Putting a Face on Theatre
Last week I wrote about why I don't act. My plan for this week was to consider why perhaps I should... and then the most fortuitous thing happened: I ended up actually acting, out of the blue, between the writing of that post and this one.
Here's what went down: a good friend -- a man who's directed two of my plays -- is filming a movie about a bare-knuckle boxer. His AD sent out a note asking (well, pleading) for extras for a fight scene, and I thought I'd lend a hand: I owed him, I thought, for all the good things he'd done for me. (Besides, I asked myself, how hard could standing around and cheering for three hours be?) So I showed up for the shoot, started milling around and talking to the other background actors, and all of a sudden my friend pulls me out into the hall outside the sound stage: one of his principals had quit at the very last minute, he told me, and he wondered whether I wouldn't mind filling in.
Fifteen minutes later I was in costume getting quick-and-dirty lessons on stage combat. (Did I mention that the role involved me pretending to beat the heck out of another actor?) By the end of the shoot, I was completely exhausted and covered in stage blood and, I have to admit, pretty excited by the whole thing. I can't wait to see the film. My friend tells me I "done good," too. I hope he's not being kind.
Now... it's important to know that the role didn't have any lines. I was just big and mean and brutal with a deadly right cross. (Note to self: wait till my son is much older before I show him what I did.) All the acting I did, really, was with my body and my face and my eyes. I didn't have to speak... and without speaking, it all seemed so much easier.
In any event, my time on the set made me even more determined to note that perhaps, in some ways, it might be very useful for me (and for other playwrights) to act, at least now and then. The experience of trying to build a character (even the small one I played that morning, and even without any words) made me think in new ways about the work I do as a writer. When I got back to my laptop to work on my new play, I could still feel myself standing there, glowering at the man I was boxing with, trying to figure out what would motivate me in that instant to hit him. It made my work on the page a great deal more visceral, and it connected me far more immediately to the yet-to-be-named actor or actors who would one day be speaking the lines I was writing. It was powerful.
Not long ago, another director friend asked me to play a part in a reading she was directing here in DC. She knew I was a playwright, not an actor, but she was certain I was right for the role. I turned her down three times -- partially out of habit, partially out of fear, and partially for the reasons I outlined last week -- until I decided to trust her as an artist and say yes. (She knew what she wanted, she understood what she was asking for, so why wouldn't I?) In retrospect, I'm glad I did.
Now I find myself suddenly an unexpectedly hoping for other similar opportunities: not many, mind you -- I *am* still a playwright with NO ambition to take to the stage for real, and I *do* still have concerns about taking an opportunity away from someone who does -- but one or two now and then might be fun...and might help me do what I do even better. So... directors? You know where to find me. And thanks to the two of you who forced the issue enough to get me here in the first place!