Interview with Stage Actor/Author/Goodwill Ambassador – Ronald Rand
Today it gives me great pleasure to share an interview with you all, that I conducted with actor Ronald Rand. He is an actor, author and goodwill ambassador. Ronald Rand has appeared in many theatre plays, his latest is Let It Be Art about the life of Harold Clurman, which he tours worldwide. He is also the founder of newspaper – The Soul of The American Actor. His book is Solo Transformation On Stage is available now to purchase and includes a forward by Stephen Lang, most recently famous for playing/voicing the part of Miles Quaritch in the Avatar movies by James Cameron. The cover quote comes from the actor Christopher Plummer.
Thank you very much Ronald for allowing me to interview and for your fascinating answers about your author and stage life, as well as telling a bit about being a Goodwill Ambassador. Ronald Rand also interviews some acting greats. Discover a bit about this too, as well as some photographs Ronald Rand has kindly sent over and granted me permission to use.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome Ronald Rand onto my blog. So, let’s begin…
You wrote a book that enlightens audiences to the art of solo performance. I’ve seen some actors do this in the UK, such as Simon Callow and Julie Hesmondalgh. I always come away wondering “How do you learn all those lines and how does the way you feel going out on stage differ to that of having a full cast around you?”
Ronald Rand: First, I would like to thank you for this special gift and privilege for this interview and to answer your questions. Congratulations on having such a very fine blog, Bookmarks and Stages.
Well, when I first began acting, I had to have been around six years old, and of course, I was worried like many actors are, about forgetting my lines. Thinking it was all about memorization. But as the years progressed and I’ve worked more and more as an actor, over time I’ve learned that the lines in a play are a natural extension of a person’s thoughts. And if they’re well written by an excellent playwright, they should roll, as The Bard said, “trippingly from the tongue,” because they’re connected to the action of what the person is doing. When I have had to learn lines to perform in a different play other than my solo play, I learn them through their connection to what the person is doing each moment to get what they need.
In my solo play, LET IT BE ART! Harold Clurman certainly has a lot to say but the words he says come as expressions of what he needs to say at the moment as a natural action in his storytelling. Because I bring Harold Clurman to life after a two- hour transformation process in what I refer to as the ‘creation room,’ not a dressing room, when Clurman arrives, he’s not coming on a stage, he’s arriving at his apartment in New York City and very soon he encounters three of his students (who are actually the audience). And the things he says are a natural extension of him living his life, just the same as you do when you’re talking to others in your daily life. What you’re saying is certainly not lines in a play.
You see, in his reality he’s returning from having seen a play in Brooklyn and he’s merely going on with his life; he’s not coming on a stage. As the actor inside I’m aware that, of course, it’s a stage but Harold Clurman couldn’t care less, he’s in his apartment living his life. I still have to make sure that he’s where he’s supposed to be, and hopefully he will say the words that are in the play when they need to be said. Do I have any idea that he will? I never know for sure, since he’s living his life completely.
When you ask about having a full cast around me. Well, actually Harold Clurman is talking to three acting students in his apartment (a part of the audience), and at another time in the play, he ‘breaks the fourth wall’ and talks to a group of actors who have come to the first get-together when the Group Theater was born in 1930, (which is also the audience.)
And throughout the play, through Clurman, you meet Lee Strasberg, Cheryl Crawford, Alfred Stieglitz, Stella Adler, Clifford Odets, Constantin Stanislavski, Aaron Copland, even Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. That’s a pretty amazing cast! So there’s all these vibrant folks coming to life on his journey through his life. So, in a sense, you might say, there is a ‘full cast’ but they’re not around “me,” they’re with Clurman, and when he heads off to the theater at the end of the play, that’s when I return for the curtain call.
What prompted you to write a book about the transformation of an actor into the person who they are going to play? I must say it is absolutely fascinating as there is so much to explore and I’ve only ever seen this a little in the film and play – The Dresser.
