05 April 2007

We Will Consolidate Your Obstacles! Sign On to MendingTree.com Now!

Dewds, oh my dewds. We did certainly open night the last, and to a packed house (the which, in MTS terms, is something like 45 people), which was intimidating, exciting, moving, fascinating, deeply affecting and a little gassy.

For those of you not in the know (And just what, pray tell, are you doing outside of the know? Don't you know the know is no place to be outside of? It's cold out there! At least put on a jacket!), I am referring to my current actorly occupation, A Lie of the Mind. For more details on my process of bringing my character limping on to the stage (literally) last night, see . . . well . . . just about every entry I've made in the past month. (Discounting those ill-advised forays into the details of my day job. Please.)

I would like to say the show went off without a hitch, but that would be kind of miraculous, given the circumstances. It was our very first run with an audience, which is like having a very overwhelming actor suddenly join your cast, saying, "Hi. I don't know anything about what we're supposed to be doing, so I'm just going to screw with the rhythms you've spent weeks getting used to and react loudly to things you do. Or not. Whichever I feel like in the moment." It's particularly like this at lovely ol' MTS, where their motto of necessity is, "If the audience isn't all up in your grill, you must be in somebody else's theatre." (At least this show is staged relatively "proscenium;" the two prior full-length shows I did there were staged "tennis court," with audience on either side: Gah! Really close audience! [turns other way] Gah! Really close audience!) It was wonderful to finally have the missing character, but also very much an adjustment. Some of the more interesting snafus:

  • People transposing lines. I don't think it was obvious to the audience, but to our fellow actors it was like you could almost hear the erring actor thinking, "No...wait...oh sh*t!"

  • Folks over-extending blocking. This is easy to do in such a small space, and when that audience adrenaline steps in, we get a little larger. The best example of this was a moment when Jake accidentally got too close to a room Beth was in, precipitating their moment of reunion. Apparently Ridley Parson, the actor playing Mike, was moments away from throwing Beth back in the room just to keep things on track.

  • Props getting as excited as we are. I don't really believe in pathetic fallacy in everyday life (as good a novel as "Still-Life with Woodpecker" may be), but I swear to you that there are gremlins that live in stage props, and opening night is when they get most unruly. Last night Jake's cap kept taking a walking tour of our side of the stage as he was trying to manage his psychic breakdown, Baylor's socks missed landing on his knees (prompting the actress playing Meg to say "Jesus Christ!" in his face, which, believe it or not, is not in the script) and when Mike tromped into the house and deposited the deer carcass, one of its antler heads broke off and skittered across the stage.

We all had a good laugh over food and drink afterward, but in the moment, on stage, these things feel like the end of one's carefully crafted world. It will all become lore that lasts for the next month, with each of us coming up with our own antler references to slip into conversation with the others. The show got off to a good start last night. We were charged up, and we learned a lot. Now it's a matter of incorporating those lessons into our work in a fluid enough way that will allow us to adapt to different audiences. Because falling on your proverbial face as a result of anticipated audience reaction is a whole lot worse than antler shrapnel.

As for myself,

(lord God in heaven, must I move on to myself [no] well it is my 'blog [that's right--you make the rules] but who will respect me for creating a double-standard in which I critique everything but my own work [did you start this 'blog to garner respect?] ...can we talk about this later? [Hm? Oh. Yeah. Sure.])

I didn't feel too great about how my scenes went last night, particularly one scene between Frankie and Beth. I was very nervous, which affected my performance, but moreover Frankie just came out too whiny most of the time. God knows he's got plenty of excuse to whine: he's got to clean up his brother's mess, deal with his neurotic family, endure an untreated bullet wound for two-thirds of the play and resist the advances of a woman when he is, in fact, quite lonely. BUT. The audience isn't there to see someone whine, they're there to see people fight, to fight for what they want and need, and overcome expectation at least once.

Frankie is tricky in this regard, and reminds me specifically of playing Nick in Over the River and Through the Woods.... Both are these well-equipped, intelligent young men who spend the bulk of the action accomplishing next-to-nothing, wrestling with the frustration of having to work with other personalities that simply overpower their own. The temptation, the ease, is to play their frustration. I mean, that's what it's all about at first glance: They are frustrated by their inability to move on. It's comic. It's real. However, that frustration is actually an obstacle to what they want to achieve, so whether they recognize it or not in a given moment, these young men need to use more specific tactics to overcome what at first glance seems to be firing them up. That's tricky enough. Now, the difference between Nick and Frankie is that Frankie HAS A BULLET HOLE IN HIS LEG.

That's also an obstacle, but one an actor has to affect. I mean, I could give myself a Charley Horse before I enter (I do punch my leg, but only to try and create a little reminder of the specific area of the wound), but even that would fade within minutes, and doesn't have remotely the same effect a 30-30 bullet through the hamstring would. So now we've got two obstacles inherent in Frankie's journey, plus whatever is thrown at him from the other characters, plus an eventual fever and delirium, plus the simple simple fact that...for some rather unexplained reason...not one of the four family members has any interest in getting him out of their house.

My only point being that it's not an easy role. It often feels like Frankie's more a tool than a character, a device for achieving the brotherly denouement in the final scene. An actor, however, must never concern him/herself with that kind of consideration. It's antithetical to an actor's purpose of really being there, and believing in what he or she is doing. But dag gum it, I'm a thinker, and it's hard to turn that off. That's part of the appeal of acting for me--having good reason to work on letting go of that when it isn't serving me.

The blessing/curse of theatre is that you get chance after chance to redeem yourself. Tonight I will run lines for my scenes with Jake and Beth beforehand, warm-up with more focus on my voice (to avoid throat tightness, which can contribute to unintentional whining), and do something meditative and grounding, with the hope it will help to prepare myself to build a fight from the ground up. We'll see how it goes. The moment of truth will take place on the stage, where it belongs.

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