenaed for insider trading and he’s admitted to you that he did it and he’s afraid of the consequences?”

The actor frowns a bit, “Well, crap, if I choose the younger son then my oldest might not have a chance to redeem himself after accepting the consequences of his actions. He’d die guilty and I’d never give him a chance to do better.”

NOW we’re starting to go somewhere scary, exhilarating and potentially provocative enough to punch this into orbit.

I want to say again this was all pretty quick and mostly surface level stuff; you’d definitely want to dig deeper to truly stoke those fires but the point is made. The coolest thing of all, this isn’t a talent. It’s a tool. Anyone can learn to do it if you practice it. Yes, if you’ve got talent the application is going to be far more powerful, but even if you don’t the results are astounding.

Imagination. Cultivate it.

As an actor, the next time you’re on set, before you respond, ask yourself, “What if…?”

The Craft and the Art

I spent a good deal of time (from the ‘90s to ‘10) as an actor. Mainly stage, though I have had my occasional foray into film (never tried or wanted to try television.)

I have also been the artistic director for two experimental theatre companies, one of which lingers on in limbo as I write this.

I often feel like I have nothing to say and consider taking everything I write and hurling it into the void of the darkest of Lovecraftian imagination. Occasionally however, I do get an inspiration.

There are several reasons for this.

  1. I think I actually know a bit about this. Call it hubris or call it experience, it is what it is.

  2. I have had several of my friends (and colleagues) request I teach acting classes because they are convinced of my abilities in this matter (teaching acting not necessarily acting acting.)

  3. My earliest foray into the performing arts was actually as a director and was always meant to be as a director.)

I have never had a real desire to teach acting. As a director it drives me crazy having to teach the craft to an 'actor' when they should already know how to do it if they're going to get up on the stage in the first place. That's a bit harsh. I realize. I also realize that often times people who don't like something can, quite often, be uncannily good at it.

One word that it will center on, and one word that I feel all of my craft as an artist is dependent on is honesty. This will be the foundation of everything you read concerning the art and the craft of possibly the 'second' oldest profession in the world.

To the Actor #16: My Set is Not Your Homework.

Practical Application

An actor must always be learning, always striving to better themselves, always working at their craft, fine-tuning, trying new things, divesting themselves of old things. This is the nature of the actor, or at the very least should be.

However, when you step onto a set, playtime is over, lesson time is over. At the end of the day you should definitely look back and reflect on what worked, what you might take from the day, what you can do better, but that's at the end of the day. What you can't do is spend the day on set 'practicing.'

This is tantamount to a surgeon stepping up to take out your kidney and saying to the nurse, "I read about this new way to tie-off sutures yesterday in my most recent journal. I'm going to try it out on this patient."

In medicine that's a lawsuit waiting to happen. In acting, it means your going to look like you've got your head up someone's indelicate orifice.

You weren’t hired to explore your craft. You do that on your own time. You were hired you to act. So act. Forget about what you did in acting class two weeks ago. Forget about the new sense memory bit you read in Chekhov's recent acting book. If you don't 'know' it by the time you're on set, you're doing a disservice to your craft and a disservice to the production at hand.

Have you ever stopped to think how you can do the #1 thing an actor must do - to be present - when you're trying to figure out if you've got enough breath behind the word 'titillate' or if that mannerism that came out during rehearsals is big enough (or small enough?) You can't!

Throw it all out, be present in the room, and friggin' act. It must be natural and honest first and foremost, everything else must be built on that foundation. If it isn't it's unpleasant to watch.

This, in itself, is the difference between an actor who is and someone who wishes to be.

It's simple.

Just act.

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