Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
One of the lessons any acting teacher worth their salt will impart to you is that doing good work onstage requires you to live moment-to-moment, to take in the surroundings and your scene partners within each second as it happens. You rehearse and take direction to create the shape of the work, you consider your marks and beats…but you are not an automaton. The play is an organic, breathing entity, and you are attempting to ride on its back without being thrown off. The play is the face of a large rock where familiar handholds may have eroded since the last time you climbed it. If you are not ready to follow the moment where it leads, you will be lost, blind, thrashing about for daylight. The scene is not about how funny you are or how well you can modulate your voice to convey anger or despair. The scene is about a moment in time and the way everything in that moment relates to everything else in that moment.
Since mid-November I have been appearing onstage as the Spirit of Christmas Future in A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol. In many ways the role is more environment than character; for most of the show I am essentially portraying the elemental force of time, faceless and demanding, brooking no arguments because what anybody would want most from time would be to slow down or stop entirely, and that act of generosity is not within the Spirit’s power to give. In the context of the play itself I function as a type of ominous stagehand, similar in some ways to the small figurines found in intricate Swiss clocks, the kind that appears every quarter hour and strikes a tiny golden bell with a mallet. In between these appointed tasks, however, I stand in the alcoves along the back wall, observing the play through a fine mesh fencing mask, the peripheral field obscured by the edges of the great dark hood on my head. I am always in these moments but I do not interact actively with them. The point, I would contend, is that I do not have to be active; as the embodiment of time’s relentlessness my presence alone is interaction.
I have watched the back of the show repeatedly; I am the only person in the room who is ever in a position to do so. I have been standing there silently and collecting in my mind the moments, the subtle details of the other performances careening about on the stage, placing them in gallery frames much like those that live on the set.
The way that Kristie stands in the slowly falling particles of flour she has thrown into the air, and the way those particles whoosh into her wake as she steps out of the spotlight.
The well-dressed shadow of Alex as he removes the chair and then returns to stage left, one arm raised at a right angle and the other behind him, ballroom dancing with his distant partner.
Emjoy’s feet dragging, top to bottom, as she crosses back to Seth rotating the frame in his hands, describing the nature of his bet with the woman he loves.
The primal scream emitting from Jessica’s throat at the end of her dinner monologue. The precision timing of Alex’s arms and snapping fingers. The stark white sheets of paper stacking and scattering onto the dusty black floor of the theater. The slight and subtle curve of Jessica’s path as she walks into the invocation and the lights rise on stage right. The instant that the harmonica enters alongside the banjo and the breathless transition from “Joy to the World” into “The First Noel” as Seth looks up, briefly, into his light, preparing to confess his present state. They way Kristie puts a little flair on the word “was” when she sings the line “You sister was quite the little woman,” and her affected posture as she chases Alex around the stage begging for a kiss. Emjoy’s reckless abandon as she runs onstage with that monstrous box and the way her voice seemed to come from miles away before she entered.
These have all forced me to suppress laughter or heartbreak or appreciation of beauty in my body language as I attempt to maintain my facade as stone-still watchtower sentry. They are amazing moments seen from behind through the limitations of my mask, so I can only imagine how wonderful they are seen through the naked eye as presented to the audience, aided by competent and artful lighting design.
If you have not yet seen this show, you have two more opportunities to do so.
I, on the other hand, am going to be seeing moments from this show, at least, for a very long time to come.