Jim's Richard III Blog

What had started as a blog of Richard III rehearsal process at Cal Shakes has now evolved or devolved into a small novella. The author is petrified to change the name for fear it'll disappear, and wouldn't know what to call it anyway. Many stories are included and questions are even answered sometimes!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Questions, questions!


There is other life in the Universe! I've some questions, and some very good ones. Martha aka Bruce (whom I may continue to call Martha--you can call me Gloria if you want), had these:

Q: Many theaters have some sort of audience involvement such as post-play discussions with some of the actors. Do actors find these things interesting or if they are viewed less fondly?

A: Speaking for myself I enjoy the post show talks (though I don't attend every one of them) and love the chance to see who I've been performing for the past few hours. It's always interesting to hear your views and many people come up with analogies or angles we hadn't thought of that often spark something in us. The only time I don't enjoy them is when people take them as a chance to criticize the actors, get on a soapbox, or to show everyone how smart they are--we did a talkback for Importance of Being Earnest at Berkeley Rep years ago and one individual took it upon himself to remark on the accent of one of our actresses, saying he'd been to England and never heard the word pronounced that way.....I responded by asking if he was a dialect coach, a native of England, or had any knowledge of accents whatsoever, and when he replied no to all three questions I said "Then you really don't know what you're talking about, do you?"...........a silence ensued. He didn't ask any more questions.

I've never been that harsh before or since (it wasn't really an appropriate or gracious response) but I thought he was being snotty and mean. There was no point to it, it didn't further the discussion and it made me angry. We do get some standard questions: How do you remember all those lines, what do you really do for a living (ouch), how much money do you make (big ouch), are you married (run away, now) , etc. It can get weird --people sometimes expect you to be the same person offstage as you were onstage, and when you're not they're vaguely disappointed, but the long and the short of it is that, yes, we want to know how it made you feel, what it made you think, what it left you with; I guess this is my way of helping to change the world--I'd be a lousy politician.
"I can definitely see that actors don't enjoy the various distracting things that some audience members do but I didn't realize how acutely actors sense the actions of the audience."
Oh, we hear everything. We just learn to pretend you're not there (some nights you're not, some nights we're not very there either) -- swat vaguely at the air, and move on. I'm not sure I should arm you with these weapons of my mass destruction, but I will......There are some sounds that people make unconsciously (sometimes not so UN) that drive me bonkers. A long bored "HHhhmmm" gets nicely under my skin, but I think the worst is that little "Tsk" sound that people make; I don't know quite why. There. Now you can come to one of my shows, "Tsk" merrily away, and watch the veins pop out in my forehead.

Q: "I remember seeing a play where some in the audience were so worked up that they were saying things out loud - I can imagine that must've been really distracting. Are there times where an an audience's reaction really help to bring out the best in an actor?"

A: You know it's funny--if the audience is saying things out loud because of the play, because they're excited and into the performance it doesn't upset me. I did a production of True West at San Jose Stage years back and one of our audiences was from a prison work farm--the women were separated from the men and all were quite polite. For a work farm. But when we got into the part of the play when one brother is trying to con the other brother out of his car, they started calling out things like "He's workin' ya brother!" or "No, man! Don't do it!"and they weren't raising hell they were totally into the show, (and we had a good one that night so perhaps they did "fuel" us to some extent)--they recognized some common part of life that they'd gone thru, that they'd witnessed. It was great. I loved it--I don't know if they took anything lasting home with them or if we changed them in any small way but we reached them.

Q: Have any roles made you reassess a long-held view?

A: Short answer, yes: though I don't know if I've ever actually reversed my position on an issue. Long answer; I think we're changed by everything we do--more often I've been made more aware of issues, certain developments in the world. Notable ones: The Normal Heart at Berkeley Rep.--we did it during the onset of the AIDS epidemic, and the actors in the show met many fine men with the condition, learned how they dealt with it, learned the myths about the disease and the realities. We got to know people who were no longer alive by the end of the run, we watched the numbers of the dead painted above the exit doors at the Rep mount every week. Mad Forest and People's Temple also at BRT, were among these, and yes, they did change me. They got personal.

These shows all cost us a lot in a psychic sense--they're harder to walk away from--PT was horribly draining and some nights I just didn't want to do it. It's exhausting to go to those dark places, and hard to shake them off when you do. My wife was really glad that one closed. I mean, I didn't try to make her drink cool-aide or start talking like Jim Jones, but some nights that darkness was a silent partner when I came home--some residue my own pain and the characters.

But it's part of our job. We deal with it.

Thanks Bruce.