Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An actor's journey to opening night

"Nothing ever goes the way you expect it." He said this to him self. That can actually work in your favor when your expectations are low enough. It is nice to be pleasantly surprised and have things turn out more advantageously than you anticipate. This has been the case with the play he has found himself in. Almost everything about it had annoyed him. First off, he'd never felt any inclination whatsoever to ballroom dance in the first 4 decades of life. Suddenly, he was dancing with a heavy set fellow in the back yard of the director's house while his Australian Blue dog howled for attention. This is probably not the most favorable way to learn the Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba and Mambo. The next point of contention involved the character he was portraying. Steven is basically a suck up and a pussy. He has a dorkish nature and will most likely do anything to get a "full window" (promotion) and make his way up the corporate ladder.

So these 3 went on rehearsing 3 days a week at first and then 4 days a week. The challenge of remembering lines, remembering dance steps, remembering blocking and then actually being able to act proved to be nearly overwhelming for this middle aged slacker. He began to doubt himself. There was one rehearsal where the director grilled him. Suggested that he just did not have the training to pull it off. This set the actor's confidence back to zero and he began to wonder if he should even go through with it. Somehow, he made it thru the weekend without seriously considering giving up. He realized that it was just about having fun. The director was trying to crack the shell of his resistance. Trying to light a fire under his ass. Trying to fill his head with the imaginative possibilities that could lie within the character's head. Trying to deliver the role on a silver platter while the actor languished within the abandoned house of his imaginations while the wind creaked the rusty doors and howled thru the cracked windows.

The week of dress rehearsals arrived after a weekend of 3 days off. Three days that he should have spent practicing. Instead, he surfed sloppy waves and tried to put the whole thing into perspective. Tried to not take it too seriously. Cut himself some slack. Cut the director some slack. He began to look at the role from a new angle. He found a way to like the character. He found a way to be the character. Breathing life into it required a completely nonjudgmental attitude. The week of dress rehearsals is called hell week. This is when opening night begins to loom into view. This is the week that others begin to see your work. Somehow, it all began to fall into place and their reaction exceeded his low expectations. Every one loved it. They kept saying things like "you guys are the best." Every night of dress rehearsals this is how it went. By the time opening night arrived, he was completely enjoying himself. In fact he was looking forward to the actual performance.

Opening night arrives and he enters backstage. The other actors cluster together, going over lines, others put on make up and costumes. 7 one act plays in one night add up to about 18 actors or so. His play is the sixth one and when he finally gets on the stage and feels the heat of the lights on his head and nose and stares into the glare which hides the audience, he does not blink. He has prepared himself with tai chi and playing the didjeridoo and has left no room for fear to sneak in - to his now occupied house - like rats who have become too brave. So the lights go up and the lines are all there when he needs them. He speaks with Jonathon and the temporary reality of the character he portrays takes over. They bond and dance, share and kiss ass, dance some more, support each other and some how impress the big boss. The final dance arrives and it is fun. They cut loose, let it all hang out. The audience follows their every word every step. They laugh at unexpected times. They seem to love it. The actors march off the stage and then return for the curtain call. The crowd applauds loudly and it sounds like not so distant thunder. He bows, not sure how to feel, the smile comes easy to his face though and he still cannot see the audience thru the glare of the black rimmed glasses. The feelings inside him do not have any names, they have layers to them and waves and invisible colors and they taste like a caress and he leaves the stage with his dance partner. The transformation has only begun.
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