What Actors Can Learn From Walt Whitman by Chasen Schneider

What Actors Can Learn From Walt Whitman by Chasen Schneider_acting_filmcourage_actor's_lifeWhat Actors Can Learn From Walt Whitman by Chasen Schneider

Film Courage:  I understand you are a poet and you enjoy reading others’ poetry.  Is there a poem by a poet that you admire that describes your life as an actor?

Chasen Schneider:  Hhmmm…

Film Courage:  Whether it’s struggle, whether it’s fun, interesting, fascinating.

Chasen:  Not a poem about acting.  Song of Myself which is a Walt Whitman poem, which is about America and all the different elements.  I think that is a poem I really related to.  He (Whitman) tried to see everything.  He tried to see the animals, the plants, the human body, he saw the politician, he saw all the different workers in the city,
he saw the cities, he saw the plains, he saw the different parts of America.  He saw that it was the poet’s job to bring all these different elements, both the psychical, the emotional, the personal, the public, and bring them all together and express the meaning, essence and perception of those and it was his job to communicate that.  So I think he was trying to be aware of everything and how it relates and I think that resonated with me as an actor because you’ve got to be aware of it all.  Or at least try to.  You won’t know everything. If you think that you are going to stop progressing but you’ve always got to try.  What did he say, something like, it started where he was at the opera house and, I’m not quoting directly, but the voice of the soprano brings me convulsions like the climax of my love grip.  And I was like “Damn, man.  That guy…that’s a cool way of looking at the world.  That guy is so in to opera and he’s just so into the product of this woman and her writing and the house that all these people are watching it in, that guy literally is coming on life.

Film Courage:  Why Walt Whitman, though?  Are there other poems?  What is it about him being so aware?  This watcher….is he also an outsider?  But he watches.

Chasen:  Absolutely.  I mean he used free verse and he was so much more wild and loose and not as tight and concise as the British poetry.  And even American poets tended to write in the British tradition.  There would be a certain amount of beats for everything line, there’d be rhyming.  You had a very specific point that you had to make in a very grounded and controlled framework.  And Walt Whitman just cut it loose because he made his own meter and his own verse lines and he just threw in every good sounding word he could find.  There was just something shaggy and untamed about his poems that I love.  Something wild and uncontrolled which was like America at that time.  He’s a product of all these people who went out West and these people making all these new factories, and people cutting down trees up North and people just scrambling to make something out of this land.  He saw the civil war.  He saw the nation nearly tear itself apart.  He saw these Irish people, French people, and Black people and Native Americans, and so he’s just wild.  He even says “I shake my wild locks at the sun.”  His poetry was so sexual, too, a lot of it, which shocked and offended many, many people.

Film Courage:  Is that what you want to play, a character that is very raw, that is sort of untamed?

Chasen:  Some of them, yeah.  There are a lot of different characters I want to play.  Not just outsiders, but…I’d love to play a character like that.  There was actually a play in New York that I wanted to audition for so badly but it was Walt Whitman in his 30’s, so I was too young. What was it called?  It was like Emily Dickinson Paranormal Investigator, which was about a version of Emily Dickinson that was a paranormal investigator.   And there version of Walt Whitman, think of like a young Dracula.  Someone who was willing to do anything to get what he wants.  And he sells his soul and I was like “Damn, I wish I could play that version of Walt Whitman.

Question:  Do you have a favorite poem?  Please leave your ideas in the comment section of this video here.

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