Saturday, June 28, 2008

Shifting Gears

Tonight is the closing performance of "Pleasures of Peace" at Medicine Show. It's been a wild ride. I came into the project 'already in progress' and had some catching up to do to get up to speed with what they had been working on. We opened the show without really feeling ready, and actually had a few performances in that first week that weren't exactly as polished as we would have liked. The show found its stride by the third performance and has been growing, evolving and improving ever since. I am particularly appreciative of Paul Daniel Cloeter, who played Franz, the Swiss Guard, to my Tim, the Buckingham Palace Guard, in John Gruen's lovely play "Guards in Love." We literally rehearsed this intricate play twice before opening night. Were it not for our strong abilities as actors to be present and aware in moments of unknowing, we could have had a disaster. Instead, we grew with each live performance as we basically 'rehearsed' the play every night in front of an audience. I repeatedly heard audience members saying it was the most poignant, touching and well-done aspect of the evening.

Now, its all over. I leave the show with mixed emotions. Of course, there is the mourning one usually experiences at the close of a show. A cast and crew, working together to mount a production spends many long hours together. In many cases, we neglect our own families and friend due to our commitment to the show. Inevitably, a strong bond is created--only to be suddenly broken by everyone going their own diverse ways at the close of the production. Many promises are made (mostly sincere) to 'keep in touch,' 'have coffee' or 'see the next show you're in.' Unfortunately, as often as not, those are the last words exchanged between these people. So I'm sad to see this family disband.

There is also that eerie feeling that "I'll never say these words again." As actors, we create 'moments.' Any show is really a series of moments. Because a lot of the work we do to create a real connection to what we're doing and saying on stage is infusing our 'moments' with parts of ourselves. Some of the moments can hold a certain pathos or special significance. I know that I have certain moments in each show I've done that are quite meaningful and cathartic for me. And as I utter them on closing night, they often hold a particular weight; that sense that the period at the end of the sentence is so much more terminal. Like it's saying, "You won't be saying this again tomorrow night....not next week.... not ever again in this context."

On the other hand, I am also currently involved in rehearsals for my next project, "Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants" as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival and I'm looking forward to being able to fully immerse myself in this project. I've only been to a couple of rehearsals (I've been largely unavailable to rehearse due to my schedule with "Pleasures of Peace") but I'm impressed by the show and the cast. Its going to be a riot and I'm excited to transition into this world created by the masterful Duncan Pflaster.

So, it is a bittersweet transition as I'm shifting gears from the spectacular to the ridiculous. From the surreal and poetic to the bawdy and farcical. From Medicine Show to Cross-Eyed Bear. From one family of artists and friends to a new family. Until August 2, when "Prince Trevor Amongst the Elephants" will play its final performance and the mourning will start anew.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Pleasures of Peace

This is the final production of Medicine Show's 38th season. Which is impressive. This is the fourth full production I've done with Medicine Show. I've also been involved in a number of staged readings there. Barbara Vann is the artistic director there and has directed all of the productions I've been involved in.

Barbara has a unique way of working. She loves chaos and inspiration and being fresh and always breaking convention. She has a certain genius to her work. The downside of all this is that, as an actor, one never knows from one moment to the next what your intentions will be, who your character is, or what lines you will be saying. You could be working on a scene for a week and then she can come in and tell you she's decided we've been wrong all along and its totally something else. I've seen her take whole scenes away from actors who've been working on them for weeks, because they weren't present at a rehearsal when she wanted to rehearse it. She'll look at someone who is there that day and say "can you do this scene?" "Yes" is always the answer any actor would give. "Its yours" she would reply,"Let's work on it."

Anyway, here we are, a few days before a paying audience is going to show up and expect to see this show and I am at my wits end, to be honest. And, I can't really blame anyone but myself. All of the other productions I've done there went the same way. I'm in a pretty substantial scene at the end of the show that we have literally only rehearsed once. And when we did rehearse that scene, we spent most of the time talking about our characters. Not that I'm opposed to this kind of discussion, but when you are less than a week away from opening, and you haven't even run the scene all the way through, I'd much prefer to run it run it run it run it...and talk about it later.

We don't know what we'll be wearing, we haven't learned all the songs yet. She's still changing things. She doesn't believe in tech rehearsals. I am afraid that the first time we actually use the lights will be opening night. She often says, "you rehearse in performance." This is not my style. I'm more the type that likes to be very prepared. I like to work off script for most of the rehearsal period.

Anyway.... All of the other shows I've done here feel like this two days before we open. We always threaten to push back the opening because we're not ready, but we never do. We pull it together and it magically all happens on opening night.

There's something about having the lights on you, having your costume on, having the audience sit there, glued to every word you say, having the director finally quiet and out of sight, that makes it all come magically together. Its not perfect--not without its flubs. But the Medicine Show style is such that an audience member could never tell you goofed unless you tell them.

I have learned quite a lot about performing through my experience with Medicine Show and Barbara Vann. I always swear I'll never work here again, and then the show ends up being such a riotous blast of a good time, that I forget my vows and keep coming back for more glorious, messy, chaotic, artistic, torturous, intellectual, experimental fun.

My fingers are crossed although my heart is pounding.

Oh, and the fact that its 99 degrees out doesn't really help much either.