We were thrilled tonight to welcome some folks from a local news station as we began a work-through of the play. Although some of us were nervous to begin with, we found it relatively easy to get past that and have a great rehearsal.
I was running around quite a bit and didn’t take many notes, but the theme of the night was patience and team work. We’ve been away from some of these scenes for a while, and people took good care of each other as we refreshed and refined. Some ensemble members are also becoming more and more aware of how scenes are functioning artistically. “We’re getting all bunched up,” one woman said at one point, encouraging the others on stage with her to spread out in a way that would be more visually pleasing.
We got through about half of the play, which is great considering it was our first attempt. The main thing slowing us down was uncertainty about entrances and exits, and the speed at which those were happening. We’re all aware of this and working on it. We are still confident that we’ll be able to perform our play in the allotted time!
When I entered the auditorium, I noticed our Richard standing at the back of the room, leaning on a table on which she’d laid her script, pinching the skin between her eyebrows with her eyes closed. I went to her immediately and asked if she was okay. She ruefully smiled and said, “Not really.” I asked her if she wanted to talk about it, and she said she did.
She is feeling extreme pressure to be perfect, just as she has the past two years. She feels that if she doesn’t know her lines exactly right, she will let everyone down. I listened intently and let her know that I understood – I’m a perfectionist, too – and then I asked her if she was feeling pressure from anyone in the group. She said she wasn’t. I reiterated that no one expects her to be perfect – that none of us will be perfect – and that not even our audience expects perfection. “The only pressure is coming from you,” I said. “You’ve gotta find a way to let yourself off the hook a little.” She responded that she wants to act professionally, and that she needs to live up to that expectation. I reminded her that even very successful actors make mistakes – that’s what blooper reels are! – and that she is not a professional yet. “Think of this as training,” I said. “You’re learning. Mistakes are a valuable part of the process.” I told her that the worst thing in the world is an actor whom you can tell is terrified of messing up. And she’s incredible when she relaxes. “You’re so much fun to watch when you’re having fun,” I said. “I’d much rather watch you enjoy yourself and mess up the lines than for you to get every word right and be stressed out the whole time.”
By the end of the pep talk, she was smiling and relaxed. I know that this is something we’re going to have to keep revisiting – it’s a very deeply-rooted issue for her – but she seems to recover a little more quickly every time we have one of these chats.
I hopped back stage to man the curtain as we continued working through the play. A few ensemble members sat at a table in the wings, going over their lines. One of them put down her script and said, “Frannie, I suck at memorizing lines! I have nothing memorized!” Before I could even respond, another ensemble member said, “Sit back, sweetie. I’m gonna teach you what Kyle taught me last year.” She scooted her chair closer and smiled, sharing some strategies that work for her. Another ensemble member chimed in, and so did I. “You’ve gotta find your own way to do this,” said that first ensemble member. “Me, when I’m doing my lines, people ask me who I’m talking to alone in my bunk, and I say, ‘I’m just doing Shakespeare.’” She shrugged, smiling. She has clearly joined the vast community of actors who don’t care if people think they’re crazy – they just want to get those lines down.
An ensemble member who has been gone for a while was back tonight. Toward the end of the night, I found myself sitting in the front row with her, watching a scene unfold. Suddenly she shook her head and said, “This just makes me sick.” I asked her why. She said that seeing what everyone had accomplished in the time she was gone – seeing how much she’d missed and knowing that it will be hard for her to catch up – is gut-wrenching for her. We went to the back of the room so we could keep talking without being disruptive. She talked at length about the situation that had led to her long absence and said one of the hardest things was being away from Shakespeare. She reminded me that she’d acted in high school. “When I played Juliet, that was a big part of who I was,” she said. “And now, doing Shakespeare here… This helps take the burden off your shoulders. I can’t explain it…” She paused, thinking. “This helps you dig down inside yourself – and everybody says that. It’s not just me. Everyone in the group says that.” She then told me that the first person she saw after her absence was another ensemble member. When this person saw her, the first thing she said was, “Where have you been? Are you coming back to Shakespeare? You’d better be coming back. I’ll see you tonight.” The ensemble member to whom I was listening tried to impress upon me how incredible that was - to be welcomed back immediately when she’d been gone for so long. “You just don’t get that anywhere else,” she said.
We got through to the end of the play with lots of starts and stops – we haven’t worked very much on the last few scenes. We’re in a good place, though. Costumes and props arrive on Tuesday, and we’re ready to start using them. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but no one is freaking out. We are all determined, even those of us who are nervous. This group is very tight and motivated. The next few weeks will be intense, but I know that people are really going to shine. The end of the process is always awe-inspiring.