Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Actor's Diary: Passion and Patience

Bryce Pinkham will be playing the roles of Brother Vaughn, Pete Davenport and Felix Barclay in The Orphans' Home Cycle

Constantly abandoning his chair to cavort around the rehearsal hall and joke with the company, Michael Wilson has an infectious energy that helps to drain any inherent tension out of the room. With seemingly unending patience he fields all questions and conducts rehearsal with a balance of tender admiration and boyish irreverence. Throughout each day, Michael somehow manages a ‘hey darlin’ or ‘hello sweetheart’ for everyone and succeeds in making every last one of us feel important to this project. In an effort to further understand Michael’s skillful m├ętier as a director, I stir up a discussion among my peers about the inherently delicate relationship between actors and directors. In turn I am treated to several horror stories about directors who failed to win the admiration of their respective casts: “I had this one director tell me I was speaking like a movie extra, and then he asked me if I wouldn’t mind talking like a human being... ”

Pause.

At our best, we actors are empathetic, generous and emotionally sensitive; at our worst we are temperamental, irascible and, well, emotionally sensitive. Direction like that provided in the above anecdote is sure to affect even the steeliest of our kind.

Play.

“…I took the note and walked away because you never questioned this guy. Your goal was just to get onstage and off without getting caught.” It seems to me that a successful director’s efficacy is closely related to his ability to set his or her actors at ease to fearlessly explore ideas and choices. To be sure, a certain amount of actors’ creative forays in our rehearsal room turn out to be dead ends, but an equal number of interpretive risks reward our director, and in turn our company, with a greater illumination of character and story. Recently, one actor is searching for a definitive sound for his character. By his own admission, his first attempt in rehearsal comes off as a bad Colonel Sanders imitation. But Michael is patient. He allows everyone to laugh about it, but then rather than immediately place the kibosh on this actor’s bold interpretation, he encourages further exploration of the idea about the character that lead to this particular vocal choice. Sure enough, within a few rehearsals this actor has honed and specified his vocal proposal and in doing so has opened up a whole new interpretation of his character that is delightfully revelatory. This instance is just one example of Michael’s ability to disarm the tentative actor in all of us for the benefit of our entire endeavor.

Fast Forward.

It is two days before we enter the theater to begin technical rehearsals for our first three acts and we are about to begin our final run-through of Part One in the rehearsal room. Naturally, we are all a bit anxious about moving to the theater in two days; the previously distant specter of a paying audience is suddenly beginning to take shape and loom on the horizon. Anticipating this swell of nerves that inevitably runs through any company at this point in the rehearsal process, Michael gathers us together.

Pause.

A good director knows when to give a good speech.

Play.

“I love marathons. I think they are thrilling events in our theater that remind us what the theater does differently than television and film. They represent the pinnacle of the communal experience between artist and audience. I am deeply proud, honored and thrilled to make this distinctly American marathon happen with you all.” Michael’s rehearsal room valedictory is the perfect example of emotional and practical leadership. He reminds us that we are literally building our strength and endurance for a marathon and that individually we must remain focused, determined and supportive of each other. He also succeeds in unifying us as a company: “We are a family now, and there is not one day I regret being in this room or regret sharing this journey with you all.”

Pause.

I believe we are all extremely excited to get into the theater, though we know not what challenges lie in wait. Regardless, we are comforted in knowing that our leader could not be more committed to us and our endeavor and at the very least, there is one thing he will always allow…

Play.

No comments: