In college, I read Stanislavski. For those of us who slept through (or never even considered taking) Theatre History 101, Konstantin Sergeyevich Stanislavski was an actor, director and teacher in 19th century Russia who made a big impact on the acting world by recording his process and "method" in a series of books, amongst various other associations and theatrical victories. To put the tale overly simply, he grew up in an aesthetic that instructed acting by way of imitation, but he came to value an approach of creating a character "from the inside out," meaning to find an association or familiarity with a character within one's own emotional landscape before mucking about with the specifics of gesture and voice. This was revolutionary, and we've been rather obsessed with it ever since (even though Stan went on to study truth through physical gesture as well). I laughed out loud (and I'm still trying to figure out if that was the desired effect) at one point in his book An Actor Prepares. He's telling the story of trying to get a handle on playing Othello, when he sees a chocolate cake on a table. He impulsively plunges his face into the frosting, and returns to his mirror to continue working on whatever monologue had his attention at that time. When I was 19 or so, I thought this was the most ridiculous thing I had ever read about acting.
This morning, while waiting to cross a street, I noticed a puddle full of oil, or gasoline, and barely thinking about it stepped into the puddle to stand and wait for the light to change. You see, for the past few days I have been wearing the sneakers my character wears in the show. They're white, and need to look like they're well used in fields and garages, my character being a soldier and a mechanic. So, for the past few days, I have been reprogramming my instinct (hopefully only temporarily) to step IN every nasty spot in the park and city that I can find. Waiting to cross the street I spotted the rainbow sworls below and thought (Tin-Man like) as I stepped, "Oil!" It's rather ridiculous what a sense of victory I experienced from this.
Yesterday one of the actors in As Far As We Know quit. Actually, that's only true insofar as I've heard it. I was not there (it happened in a morning phone call between the actor and the director) and have only heard the details third-hand, so to the actor it may have seemed more like a firing, or at least an inevitability. We open tomorrow.
This generally doesn't happen. The night before it happened, as a way of pardoning all the up-to-the-curtain changes a group-developed work may involve, Laurie told a story of making I Am My Own Wife, in which the playwright came into the last rehearsal and told the only actor in the show, in sum of substance: "I have good news and bad. The good is I've solved the ending. The bad is that it means you have to come up with 13 new, distinctively different characterizations." And when I developed the first show of Zuppa del Giorno, Noble Aspirations, we spent nine months building a story, and ended up scrapping it entirely and starting fresh during tech week. So I am accustomed to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune where the theatre is concerned.
This particular plot twist, however, is surprising in a number of ways. First and foremost, actors don't quit a show two days before it opens. They occasionally get fired in such a time, but they don't quit. I've been trying to imagine circumstances under which I would do such a thing, and there are a few, none of which could apply here. So it is flummoxing. Secondly, and most baffling, most of us have been working on this show--off and on--for over two years. This is what's kept me in the game during those times when I began to question my own resolve to see it through. How could I leave off before we saw some kind of semi-glossed presentation? I don't think any one of us can claim not to have been profoundly affected by this work at some point. And maybe that's it. Maybe the actor just couldn't agree with the show we ended up making, or something. It's pointless for me to speculate in this.
You know that inevitable scene in the Rocky movies in which the match is not going well, and the chips are down, and Rocky's looking like he's going to vomit and fall in it any moment now, and we're all just waiting for him to rear up and triumph against all odds? Pepper that feeling with--to borrow a term--a little shock and awe, and you'll have the mood of rehearsal last night. We already had a new actor in, and they were doing their very best to catch up. The adrenaline of it all helped to wash away some of the sense of loss and incompleteness, but every so often you'd catch a fellow actor's eye and see it all in there. In the final stages of creating a play about a family's inexplicable loss of one of its own, we lost, rather inexplicably (to the cast, anyway), a member of our family. I really, really miss this actor. It sucks.
But...Rocky's going to get up off the floor. We will take arms against a sea of troubles. The show will go on. That's what we do. It may not be perfect, it may not even be pretty, but it will be, and we will have made it. Come to think of it, many people have contributed to what we've made who are not here now. From actors to writers to actual participants in the events that are the source of our inspiration, there are all kinds of missing people, and part of what we're learning through this is how we live through that. One thing I've learned is to find small joys during it all, to be sure not to miss them when they cross your path. That, and a little faith doesn't hurt, either.