Actors and Eggshells

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love watching actors act. I love the creative developmental process of watching a character slowly come to life through trial and error and exploration, like some animal breaking its way through an eggshell.

Today is our last rehearsal before preview and opening, and I’ve been fascinated in the past couple weeks by the process I’ve witnessed from several actors in this show. Partly due to the ensemble-ish nature of the play and partly due to the nature of the rehearsal space, much of the off-stage time has been spent watching the scene in progress, a scene which often has anywhere from three to fifteen (or more) people on stage together.

OK. I’ll also admit that while on stage myself I couldn’t help but notice the detailed exploration happening around me.

The other day at rehearsal I was suddenly struck by one actor’s sudden progression in the development of his character. Not that things hadn’t been coming along for Mike, but suddenly something had clicked and fallen in to place, like some puzzle and now instead of floating across the stage he was flying, now instead of being fairly interesting he was fascinating. There was a depth and detail and history to this character that was suddenly clear and present. Or, maybe I’m putting those things on with my own mind, connecting the dots that he’s simply putting out there. Either way, it works.

What’s that line? “Did I leave the iron on?” Sort of like that.

I had watched Mike making different choices, almost like he was working through a maze and wasn’t sure which path was correct, but Mike kept himself focused on finding that path, and suddenly it seemed things clicked. Vocally, physically, emotionally. He was a human being, and suddenly Mike had become the character he had been working towards.

I’ve seen Mike in several shows and have always enjoyed his work and was excited to be in a show working with him. I figured I might learn a thing or two, but his process seems so organic that I’m not sure I could define it. Not, without, at least talking to him explicitly about it. Which I won’t do. Maybe when this show closes, but not before.

The really great thing for the show is that many other actors in the show have also done some amazing and fun stuff to watch—Larry, Shannon and Faye have gone to some great depths of detail in their work. Strong, bold, interesting and supported choices, combined with deep connection to their character’s goals and high stakes.

Of course, the thing I can’t be sure of is how my own work fits in. I can’t be objective about that. I’m continuing to search for details each moment with each run through, and as some props have been added I find new things about my character, the way he deals with his cigar and how he really eats when there’s actual food and not mimed food. (Unfortunately, he chews with his mouth open.) I can only hope my own work can keep up with this great group of actors.

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* Actors names have been changed to protect…well, I don’t know what. Perhaps an ego.

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