Ah yes, now we’re into the thick of it.
At this point in the rehearsal process, we are, mostly, off book. Which means that it’s time to start doing some real acting. Which also means that it’s time to draw forth from those deep emotional wells, make choices, enact them, and shape our performance into something that looks a lot more like a finished product.
Basically, this is the hard part.
As a young actor, this is what I had the most trouble with (and still, by the by, plagues me
to this day). I think a lot. In fact, it’s my job to think. As a result, when I’m acting, I tend to be “in my head” (which is a fancy way of saying that I’m trying too hard and not doing enough). Having been through the extensive training that I have been through, I’ve picked up tricks along to way. I’ve uncovered ways to express through the text things which don’t require actual emotion but can trick a casual viewer into thinking I’m feeling something. It’s a good way to color the text, and a good adjunct strategy, but can’t bear the full weight of a performance. At the end of the day, it doesn’t amount to anything genuine. And I’m a firm believer that, if theatre is to be effective, it has to have a kernel of truth.
The problem with feeling emotion is that it’s messy. Acting is a hideous, horrible profession that will destroy you emotionally and physically if you let it. An actor is paid to get up onstage eight times a week and reveal the deepest, darkest, scariest parts of himself to an audience of strangers who will then pass judgment on the depths of that actor’s soul.
In my opinion, nobody gets paid enough to do that.
So why do we do it?
Because it feels good. Because being connected to one’s own humanity in that way, and by extension the humanity of one’s audience, makes one feel whole. Like a cog in the universal machine. It makes one feel potent; like one can actually effect (and, by the by, affect) something. Like a catalyst. Like one has a true meaning and purpose in the giant planet earth that we live in and, larger than that, the human experience.
But it’s hard, and it takes it’s toll. As You Like it is a comedy and still there are days when I find myself feeling raw after rehearsal. Particularly tough for me is 1.3. At the top of the scene, Rosalind is giddy in love having just met and exchanged words with Orlando for the first time. It’s a high; a rush; and if I hit it right I wind up giggley and soaring. Halfway through the scene, Duke Frederick enters to banish Rosalind from the court. He tears away everything she has ever known and says that she must leave, on pain of death. If we hit that right, the bottom drops out of my stomach and the gravity of the situation weighs heavily on my shoulders. My heart grays and it’s almost as though a cloud has come to darken my little section of the world. Even if Rosalind fights back (which, by the by, she does as much as she can), I’m still left feeling bitter and angry. Then, after Frederick’s exit, Celia devises the plan to go to the woods and dress as beggars. Rosalind and Celia expound upon this plan and Rosalind bounces back up from the devastation of her banishment into the possibility of their retreat to Arden. Arden; where her father is, where she can dress as a man and have the freedom not allotted her in the court, where a whole new life awaits her and her best friend. It’s not the same unerring giddiness that the top of the scene brings, but it’s definitely a step up from the scene’s middle.
It’s an emotional roller coaster, and one that I have to ride in the span of a few minutes. In performance it’s devastating enough, but consider that in rehearsal we hash and re-hash these scenes over and over again. In a single night I could do this three or four times; bouncing wildly from top to bottom and all across the spectrum of emotions.
It’s no wonder rehearsals make me tired and hungry.
Last night, we did some work on 4.3 and 3.4; both scenes that begin with Rosalind waiting for Orlando who is late to meet Rosalind (dressed as Ganymede). 3.4 especially requires an emotional investment in the roller coaster that inevitably comes with “he likes me, he likes me not” since it opens with Rosalind bouncing around the stage wondering what it means that Orlando didn’t come when he said he would and Celia making sly commentary on her state. If I don’t put in the emotional investment, then Celia is stuck being snarky for no reason. Up, down, up, down, it’s enough to make a girl dizzy. 4.3 also requires some of that kind of work, but the majority of the scene is taken up by Oliver’s description of his encounter with Orlando in the woods and the battle with the lion, so much of my acting is nonverbal (easier, by the by, since I don’t have to then worry about the impulse to speak and what’s coming out of my mouth). Still, there has to be enough of an investment from me that my faint at the scene’s end is justified, comical, and makes sense.
So I’ve been coming home tired a lot, and I’ve had to do a great deal of emotional housekeeping. This has mostly involved the copious watching of Disney films and My Little Ponies because, really, who can be distraught while belting “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”?
Next week we’re into runs (first act runs, then full-show runs). This should prove slightly less taxing since I get to take a much larger chunk of the journey far fewer times in a night; but we’ll see. I’ll still have the emergency princess stash queued and ready to go.