I have recently been granted the amazing privilege of playing Carol in Leo Butler’s play “Made of Stone” (this is why I’ve all of a sudden become absent from my blog… sorry about that). I’m beyond excited and have been working tirelessly for the last week and a half. Preparation has included: text analysis, more text analysis, MORE text analysis, and dialect work (I have to learn a South Yorkshire dialect), and this is only the beginning! I am a last addition to a cast that has been rehearsing for over a month now, and am sprinting blind and terrified in my very best efforts to catch up. I will catch up.
I am in unfamiliar territory right now, and so have necessarily looked to the outside world of great thinkers and artists for how to proceed from here. This is what I have learned:
“Opportunities are often missed because they are dressed in overalls and look like work”
Adding this show to my already extremely busy schedule demanded some major reorganizing on my part, but after some careful thought I decided that passing this opportunity up was not an option – best decision I ever made. I acknowledged the fact that it was going to require an enormous amount of time, patience, and bravery but, after examining my values and goals as an artist, I realized that this work was in direct alignment with the path I wanted my career to take and that it would be worth it.
In light of some recent projects I’ve mistakenly agreed to, I’ve come to realize that checking in with my values is extremely important as an artist and as a person. Time is a valuable commodity and you want to make sure you’re using it wisely. That being said, when a true opportunity does arrive, don’t brush it off as insignificant because it happened to you. If you really use your time to the best of your ability, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish
“What happens in cases of exhaustion is an extraordinary act of mercy from the God of Artists: The work takes hold and takes over. I am fortunate in that, however unexciting or even distasteful a role may seem to me at first, with the first glimmer of invention or imagination I become lost in the magical wonder of being in its grip; one is barely conscious of the process by which one pours oneself into it and it into oneself.”
- Laurence Olivier (from his autobiography Confessions of an actor)
Although my weekly planner has been incredibly useful up until this point in my life, for the first time in awhile I am experiencing a weird sort of obsession in my work. I’ve always been obsessed, but I have to admit that my obsession has reached a new level of sincerity. I’m not crossing anything off any big master list; rather, I’m doing this work because I am drawn to do it – I can think of nothing else.
For example, all week I have been musing over a critical question in the arc of my character’s journey, and have felt like pulling my hair out as failure after failure has greeted me with a smug grin at every consequetive brainstorming session. Today, at the bus stop of all places, this question fell into my brain once more. Away from my usual work environment, a new angle for tackling the problem occurred to me and a few minutes later I felt a sharp intake of breath as the intent behind Carol’s words exploded in my brain. This breakthrough quickly led to multiple other break throughs which left me feeling exhilarated and shaky with possibilities. Rehearsals have been a place of discovery and artistic freedom where I’ve reconnected with what it means to discover and play. It’s a place where I’m both afraid and excited to go because the mystery of what might happen next forever hangs in the air around me. This leads me to lesson 3.
“The principle element in a performance is risk, and if you’re losing interest then by scaring yourself to death the audience will feel it and boy it’ll wake them up.”
– Leo Kottke
Here’s what I want as an actor: I want to go up on stage every night, not really knowing what’s going to happen next. Even though there is clearly a script, I am driven forward, in my preparation, by the possibility that on stage my character (and so I) will experience everything in this world as if for the first time. It is this experience that I yearn for. There is a lot of risk involved in this. It’s a lot easier to provide a portrait of what you “imagine” this character to be going through in this moment, instead of allowing the events in the play to happen to you. Now that is interesting to watch. That is relatable because it’s real.
This is not the only way I’m being confronted with risk when it comes to this play. Learning a dialect is extremely risky. It’s a different way of speaking that sounds very different in your head, and as I practice I find myself struggling to be okay with failing – because I fail a lot. The point is to go for it, and acknowledge that it’s going to suck for awhile, but then – eventually- it will start to get better. I’m in that in-between stage right now, and I’ve got to be honest with you… it sucks.
And finally, the riskiest thing I’ve ever done: I am going to be nude on stage. Hold up, just my top half will likely be visible to the audience. Talk about being vulnerable. I’m prepared to do it because I believe so strongly in the character and in the story, but with all this risk I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve got to have this character. I’m going all in, and with so much on the line – there’s no halving it. It’s either all or nothing.
Something else occurred to me though, as I was walking along- I think that I may have reached a point of being so filled with passion and excitement that I’ve forgotten to be afraid.
Now that’s something to think about.