Ronald Rand: Thank you so much for your kind words. SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE: A Journey into the Organic Process of the Art of Transformation came about because of the pandemic. I was in the middle of my 20th year touring in my solo play, and I had completed a performance of LET IT BE ART! at The Ritz Theatre in Sheffield, Alabama to a sold-out audience. They actually stayed almost as long as the performance for the question-and-answer period which I always have at the end of the show. This was in late February 2020, and after that my tour was shut down and I was sequestered like everyone else.
Well, one day I was sitting at my desk, and I thought there has to be some way that I can reach out to people since I can’t do it on stage, and it occurred to me that perhaps I could contribute by sharing the organic process I go through using the Art of Transformation, and share how Stanislavski’s acting chart, ‘The Method of Physical Actions’ makes it possible.
Now I know there’s certainly several books written by actors, some who talk about their process and their life acting on the stage. However, there’s only a few about the art of solo performance, which is a world unto its own. But I think my book is the first to go through an organic process and the transformation necessary to create your own solo show. But more than that, it’s about how to make your dreams come true drawing upon the richness of who you are.
I believe it’s important for the actor today to realize that transformation is necessary. I see so many actors play elements of themselves acting like they’re somebody else, but transformation takes many years through learning about one’s craft and gaining a mastery to bring to life another human being on the stage.
It’s really a never-ending discovery process to sustain a performance for an hour or longer requiring great discipline, focus and a continual stream of storytelling. That’s why I wanted to go into this kind of process more deeply through SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, and reveal how I use Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions’ chart. The same chart he gave to my teacher, Stella Adler when she studied with him in Paris in 1934. She was only American to study for over five weeks with him, and she brought his chart back to the Group Theatre in America.
When I was fortunate to study with Stella Adler for over five years, I gleaned great insights from her teaching which helped me understand the chart in a deep way, and I have tried to bring forward many of the insights through my master acting workshops.
Still, there is always something mysterious about what takes place inside what I refer to as the creation room because for me that’s where creation begins to allow another person to come so that they can live their life through the playwright’s creation. Did I have any idea that this process would evolve this way when I began working on the role of Harold Clurman? Certainly not. At the very beginning, I looked at Clurman as a role or as a character. But I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a character. There is only the person, a human being who must come and live their life. And I have to allow creation to occur by being an open and willing vessel.
You say that Harold Clurman chose you and you became passionate about his ideas. What were the ideas that then gave you the impulse and drive to bring his life to the stage?
Ronald Rand: I think I first became fascinated by the Group Theatre back in high school when I was studying acting with an excellent drama teacher, David Feldman, at Coral Gables High School in Florida where I was born and grew up. Feldman was a dedicated and unusual high school drama teacher, giving us exercises by Boleslavsky and Michael Chekhov, talking about the Moscow Art Theatre and Vakhtangov, showing us films by Elia Kazan and Sidney Lumet, talking about the impact of the Group Theatre and what they did that changed the course of the American Theater.
The productions we would act in had to have been on the same level as those Off-Broadway. All of this had a great impact on my life at the time. When I completed high school and travelled to New York City and studied with Stella Adler, of course, her great impact was to show us the size an actor must rise to inhabit the great roles. I had to throw out pretty much everything I had been doing before since so much of had to with imitation and indicating, now it had to be based on creation and truth. Through her great art of script interpretation, we’d learn how to dissect a play and be an instrument and be in service to the playwright’s work. This is what the actor is responsible for.
And at the same time, I was fortunate to study with Harold Clurman. Every moment transformed my very being through his overpowering passion, his pulsating vibrating thoughts, revealing all the possibilities of how to see life, and acting and what the theater is capable of.
Did I have any idea at the time that I would write a play and bring to life Harold Clurman? Of course not. But later when I read in the introduction to Clurman’s book, The Fervent Years, Stella Adler wrote that she feared that the legacy of Harold Clurman might be lost, and I thought that would be a great tragedy.
