Behind the Scenes of ‘Breathing Under Dirt’ With Director Larry Moss
I was fortunate to recently spend some time with accomplished acting coach and director Larry Moss to talk about his new role as director of the play Breathing Under Dirt. Moss is well known for is outstanding work on plays such as The Syringa Tree, which has played to sold out crowds around the globe. Beyond directing, Moss is a much loved and sought after acting coach to award-winning actors like Hillary Swank and Leonardo DiCaprio who says of Larry Moss:
"Larry’s unwavering commitment to his craft, his encyclopedic knowledge of the arts, and his sincere enthusiasm for the art of acting itself make his process exciting, inspiring and truly transformational as an actor."
- Leonardo DiCaprio
I found Larry Moss remarkably insightful in his approach to people and the universal truths that bind us all together. He spoke to me about his process in direction and coaching and his belief in the power of theatre to change us all for the better.
Cynthia: Congratulations on a successful industry reading this week. I noticed a remarkable difference in the way the actors seemed to carve out their words and in the exchange of energy between them that I noted as “melody.”
Director Larry Moss. Photo courtesy of his website.
Larry: Yes. As I worked with them, I asked them to be fully present and actively listen to what the other actor is saying and then birth their response from how they feel about what was last said to them so that they create a real need to send the idea to the person. This is what you noticed that made the play come to life. Playwright Michael O’Leary was in my acting class twenty years ago. In the course of an exercise in which the students were asked to explore a memory by playing every person in the memory, Michael had a moving experience in which he said he would one day write a play and here we are.
I noticed the characters opened up and became more believable. They seemed to have a greater understanding of who they were.
I am a great believer in breathing. A lot of people don’t breathe or they do half breaths. In the rehearsal process I was very careful to make sure their bodies were relaxed and allowing themselves to experience all the impulses being generated. This gives the performance a sense of aliveness. The ancient philosophers understood something centuries ago about a fully released self and what it means to mediate and breathe to allow feelings to come up without judgment.
Can you give me a Larry Moss ‘gold nugget’ of wisdom that applies to both aspiring as well as veteran actors?
The main thing is to read the text you’re given many times to feel the whole story and connect to your impulses within your real and imaginary lives. Give the writer enormous respect for the story and the characters they’ve created. Then, find the humanity, the universal truths, in the character.
In your view, what are the overarching themes of this play?
Breathing Under Dirt explores the price we pay for denial when something is so painful we avoid it through addiction and how destructive that becomes.
When you began working with the play, what did you feel was strong that you wanted to preserve, and what did you feel you wanted to resolve as the Director?
They all knew who they were very well, but much of it has to do with the instrument. So we worked on relaxation techniques so we could reach the freedom of feeling both the sadness and the humor.
What personal practices do you use as a director and coach that keep yourself and your process attuned and relevant?
I religiously go to the theater. I teach often and direct and coach for both theater and film. I recognize there is always room to grow so I try to work on different types of material and hone my craft by doing the work itself. Sometimes we do it when we don’t really want to do it and that is when we really grow.
Michael O'Leary, Larry Moss. Photo: Sue Coflin/MAX PHOTOS
What does the play mean to you, and what do you hope audiences will take away with them after seeing Breathing Under Dirt?
My family had addiction problems so that was obviously painful for me as a child. I feel there is so much addiction in the world, but when we learn to work through our pain we find the joy of being a fulfilled human being. It’s about survival.
What are your aspirations for Breathing Under Dirt and what are the next steps?
I would love to do a workshop and then a full production. That’s where it seems to be headed. We have a producer who has expressed interest.
Cast and creative team of ‘Breathing Under Dirt.’ L to R: Alana Troxell (Lucy, Lynn), Katie Branden (Narrator), Robert Bogue (John), Michael O’Leary (Playwright, Chuck), Larry Moss (Director), Cynthia Watros (Patience), Tina Sloan (Grace), and Kisha Jackson (Church Lady). Photo: Sue Coflin/Max Photos.
Breathing Under Dirt staged an industry-only reading on January 24, 2017, at 11:30 AM at Cherry Lane Theatre – 38 Commerce Street, in New York, New York
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