I can’t pretend that I was a little bit surprised when I saw what parts I was playing upon being cast in Laramie. Jeff had only ever really seen me act (excluding audition materials) as a hammy, high-energy, nervous Jewish man in The Underpants. I chuckled when I realized that I would be playing the some of the very important straight, middle-aged men in Laramie.
Before Laramie, you could have classified me as a “result” actor. I have been notorious for snagging the fun/creepy/supporting/hammy roles, presumably because I can bring the energy required for many a cheap laugh. While these roles have always been fun for me, I now find myself growing apart from this style of acting.
Last semester, I took introduction to acting and directing and started shifting my interests from musical theater to straight theater. Ever since these classes, acting has become so much more substantial and even thrilling. I remember first reading the script for Laramie and finding Rulon Stacey’s stage direction: (he begins to cry). My immediate reaction was CRAP, I have to cry on stage. This reaction was followed by the thought of me trying to fake sadness and fake crying – not a challenge I was looking forward to overcoming.
Fast-forward a few weeks. Both Jeff and The Mabou Mines company talked about “emotional recall” as an effective acting technique to help facilitate the emergence of outwardly expressive difficult emotions, such as crying on stage. Internally, I laughed at the idea that some of the best actors in the world had to use memories from their own lives in order to express a certain emotion, rather than feeling the emotion from within the character. While I agree that all actors should (and inevitably do) bring a part of themselves to each character they play, I don’t think this technique should be leaned upon.
Take Rulon’s big monologue, for instance. Sure, I’ve faked it maybe once or twice, and Jeff could immediately tell and I felt disgusted doing so. The times when that monologue has been the best, however, have been when I internalize RULON’s pain, not my own. Rulon cries on stage, not me. I know that this is a trivial example that I have been blabbering on about, but moments like these both make me feel like I am progressing as an actor and giving more truth to the work as a whole. Overall, I’m most please with my work on Rulon, especially now as I’m doing a better job differentiating between professional and reflective Rulon.
Phil, the character I have been most unsure of throughout the majority of the run, is actually now (in my mind) working quite well. I find almost a playful sort of exuberance in him, as a university president probably should have. I’m hoping that this reads, particularly in Moment: Homecoming. The e-mail moment is also quite interesting, and arguably Phil’s most important contribution to the play. I’m still wrestling with this moment – I very much feel connected to Phil’s anger and frustration at the e-mail writer, but is that really the way he would react? Would he handle it more “professionally” or is his outburst justified?
Rob DeBree has become somewhat of an enigma to me. The interrogation scene has blossomed into something awesome given what it was at the beginning. Many thanks to Jeff for helping me get out of the damn chair, Jules for the incredible textual resources, and Spencer for being a killer scene partner (no pun intended). I realize that as of last run the speed needs to be picked up and I need to project a bit more, but those two things make for an easy fix – I’m glad the acting feels right to me. His other two main monologues, however, have felt slightly off. I feel that I have the right instincts in my connection to Rob (and the monologues), however, I have been incredibly daunted by the task of physically representing this man’s beastliness. I suppose we will see what happens from here on out. I remember Jeff was very pleased when I first found Rob’s new physicality (as was I), but at this point I’m not completely satisfied.
On the first day of class, I remember Jeff telling me that differentiating these men would be a very difficult task. I feel that I have made a monumental amount of progress in differentiating my three characters in a way such that I am still truthful to each character. Obviously, there room for improvement between now and Thursday.
Bring it on, dress rehearsals.