That’s what led me to consider writing a play about Clurman. But I actually began a play about the Group Theatre instead and ended up playing Clurman in many staged readings across New York City for several years trying to get it produced. It was finally produced at Northern Illinois University. After that, maybe it was a voice inside that directed me to now write a play about Clurman. But even after reading and re-reading everything he wrote, looking at my notes from my classes with him, watching videos of him, I had to sit down, put everything aside and ask him: “What do you want to say?”
All of a sudden, the floodgates opened and the words that needed to be said came.
So, this is one of the secrets of writing your own show, tapping into the subconscious, and listening. I have to believe that’s why I was chosen to bring his passion and humanity alive, not only for audiences in America but across many different countries. Because what he has to say to us is universal and necessary to hear, especially today.
You talk about the person you are portraying being almost like an extension of yourself and you transform into the character you become, do you ever feel that this influences or affects parts of your own life and how do you separate the two as the psychology, Affective Memory, and molecules that you talk about in your book come into play?
Ronald Rand: Certainly, there’s no question bringing Harold Clurman to life through my play, LET IT BE ART! for over twenty years has had a great influence on my being. It’s also an enormous responsibility to allow his vibrancy and dynamic passion, his great humour, and humanity to come alive in every single moment.
When I decided to dedicate my life to sharing Clurman’s great being, it was after I had worked in numerous films and television shows, but now I made a deeper commitment that I couldn’t work on any production that reflected any kind of negativity, evil or destruction. I have to allow myself to be in a state of affirming the best in our humanity in order to embody Clurman.
Every decision we make in our life, our choices every day is a reflection of our moral values, and we should strive to bring forth love, beauty, and art in all its richness.
And at the same time, we’re always surrounded by invisible molecules moving around us. When I wave my hand through the air, or communicate Clurman’s great passion on stage, everything’s traveling across a sea of molecules. Everything we see, all inanimate objects are made up of invisible molecules, even though they look solid. So, we have to understand and appreciate how it’s all a flow we’re a part of and allow for the greatest energy to come forth, a willingness to affirm our deepest humanity to help others on this planet through the talents we’ve been given. That’s our responsibility, and why transformation becomes all the more necessary to be a vessel in service so that another human being can live and breathe and come and tell their story.
You have advice to always take time and stop between performances, how does this aid your next performance? How do you keep performances feeling fresh for you and the audiences?
Ronald Rand: Sometimes as a performer we’re called upon to do eight performances a week. At other times it so happens that there may be a larger break between one performance to the next. When that occurs, one has to find ways to constantly refresh and refuel one’s persona and keep one prepared, ready for the next performance; it’s always like being ready to run a marathon. Being in a state of readiness is the way I exist because this is my life’s calling which I will be doing to the end of my time. Especially today when as Clurman put it, “We live in an age of amnesia and for the most part, nobody remembers anything that happened the day before yesterday, so you naturally have to say it all over again.”
When audiences all over the world no matter what country I perform in, no matter what language they speak or their background or culture, once they come in contact with Harold Clurman, it’s as if they’re transformed and become excited because what he’s telling them is about something eternal and necessary to be heard today.
When I’m called upon to bring Harold Clurman to life in a performance, it’s never been done before in this particular setting, at this particular moment so everything is completely fresh, and the theatres are always different. Whether I’m performing in the courtyard of a palace or outside on a grassy knoll at a university, or in a tribal hut or a cave theater or inside a thousand seat auditorium.
You mention so many actors, directors from theatre and film in the past and present, such as Charlie Chaplin, Simon Callow, Lin Manuel Miranda and many more… How does studying such a wide range of people and their creations influence you and how important do you think it is for actors, whether they are new or established to know the heritage of theatre and the stories they tell?
