Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An Actor's Dream: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bard

It's the classic actor's nightmare--the performance is about to start, you've never been to a rehearsal, and you don't know your lines. Most actors I know have had it. I certainly have. Last night I lived it.

I showed up at the Castle to watch Romeo and Juliet, and, roughly thirty seconds after setting foot in the amphitheater, Alex asked me if I wanted to play Lord Montague. This is what I love about Grassroots. I said yes. Of course I did.

Ten minutes to the scheduled performance--Robbie, still dizzy from blacking out and vomiting during the last show (but still sticking it stalwartly through to curtain call), walks me through his blocking. My blocking. I write all my lines down on a little piece of paper, strategically folding it up into segments arranged by scene. And I laugh at how ridiculous this all is. And awesome.

Robbie gives me a hat, a belt, and a little strip of red cloth that acts as a tie for my costume--I put this on over my street clothes. A hammer is my weapon. A hammer. OK, I'm starting to get a feel for this Montague guy. "I play him kind of like a viking," says Robbie. OK. A viking. Great.

I'm still backstage--scribbling my lines as fast as I can while Robbie dictates--when the rest of the troupe starts playing music, doing dances, juggling, singing the alphabet, anything to give us the couple minutes more we need before the play starts. Prolonging the inevitable. Bless them.

And, before I know it, I'm onstage, in front of an audience, performing Shakespeare.

When you do a bit of performing, it's easy to lose that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling--that sense of nervous, giddy anticipation, just before walking out on stage, like the moment when you reach the top of a roller coaster and realize just what it is you've gotten yourself into, and maybe wonder what you were thinking. But it's that excitement--that hope, that prayer that you're going to make someone smile or laugh or cry or simply feel something, that you're not going to make a complete imbecile out of yourself--for me, that's what performing is all about. The hope that tonight, somehow, is going to be magical.

Well, that feeling's here right now. In droves. I hope I don't look too ridiculous. But if I do--well, at least I won't go down without a fight.

Onstage, I try to be in the moment. I watch the other actors, I listen, I respond. They're the only clues I've got, and I'm desperate. Offstage, I read the lines on my paper, over and over again, trying to split my attention between not missing a cue and drilling these words into my head--there aren't too many of them, but the clock's ticking. Little snippets of dialogue drift through. "Palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss." "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" "Holy St. Francis!" It's a little surreal.

And I've never experienced anything like it. Memorizing all my lines, trying to create a character, and performing it for an audience, all within the space of an hour and a half, the time chopped up into entrances and exits--and, of course, the moments between. It was an entire rehearsal and run--a process that normally takes months--in less than two hours. To say it was exhilarating would be an understatement. To say it was daunting would be self-explanatory. To say it was one of the most thrilling experiences I've ever had as an actor would be pointless. Well duh it was.

It's hours later, and I still can't sleep from the adrenaline. I love all the members of this cast that I got to be a part of, even if it was only for a night. I was able to work with people I both respect adore, in a show I didn't think I'd be able to be a part of, reciting some of the most immortal words ever committed to paper, taking part in one of the craziest and most imediate performative processes imaginable.

Nightmare? It was a dream.

And I guarantee that it's the sort of dream that could only happen with Grassroots.


  1. And Friday I think I'll go see the play I was just in.

  2. .

    This sort of thing never happens to novelists.

  3. You were incredible. I was sitting there in the audience watching your every move, hanging on your every word. And you pulled it off with panache. I have had that nightmare myself. The fact that you were able to live it without conveying your terror was nothing short of miraculous, and a testament to your skill. Bravo, sir. I look forward to stepping back into those shoes and bringing some of what I saw you do to my own interpretation of the character. See you Friday :)

  4. Not too many people are in a play before they've seen it. Robbie and Davey have done both.

  5. Thanks for sharing this! I was there, and I had no idea you hadn't been practicing and performing with the rest of the cast! Great job acting, and great job blogging!