Spring Break. We're rehearsing. Eat your hearts out.
Actually, this is a good time for us. No classes. No meetings, just the play.
Here's what I know so far. Sam Shepard's plays, many of them, deal with sons and their relationship to their father. Shepard had a difficult relationship with his dad. I won't go into it in detail here; suffice to say that the father son theme dominates his work. Look at Fool for Love, Buried Child, The Late Henry Moss, True West, to name a few, and there it is: DAD. A dominating, sometimes terrifying presence. Reading or seeing this play, one might think-geez what a jerk this father is. But the actor must surrender judgment of the character and embrace his humanity, so that is my challenge.
I do this by trying to find the child in the characters I play. All of us, I think, still have the kid in us that was loved/not loved, was attractive/was geeky, was strong/was weak, was nurtured/was abused; the kid who played games with all their heart and soul, as if the outcome was truly life altering. Life does things to that child. Once I get a sense of that the kid's life, what his dreams were when he was, say, 12, then I work my way forward to where he is today. And I figure out how he got here.
My gut feeling on Weston, and it's supported by the text, is that he's still possessed by the ghosts of a traumatic childhood. His adult life has been consumed by the need to feel successful, a winner. He can't give of himself to his family because he needs to be out there figuring it out, chasing his demons, pursuing the dream. Do I agree with this way of living? Hell, no! But I am playing the guy so I have to see it from his point of view, otherwise I judge him. Whether he is good or bad or shades in between is up to the audience to decide. I mentioned in last week's entry that he is depressed and violent. That remains true, but only up to a point. The thing I learned this week is that no matter how badly he falters, how much money he owes, he still thinks that success is right around the corner. He sums it up this way, "It couldn't get worse, so I figured it'd just get better." His violence is more like an old dog that wants, just once in its life, to bite instead of bark. He talks to focus himself, to steel himself against his failures, which are many.
One more thing came home to me this week. Something I know but I get reminded of in every new role I undertake: I am slow. Yup, I'm a real plodder in early rehearsal. It's one thing to read a play and get it, but another thing entirely to get on your feet and pry all the creative pathways open. At this stage, I feel like Young Frankenstein's monster; I can walk, sort of talk, but I just can't sing Puttin' on the Ritz. Yet. This is why I appreciate Dan De Raey so much. He trusts us. He's brave enough to let us be confused, let us be just plain bad, because he knows that the most important thing is for us to gain ownership of these characters. I've been in rehearsals where, after completing a scene, the director would spring from his chair and say "…well, you can't do it like that." For some directors watching an actor struggle is painful for them, they perceive a "wrongness" in the performance, and every fiber of their being must correct that. Putting a play together is messy and awkward at times. Progress comes in fits and starts. Actors need to be allowed to make as many discoveries as possible. After watching me bumble around a few times Dan sat me down, asked a few questions, pointed out something in the text, and the light bulb went off in my head. By letting me be on my own for a while, he could see where the play was in my body, and where it wasn't.
And I have to say that Sean and Malinda, who are playing my son, Wesley and daughter, Emma, are just wonderful. They are so assured, so self-possessed. I know they have fears like all of us, but they don't show it. I admire them.
Some more people to introduce; our Stage Manager, Maribeth Chaprnka and Production Stage Manager Lisa Vivo (Lisa is a member of Actor's Equity association and an alumni) Dave Buckler is the Assistant Stage Manager. They are charged with many, many responsibilities. But none more challenging, more daunting, than keeping Daniel De Raey on schedule. It's like herding cats. Believe me. Our production team is also lucky to have two fine Assistants to the Director: Jennie Cole and Mike Grew. I think they have a similar job description to the above. There will be more on their contributions once we get into the theatre.
See you next week.