Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Moment Before....

Weather-permitting, I will be attending a production of "Our Town" at a prep school I used to teach at. Say what you will about the play, but it is one of my favorites. During my last year at graduate school, I played Dr. Gibbs on the mainstage - a role which my thesis would eventually be based on. I'm jazzed to see these kids do this show. Some of my former students are in it and cast perfectly (in my opinion).

When I did the show in grad school, I employed an acting technique that my teacher called the "moment before". Basically, you look at the play and figure out what your character was doing just before entering a scene. Sometimes it is stated in the dialogue, but often it is up to you or the audience to decide. In "Our Town", the first time we see Dr. Gibbs, he is returning home from deliviring twins in the Polish part of town. When I did the show, I'd go out into a common area outside the arts complex and walk out to one building one hundred yards away, then back and try to time it so I'd walk onstage precisely at the right time. Along the way I'd try to think about what the character would be pondering.

In the early days of Steppenwolf (out of Chicago), Gary Sinise and his castmates would run up on a hill behind their performance space (a church I believe), getting wound up and then run onto the stage for their cues. I think the characters were violent thugs in the play "Indian Wants The Bronx".

In 1997, one actor I worked with bested us all with his "moment before". I was playing Falstaff in "Merry Wives of Windsor" and running lights for "Romeo and Juliet" on alternate nights at Florida Playwright's Theater run by the generous Angela and Paul Thomas. These two gave me an acting opportunity I sorely needed, a couch to sleep on and occasional grunt work that kept food on the table. I love and miss you both! They also put together an eclectic cast for the Shakespeare repertory.

In R&J, the actor playing Romeo would come onto stage in his impending suicide scene, racked with grief. He was good. Tears were always hard for me to conjure up and I didn't like delving into "sense memory" to find them. Over the run of the show, some of the other actors noticed that Romeo would sit in a dark corner backstage and watch something on a video camera while listening to something else on headphones - just before he entered his emotional scene. Whatever he was experiencing would set him to tears. Finally, one of the cast picked up the equipment when Romeo was onstage to find out what was up. When he placed the headphones on, he heard Bonnie Tyler's version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart". Then he pushed play on the camera. Legend has it, that the video was footage of dogs and cats being euthanised at animal shelters. I kid you not. I shudder to think of it even now, but damn! The dude rocked the audience every night.


Stinkypaw said...
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Stinkypaw said...

Happy Birthday Big Boy! Wishing you all the best for this new year of "wisdom", try to enjoy it, but don't abuse it! Big hugs xox