Friday, February 17, 2006

The Play's The Thing

Once in a while, as I'm standing outside an audition room listening to the Shakespearean shouts of the actor inside, it strikes me:
Acting is REALLY weird.

I hope that this realization won't hit me as I'm standing in front of a director performing a monologue. It hasn't so far, and I pray it never does. That would be most inconvenient.

I have an actor friend who can cry at the drop of a hat. You say "Cry!", and fifteen seconds later she'll have a trembling lower lip, and big, fat, crocodile tears flowing down her cheeks. It's a great party trick, and a coveted skill. And a little bizarre.

I think the oddness of acting has become more apparent to me now that I live with someone who is not an actor. He takes it all in stride, mind you, and is very supportive, but it's got to be strange hearing:

"Don't mind me, honey - I'm just going to go into the bedroom for the next 20 minutes and pretend to be a Shakespearean queen on trial for her life. Then I'll come out and make you dinner."

One of the strangest realizations I've had on stage is that it's completely possible for an actor (at least this actor) to slip into autopilot. You know how sometimes you're driving somewhere and you realize that you're heading the wrong direction because you've been thinking about something else? (Please tell me I'm not the only one who's done that.) Well, during the third month of the run of a play that I didn't really like all that much to begin with, I left the stage and realized that I couldn't really remember anything that had happened onstage for the past 5 minutes. Had I even said my lines? No one was looking at me funny, so I must have at least gone through the motions. And then there was the time I realized I was composing my grocery list whilst staring into the eyes of my onstage love interest. And also the time that I missed saying a line during a rehearsal because I was too busy thinking about how sad my character was. Can you say self-indulgent? I know I can.

Another thing that's weird about acting is the realization that your fellow actor has just skipped sixteen pages of dialogue and several major plot points, and is now looking at you like a deer caught in headlights, just waiting for you to make up a monologue that will somehow get the entire play back on track.

After grad school, I found that I couldn't always function well in the real world. For two years I had eaten, breathed, and slept acting (the latter thanks to the often weekly actor's nightmare). At my first interview for a temp agency, I had to stop myself from doing a monologue. And listing "dialects" as an office skill.

Also, I think the weirdness may be rubbing off on my husband. He, a mathematics/computer guy, told me recently that he'd had an actor's nightmare. He was pushed onto a stage, didn't know his lines, and couldn't find the script. No math or Macs involved.

He's still not able to cry on cue, but we're working on that.


Anonymous said...

i wonder, by downstage left do you mean from the director's perspective or the actors? because let me tell you, if your talking from the director's perspective downstage left is the warmest part of the stage, and i'm a traditionalist that way.
an actress to be.

Emmie said...

I chose that stage direction (from the actor's perspective) because it's one of my favorite places to be. Don't know why, exactly. Perhaps it's because I'm left handed.

chris runoff said...


I recently discovered your blog by recommendation from Eric Snider's site. I am so glad to have followed that link.

You have a real talent for writing and I enjoy everything that you share. You have this ability to recreate your experiences and thoughts with such vivid simplicity that I feel as though I'm there living it, no just reading another blog post.

Thank you for sharing with all of us.

Emmie said...

Thank you! What lovely compliments. You made my day!

Anonymous said...

Dearest, maybe you need to give Steve a stronger cue, like plucking his nose hairs. - Jannah