...even if they’re in an Equity Dressing Room with a cot and I’m up flights of stairs without a Sherpa. It was years before I got to be a professional on any sort of regular basis but my training was with that as the goal. I’m glad I paid attention. I’m still non-Equity and not embarrassed by it and therefore ever thankful to my union scene partners who never played down to me and actually took part in our scenes together. One chap in particular made a scene better for all of us by asking question after question and chipped away at direction that was more “production concept” than text related. Thanks. You know who you are. The others? Likely they don’t.
We were almost in previews for an original comedy. Playwright was there and we got rewrites. Our director was gangbusters. We’d sit and read. We free-ranged on the set, none of this “how to hold your pinky” blocking. The staging was growing organically from actors, floor plan and script. We got notes. We worked business. We ran. We had notes. We worked and so on and on, all part of the process in creating these characters in the show. When particular business like which particular of so many doors had to be worked and planned, he was our traffic cop, our general: it looked like choreography. He told specifics for timing the comedy and timing the safety. One day I got a surprise. She was young, pretty and funny in her scenes and I didn’t have a lot directly to do with her until Act Two. We’d run a frantic chase-about and were on a five or a ten when she came over to me, “I need you to be over by the other chair when you do that so I can do this…” or something or other. I don’t remember because I stopped listening. All I could hear was the voice in my head, “Excuse me, are you giving me a note?” I forget just what she wanted but it had nothing to do with the business I’d just been specifically blocked to do.
What to do? Mercifully we had the, “ladies and gentlemen we are back,” from our stage manager and then our director taking his place back at the table center house said, “before we run that again, are there any questions?” I raised my hand. “MJ?” “I hate being stupid about things but for safety and timing’s sakes could you step me through this little chase thing again?” I never got another note from her. Truth to tell I don’t think she was guilty of doing anything more than not paying attention and some rookie nerves but if I’d done what she’d asked I’d have been the one called out for doing something wrong and likely causing some collisions. No, I take my notes from my director, music director, occasionally suffering choreographer and ultimately my stage manager when we’ve opened. I have enough to keep track of than to give another actor a note. To close this bit there was no animosity afterward. At closing I got a nice CD from her, we all did, of songs popular the year our play was set. There was even a nice card, but not any notes.
Back in college my first big, mainstage, faculty directed show was an amazing experience. I learned a lot watching my director use the stage and make pictures. It was the first time I was called upon to train and really use my voice on stage. We were in awe and scared to death of him. He’d been brought into the department because he had and would continue to have professional directing experience. He brought a high and demanding standard to the department and made all of us better in all our shows by his example, if not by his tact, which he didn’t have or by his temper, which he most surely did.
One rehearsal there was a bit of business for one of the leading actors. I was glad to be featured so kept my eyes open and mouth shut. The play was Six Characters and there’s a moment when the Son tries to escape from the stage but the fourth wall stops him. We were roughing out the scene and it wasn’t fair to ask the freshman actor playing him to jump right into this very difficult moment, especially with all of us around. When we opened some weeks later it was literally a terrific thing to behold, an amazing bit of physical acting, so filled with angst and believable, gut wrenching pantomime but this was the first time he was trying it. We kept quiet. I guess Peripheral Vision had its debut that day. Nobody moved a muscle in so much awkward silence until a classmate of mine from the back of the group raised his hand and didn’t wait to be called upon. “Excuse me? Is that how he’s going to do it?”
How it was last summer when a grown-up actor asked more or less the same is not what happened next on that Center for the Arts Mainstage. Even watching the more vitriolic of so-called cable news have ever I heard such rage, seen such venom or been so very frightened. Rehearsal ended early. My classmate was not at the next rehearsal. He had been sighted, so we didn’t have to worry about body parts being found in the scene shop. In fact he’d seen been laughing with our director as they walked across campus. What happened was his academic load had caught up with him and he couldn’t get the grades parental expectations demanded if he did the show. He’d asked to be let out of the show. Leave a show because of classes? A very dangerous precedent! A big project was to be done in his other major’s department but what about the show? To let students know, undeclared majors, non-majors know that if class grades were in danger the show didn’t matter as much would have brought anarchy. Such things could not be talked about or become known. What to do? He asked that question, got fired and our director made a point. Some lessons I’ve forgotten but this one I remember and trust I always will. I made a note of it but keep it to myself.