From Wishful Thinking to Wonderland
by Scott Humphrey
The actor’s journey for any production, for those who aren’t already aware, always starts in the same way: with a mild freak-out. What am I going to do with THIS? I don’t even understand this thing… Maybe I won’t be suited to it? Maybe they’ll fire me. How could they even do that? I’m not even getting paid… Hey! Get a hold of yourself! This is a challenge just like any other production… Just… more challenging… So what am I going to DO with this? And round it goes. Or maybe that’s just how it is for me, the Neurotic Young Professional. (Coincidentally also the name of my one-man punk-Celtic-polka crossover band, now playing at a dive bar near YOU!)
I grew up learning that work is the antithesis of play. The former may be boring and dreary, but it was just something that was required of all productive members of society, while play… well, playing was the reward for working, simple as that. How strange it is to end up in a job where the “work” you are expected to do is playing. But before I continue with my youthful exuberance, no doubt all of you jaded theatre souls need to know why I bring this up…
At the very beginning of rehearsals, before I had met the rest of the cast, before we had even read the script, we were told just one thing: to have fun in rehearsing. To not let anything be too solidly set; to play with the text and characters the way a child would. (I’m paraphrasing, by the way.) Is that not, after all, part of the reason we, as actors, perform? And is that not part of the way you, the audiences, live vicariously through theatre? We return to a more innocent time in our lives, where fun was simple, and where situations and characters were not limited by something as boring as “realism”… But I digress into overindulgent philosophizing…. Don’t let me do that again! (If you do want to hear more philosophizing, though, I tend to do a beat poetry segment or two during Neurotic Young Professional concerts… PLUG!)
The actors’ wheels started turning in my head the moment I heard that our goal was to play as creatively as possible. Nothing was off-limits! When I start working a production, I always try to ascertain any limitations the designers, director(s), playwrights, or fellow actors may be placing on me. In an ideal world, all us artists would be free to create what we wish, and then find a perfect compromise between all elements in the form of a production. Naturally, we don’t live in an ideal world, and I try not to tread on any toes… unless it’s necessary.
But in this case, I take the script home, read it end to end one last time before bed, and then close my eyes…. Being a visual person, I like to have an image of the character moving through space, going to work, having an argument, trying to climb a tree, peeling an orange. The more tasks I watch them do, the more I feel their rhythm and manner of interacting with the world. This is not to say that I work “from the outside in”, as the old saying goes; when I’m not actively rehearsing, I simply like to have a ritual for myself to keep my thoughts and feelings on the show and the character(s) at hand.
We may be a month to show, but there’s plenty more work to do… I can’t wait to take this from just a twinkle in our eyes to a full-fledged Wonderland!
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