More sad news from the mentor-front. In October, I learned that Jack Temchin, the man who mentored my thesis project through its ups and downs, died. And Doug Moston, one of my truly inspired teachers, died early this week. He had been very ill for a long while, I guess – and then he slipped into a coma, and died on Tuesday night.
Doug Moston was a young man. In his 50s.
He taught “classics, period, and style” at my Master’s program. An indispensable class – especially for American actors, who don’t have the same kind of training in all of that as British actors do, and it is very difficult for us to compete – because we do not have the same context.
Doug Moston was a tough kid, growing up in New York City. He and Harvey Keitel were very close, good buds. When Keitel didn’t have a place to stay, he would stay at the Moston’s. An open and welcoming house. Moston did not go to college. He was a self-educated man. His intelligence was of the curious and wide-open kind. And yet – he was an expert in his field as well. But he never lost that curiosity.
And oh, did he love actors.
Doug Moston is responsible for publishing the first ever edition of the complete Shakespeare 1623 “folio” in facsimile.
What this really means is:
In most versions of Shakespeare, even the revered “Riverside Shakespeare”, which I have as well – Shakespeare’s irregular spelling and punctuation have been regularized. Semi-colons are added. There are even exclamation points added, where Shakespeare had written none.
As an actor, I know that punctuation is EXTREMELY suggestive.
If, as an actor, you read a script, and you see a line that is written like this:
“I have always been in love with you!”
— the exclamation point at the end suggests (for better or for worse) a WAY to say that line.
If the line was written like this:
“I have always been in love with you…”
— that suggests another meaning. That perhaps, instead of being emphatic, or passionate … you are less certain, and the ellipses perhaps mean that you should let your voice trail off.
Now – obviously – the playwright may be unaware that such specific punctuation seeps into the actor’s sponge-like brain. But other playwrights KNOW that actors will suck up any information from the text they can get … and are VERY specific about their punctuation.
But Shakespeare, in the original folio, has very little of that.
He has commas (sometimes), and he has periods, telling you that the end of the sentence (the end of the thought) is THERE.
He does not embellish. The only stage directions are “exit” and “enter”.
Everything you need to know is in the text.
If it’s dark, Shakespeare has a character say, “Please, sir, light that torch so we can see where we are going.” (Or whatever.) Shakespeare doesn’t set up the scene: “The forest of Arden. It is nighttime. It is dark.”
EVERYTHING is in the text.
Doug Moston, as an actor, understood acting. He understood how – if left ALONE – actors can be the most miraculous shape-shifters on the planet. Actors can make an audience believe it is pitch-black, even if flourescent lights are beaming down on everybody.
Moston went back to Shakespeare’s original facsimiles, and found all KINDS of stuff that has been ironed out of the plays – stuff which has been added – spelling errors which have been corrected – and in so doing, perhaps has changed the meaning or the tone of the sentence. Or mistakes made in transcribing the text, words being switched or whatever – mistakes which have been passed down from version to version to version. Like a game of Telephone.
Shakespeare’s language was, in some sense, a big mess – chaotic, inventive, crazy, irregular – and much care has been taken, by editors, to neatening up Shakespeare.
Moston was on a mission when he published that Folio.
I bought the Folio and it is one of my treasured possessions. Whenever I have worked on Shakespeare – yes, I buy a regularized copy of the play, because it is easier to work with, and easier to hold (the Folio is huge) – but when I learn my actual LINES – I learn them from the Folio.
I do not want to have some editor, sitting in his dusty office in Oxford or whatever, telling me: “Rosalind is obviously excited here – so we are going to add an exclamation point – because that is CLEARLY what Shakespeare intended.”
I want to look at the text purely.
Moston has made that possible, for actors everywhere.
He was a lovely man. A childlike soul. A wonderful teacher. But he was tough, too. He could be brutal.
He took no bullshit.
This man grew up on the rough streets of Manhattan. This man could very easily have gone down a bad path in his life. But he did not.
But that background of New York tough-guy – made him extremely intolerant of bullshit, people who lie – especially people who lie to themselves.
I loved him.
He understood craft.
And yet – one of the beautiful things about him was that he never lost his capacity to just be an audience member. A lot of acting teachers (and actors) lose that. They are always looking for what is missing, what is not right, what is bad, what is false. They are incapable of getting swept away.
Moston was able to get swept away by his own students.
Not all the time – it happened very rarely – but when it DID happen – you never forgot it.
I was working on “Taming of the Shrew”, I believe. We were doing a scene. I was having a fight with my father in the play … and suddenly – out of nowhere (this happens sometimes in acting, if you’re open) – I felt this huge lump come up in my throat – I felt how UNFAIR life was – and I felt that my father had broken my heart. I felt SO SAD.
But I couldn’t let it go completely – because I had to get all this text out.
So I kept talking, through and over my tears, telling my father how unfair I thought he was being, etc.
I felt a bit out of control.
We finished the scene and turned to Doug, for his verdict.
You never ever knew what he was going to say.
Doug was looking at me. Staring at me. The brief upsurge of emotion and tears was gone – and I wanted to know what he thought.
Like I said, he could say the most brutally truthful things. Where you wanted to crawl into a hole and apologize for even DARING to dream about being an actor.
All Doug said was, in a tone of proclamation, “Well. You broke my heart.”
I wasn’t sure what he was getting at.
He said, “I could sit here and talk to you about – where you missed the pentameter, where you were off in your phrasing – where you broke up the text too much – but you know what? None of that ends up mattering if you come alive – and you did. And you just broke my heart.”
He was a meat and potatoes kind of guy.
A guy who KNEW stuff – who knew A LOT of stuff – but who never made a big deal out of it.
And WOE to the actors who tried to snow him. Who tried to insist that they HAD done all their work – when they obviously hadn’t – and had thrown together the scene in the hour before class, or whatever.
Doug Moston had that streetwise nose – I loved that about him.
Because, as anyone who has gone to grad school can tell you, no matter what your degree – grad school is FULL OF BULL SHITTERS.
Here is one of the things Doug Moston said to our class – something which has stayed with me always:
He said that he was a big fan of “sublimation”, particularly for actors.
This, to me, was a confusing statement. Sublimate? Shouldn’t we strive to bring everything that is within us OUT? Sublimation, to me, has connotations of repression, submersion, whatever.
Doug said, “Here’s what I mean by sublimation. You take your pain – and you make it sublime.”
I have tears in my eyes.
That simple sentence has been a great gift to me. A great blessing over the past couple of years which have been, to say the least, rather painful with a lot of disappointments.
But – with all of that – I have ALWAYS had my work.
And dammit, I am fascistic about my work. Lovers come and go, a husband would be great, blah blah blah – but NONE of that will matter to me, will mean anything to me, without my work. My art.
I MUST have my work.
And so. His words about sublimation have echoed through my head over the last couple of years – with its heartache, and the disappointments over the various men who have let me down, or broke my heart.
Okay, Sheila, okay, Sheila. So you loved him. It ain’t gonna work. TAKE THIS PAIN, AND MAKE IT SUBLIME.
Put it in the work.
Put it in the work.
Put EVERYTHING in the work. Put your joy, your grief, your rage, your sexual desire, your angst, your hopes – put it all into the work.
Doug Moston taught me that.
He shouldn’t have died so young. He was a prince among men, a prince among teachers.
I can see his little baby-face in my mind right now.
God bless you, Doug Moston. You were a born teacher. You taught me much. You will be so missed.
And thank you thank you thank you for Shakespeare’s Folio. It is a major accomplishment. Something I treasure.
It is a legacy to be proud of.
Doug Moston – Rest in Peace.