Ronald Rand: Well, when I began as an actor, I slowly became aware of my heritage, or as we’re called, being a part of a ‘tribe.’ In high school I read everything actor biography and autobiography I could get my hands on, from Edwin Booth, Ira Aldridge, Salvini, Eleanora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Edmund Kean, Michael Chekhov, Vakhtangov to Stanislavski but it’s not only the theater I familiarized myself with. During college, I read countless books on philosophy, psychology, anthropology, the great religions of the world. I read every great novel, poem, and play written by the greatest writers of all time from the Greeks to the present. One particular book, Actors on Acting brought me further in contact with actors from different cultures taking me all over the world
It’s a personal decision to decide to learn about one’s history but I consider it a responsibility. If you’re a baseball player, you certainly want to know about Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson. Why shouldn’t you if you’re an actor know about your heritage? That’s why I’ve included in my book a rich diversity of some of the greatest performers who have inhabited the stage from Ira Aldridge to Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. There is a great ‘well’ I talk about in my book, SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, that each of us can draw from, and it will only greatly fuel the ‘leap across the footlights’ and touch the very souls and hearts of the audience.
Towards the end of the book, you had the great opportunity to interview other actors, such as Adrienne Barbeau, Christopher Plummer, Spalding Gray, to name but a few about their own transformations. What did you learn and come away with for your own thoughts or performances from them?
Ronald Rand: I’ve been very fortunate over the past nearly twenty-five years to do over fifteen hundred interviews through my newspaper, The Soul of the American Actor, and it’s brought me in touch with these particular performers that I’ve included in my book. Some of whom have become good friends. By sharing the more than twenty interviews in the book, and their journey as a solo performer, the choices they’ve made and how their particular shows came to life has been extremely inspiring for me, and I hope will also be for the reader.
Eve Ensler talks about how she created The Vagina Monologues, Ben Vereen shows how the world around him deeply affected his choices as a young performer, Christopher Plummer plumbs the depth of his rich being, Stephen Lang (who wrote the Foreword to my book) and Laurence Luckinbill, both highly seasoned performers offer great insights into the extraordinary courage it takes to come on a stage alone and become someone else.
Through the ages up to today, when you see someone like Ralph Fiennes or Simon Callow, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Anna Deavere Smith, or Ian McKellan, you’re experiencing a great thread of our humanity in the stories being revealed. Every time I experience a solo performance, it further awakens my own understanding about what it means to be alive and how much more there is to know about this world.
It’s interesting that you say that in your masterclasses people such as lawyers, therapists, teachers, taxicab drivers and those from other professions come and are a part of your workshops, as if there is a common thread to be realised. What would you say is the common thread and why are so many wide-ranging people attracted to your masterclasses?
Ronald Rand: It has been a special gift and privilege being able to teach my
‘Art of Transformation’ master acting workshops around the world for the past twenty-five years in over twenty-five countries, and across twenty states at over seventy-five theaters, universities, colleges, and acting schools. And yes, several times a diverse array of those who have attended my workshops come from many different backgrounds and professions. Why do they come? I think it’s because of transformation. We’re all constantly changing every single day, and every choice we make literally transforms us.
When I have individuals from many different backgrounds in my workshops, they’re excited to dip into some of the exercises and learn about Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions,’ because for some, they may have thought “What would it take to become an actor?” and they find it fascinating and some realize that they have it within themselves to let their imagination loose, and in one of the exercises, I literally ‘take them off and they all fly like a bird.’ I want to give them a chance to feel this kind of freedom which is not something that always happens in their daily lives.
We have to allow ourselves to dream the biggest dreams we can dream. To achieve everything, we’re born to achieve and enjoy every moment we’re alive. And the more we understand about what moves us forward, perhaps we can be in even greater service to others, especially at a time like this.
Your book is more thought-provoking than I imagined, in a good way. You talk about the late Chadwick Boseman and basically about empowering others. How important do you think theatre is for telling the stories and making the most of what you have to say in this medium, since no one knows what is going to happen in our future?
