17 November 2008

Circular Experiences

I had the pleasure of two different performances this weekend past, one for each day of it, and they were both returns for me -- not just in the sense of returning to the stage after a bit of an absence, but in returning to specific work that I have missed. And this weekend coming up, I have another sudden performance in a similar vein of return. They call me: Mr. Boomerang.

They don't, actually. Thank heavens.

Sunday was the opening night of a second staged reading for Tom Rowan's play, Burning Leaves (the closing night is this Wednesday; a very economical schedule). Burning Leaves, though studded with excellent humor, is largely a drama, and I was reading a lead role. I first read this role back in the summer, and really took to it. He's a guy who's on the outside of a new community, gradually well-loved at first, and then ostracized; an actor who leaves New York in the hopes of turning his life around. I find it very accessible, and am grateful to have the opportunity to be involved with it, not to mention to be brought back for its second incarnation. At the end of it all, the reading turned out rather well. We had some people there -- a rather substantial house for that festival, from what I understand -- and I turned in a decent performance. There were moments I didn't feel I really delivered on, but I don't think it was so as any audience would notice, and at least I get a second chance.

The readings are taking place at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, which is a very interesting theatre to me. One is greeted, upon entering the second-floor lobby, with what look to be rather typical production photographs from the 70s and 80s. Then you take a closer look, and see people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Elias Koteas and Bill Murray in those photos, all looking very fresh in posed black-and-white. The theatre occupies several floors of a rather run-down building on way-west 52nd Street. You wouldn't find yourself there unless you knew about it, and needed to be there for some reason. It looks like the definition of "not much." Another not-for-profit in a building most commercial enterprises would studiously avoid, or demolish. Yet the theatre has fostered an incredible amount of now-famous and award-winning talent over the years. I like this juxtaposition. It gives me hope, and makes me feel at home, all at the same time. The final interesting thing for me, however, is that the theatre was founded by one Mister Curt Dempster. Not a lot of people outside the American theatre world know who Dempster was, and far too few in it know of him, either. I never got to meet him. I know him by coincidence.

The first time I saw Curt Dempster, I didn't know it. He had a role in The Manhattan Project, a favorite movie of mine as a child and one of the few we owned on video cassette way back before they got more affordable. I didn't really recognize Dempster until a random encounter in college, and it wasn't with him -- it was with a play he had written: Mimosa Pudica (I mentioned this play here way back in 11/1/07). In 1998 I was in a public library in Richmond, Virginia, looking for a satisfying short play or excerpt to spend an entire semester working on in my directing class. In a compilation of one-acts from the seventies, I found Dempster's play, and it really sucked me in. I was just beginning to own the idea of my moving to New York, and New York is where the play is set. Eventually, I would use one of my many trips there that year to take location-specific photographs for research and use in the play itself. More significantly perhaps, the play spoke to me about my social anxiety and need for love. It was a profound experience of development for me to explore it, and I've never forgotten it. And I'm working in the theatre in which it made its debut.

The night before, I performed with Bond Street Theatre as part of a benefit for the NACL. It took place in LAVA's studio space, in Brooklyn, and featured an incredible line-up of the bohemian and avant-garde circus & variety set. There was everything vaudevillian and circus-themed you can imagine, just shy of fire-skills performance, all in an intimate space off a neighborhood of Brooklyn I've come to know fairly well (well enough to know of a great coffee shop nearby). I was pretty anxious most of the time I was there, I have to admit. Some of it was performance anxiety, but a lot of it had to do with knowing very few people there and it being more than a little crowded with folks who either knew one another already, or had an eye out for people they should know. I was, to put it succinctly, feeling a little outside. Not because of any exclusion (far from it -- everyone was extremely friendly) but because I had such an intense desire to belong. I miss my days of regular circus activity, and hanging out with that crowd was a bit awkward for me. To be utterly shameless, I must admit that I kept wanting to jump up and shout, "I can do that! Can I do that? I can do that!"

Our contribution to the evening's festivities was well-received, I thought; it took the audience awhile to warm up to what we were doing, but they got there and brought their laughter with them. Our performance was not a physical one; it was, in fact, intensely verbal. Still, it was highly comic, and I managed to get a little standing back-bend in there, which is a favorite "straight-theatre" move of mine that can be snuck into otherwise wordy exchanges. It seemed harmless in rehearsal, but it's just possible that doing the move whilst all adrenalized (is SO a word) aggravated my pre-existing condition, because since then I have had unpleasantness to contend with. This would inform a sane person to relax about all this circus nonsense. A believer such as myself might even take it as some kind of sign or omen added atop a pile of others that perhaps, just perhaps, it's time to let that physical stuff go.

This weekend I am all-of-the-sudden performing as my silent film clown (details soon @ Loki's Apiary). I don't know exactly what I'm doing yet, but I know I want it to be physical, full of dangerous pratfall, to the point of flagrant masochism.

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