15 June 2010

The Missing Cast Member

We've had two performances of Love Me thus far, with four remaining over the course of a couple of weeks, which may seem strange but is pretty par-for-the-course when it comes to theatre festivals such as this. Of the two in the bag, the first was certainly my best, but the second wasn't particularly bad. It felt not dissimilar from most second-night performances, rather off-kilter and maybe a bit flat, which I was hoping to avoid by having a day of rest between opening and our second show. I suppose it wasn't meant to be. The sophomore slump can not be avoided by mere paltry circumstance.

In any show, one rehearses without an essential member of the cast: the audience. We never know how things are going to play out, what energy and emotions the room will contain or need pumped into it until those seats have a few willing participants. This is particularly true when you are faced with a lot of direct-address material, as I am in Love Me. I knew I wouldn't know what I was doing--not really--until I had that scene member who somehow refused to show up for rehearsals, and I don't mind telling you I was pretty nervous about that. I've been avoiding clown work in large part because of the vulnerability of that relationship, and this show hinges in part on the conceit of my character being embraced from the word "go." He opens the show, and if the audience doesn't like him, or doesn't get it, well . . . shit.

Most fortunately for me, on our opening night we had a very supportive audience who "got it." It was thrilling, actually, to succeed with the first couple of jokes, and I felt that we were all on the same page and synchronous. My very first line was an addition by the director, Daryl, and is about as simple as you can get: "Hi." I'm grateful as get-out that he added it, though. In its simplicity, it transforms traditional soliloquy into a more accustomed, casual relationship. It adds ease to the whole thing, and lets the audience know that my character isn't there to narrate -- he wants to be friends. This carries through the play in very important ways, but also lets the jokey exposition that follows be not just comprehensible, but intentional:
"My name is Charlie. This is my story. His story. Our story. Or at least how I remember it. I've changed the names for fear of retaliation. If you think this is about you, it might be. That's me too. [Indicating CHARLIE.] That's actually the real me. I'm just what's going on in his head. My head. Our head."
From there, my dialogue consists of one-liners and very brief inter-scene monologues. The rest of the time all my contributions to scenes are physical work, representing at various times: 1) how Charlie feels, 2) what Charlie wants to do, but doesn't, and/or 3) guidance/criticism of his words and actions. At first I worried over the inconsistency of these representations; I thought they might be difficult for the audience to track and find cohesive. I'm finding, however, that so long as the audience accepts me as a character in my introduction, they go on to be thrilled with any complication or interruption I can add to a scene. There still exists the very easy possibility of over doing it, but I'm comforted to know that yes, the Inner Monologue (I.M.) is a scene partner they're willing to play with.

Interestingly enough, my experience with the audience has reinforced the arc that Daryl and I essentially had to create for my character. In the end, I.M. SPOILER ALERT is given the shove-off by Charlie, who has found a certain sense of self-worth that doesn't rely on his little helper SPOILER ENDETH. When we began rehearsals, I had the idea that I.M. was actually an sheer antagonist, whom we don't discover is working against Charlie until the final scenes. Daryl, however, kept working with the idea that he is a kind of bipolar guardian angel who loses his influence toward the end. As a result, when Charlie and I have our last scene, I played it as a defeat, but Daryl kept pushing for it being a kind of agreement. I went with my director, and the audience has supported this idea. They really enjoy I.M., and in this way I'm able to give them a more comprehensive character arc as well. The ending has a feeling of inevitability without being obvious, but there's no way we could be sure of that until we played it with the missing cast member.


Davey said...

So is it just me, or did the aviary get a new decorator?

Jeff Wills said...

It's just you.

YES. I've been meaning to change that up for a while now, primarily to widen the post column. Hope it pleases.