Ronald Rand: Yes, we live in an age of great uncertainty and there are forces at work constantly trying to upset the balance and harmony of life. However, we know, deep in our beings, the most powerful forces on earth like love, truth, peace, and justice, to name a few, represent the highest ideals of who we are as human beings on this planet.
I mention Chadwick Boseman in my book because he understood the responsibility he was given as an actor and when he became a ‘star,’ he recognized it was part of his responsibility to help empower others. This is certainly what we can do as artists. To help others find their path, and that’s why for me, because the theater is ‘alive in the moment’, through our storytelling we can literally transform others to reach a place where a revelation may come, or the experience may propel them to take a good look at their lives.
Well, while we may not know the future, we actually have the power to shape its potential, and bring a deeper awareness to the others through art. and I’ve personally experienced how a solo performance can touch people in a very deep place.
You have a very accomplished CV, including being a US Goodwill Cultural Ambassador and US State Department Fulbright Specialist Scholar. How did you come to have these positions, how long have you done this for and what are some of the things do they entail?
Ronald Rand: On my first world tour with LET IT BE ART! I was invited to Tbilisi, Georgia to perform at The GIFT Festival. I was welcomed as a Goodwill Cultural Ambassador as a representative from my country to theirs bringing goodwill and as a ‘bridge of understanding.’ And over the years it has happened many times, which is especially meaningful to me.
This coming summer, I have been invited to Iceland’s Act Alone Festival to bring Clurman’s great passion and ideas as the “Elder Statesman of the American Theater.” So, it continues been an enormous responsibility bringing him alive to audiences in several many countries.
When I was first chosen as a US State Department Fulbright Specialist Scholar during my five first five years, I was able to spend six weeks at the University of Sarajevo’s Academy of Dramatic Arts teaching their wonderful students, and at the same time, I was invited to direct a production of Murray Schisgal’s hit comedy, LUV, at one of their most prestigious theatre’s, Chamber Theatre 55 in Sarajevo. The production was in Bosnian, which was an extraordinary learning experience, and I directed three of Bosnia’s finest young actors.
During my second tour as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, I taught and performed in my solo play for six weeks at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, and then the Malaysian Cultural Ministry invited me as the first American master to bring Stanislavski’s ‘Method of Physical Actions’ across Malaysia to hundreds of students at their State Theatre and schools. Truly a most amazing experience!
On my third tour as a Fulbright Specialist Scholar, I travelled to Uruguay to teach actors and actors and students for five weeks at the Paysandu Theater Group and also ended up directing a workshop production of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Our Town in Spanish with several of the actors of the company.
Being a Goodwill Cultural Ambassador and a Fulbright Specialist Scholar has allowed me to share what we have in common and to learn from one another. It’s up to us to feel empathy for others – this is what makes us human. We must care about others with the greatest of compassion and love, giving our best towards the betterment of all.
It’s always been my goal to inspire and empower people to learn and grow in the most truthful and compassionate way by sharing our creativity and transformation. And it’s about collaboration. I encourage those I’m teaching to feel the rhythm of life, to listen with their heart and soul, to become as expansive as possible, to give more of themselves to others through their craft which I believe adds to the healing which needs to take place between peoples.
When I taught students in Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina, I learned the young student actors are constantly faced with pressures on a daily basis in a very difficult environment divided along ethnic and religious lines. I told them: “Art teaches us we each carry the tools to transform, not only our own lives but to share truths about how to live with those around us. Storytelling can help you shape your frustrations into creative expressions through transformation, finding ways to teach each other a way towards peace, through love, through the power of art, you can inspire others to come together to live in harmony.”
If history has taught us anything, it takes a willingness to build trust, and by coming together in person a dialogue can take place, transforming into an entirely new dynamic of understanding, of empathy – sharing what is basic in all of humanity.
Through SOLO TRANSFORMATION ON STAGE, I talk about that through solo performance, we can go further than we ever thought possible. There are no barriers of language or cultural misunderstandings when our performing is done with an open heart, vision, a willingness to share knowledge, and to learn from one another honestly.