Straight, White, Male, and 40

Cameron McCallie

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.

2 thoughts on “Straight, White, Male, and 40

  1. Cameron —

    It’s funny that the harder characters to play are the ones that seem like “the norm” — straight, white, male, middle-aged — and yet, as you start to break them down into specifics, there’s actually quite a bit that separates these men. Phil D. and Rulon are probably the closest since they are both the public faces of large institutions (a hospital, a university) and, as I recall, they both focus their emotional response on children to different degrees (both men mention their children–Phil as the reason he moves to Laramie and Rulon as his way to really understand what Judy and Dennis are feeling). I like your description of Phil as “playful exuberance”. I’m thinking of our own President Broadhead. Particularly how his velvet voice bounces with happiness when he delivers the convocation to the incoming first-years. I think seeing a non-administrator kind of frustration in his scene with the email writer gives a level of credibility to Tectonic that they might have gotten him to share more than just the official line of university response to Matthew’s death.

    For some reason I think of Rulon as a bit more controlled, more CEO, more salesman and, in this way, he’s got a comfort with talking to Tectonic and reporters that’s born out of being someone who goes to conferences ready to tout the prominence and competence of his institution to large groups. When I read his sections what I’m struck by is how he finds all the attention, and his emotion response to it, as unexpected. Ft. Collins’ population is about 135,000 (Laramie’s is about 27,000), so it’s no “big city” but it’s much bigger than Laramie. So Rulon has given press conferences before and, unlike Jon Peacock’s reaction to the swarms of press in Laramie, he should be ready to handle it. But it’s even bigger than Ft. Collins and Rulon expects. And I think about the compression of time — 3 days maximum — and he’s the face of it all. It’s a level of attention even all the good CEO training might not have prepared him for.

    Rob is the least eloquent, and probably, given what we know of the real man, the biggest physically and the least formally educated of the three men. Of course, one thing to remember is that it doesn’t take much to physically outweigh Aaron (he’s slight) and maybe it’s more the attitude of weight, bulk that you carry, vs. anything specific you try to change about your body). But, what Rob lacks in some areas, he makes up in street smarts … and those are Laramie street smarts which mean something different than being a copy in a tightly populated urban area. He probably doesn’t make a whole lot more than a lot of the folks in Laramie. I keep wondering whether he doesn’t play on his “good ole boy” cred when working suspects in the interrogation room. He tells the audience he’s had a change of heart when it comes to LGBT folks, but when he’s in that room with Aaron, he sees that his suspect wants to play an angle with his confession. How much does he go on past experience (and belief?) and help Aaron feel as if the more he talks about what he did to the “queer dude” he’s telling someone sympathetic to his homophobia? If there’s this kind of light cajoling, urging Aaron on in his characterization of the event that can then turn to disgust by the time you have that last line: “There is no doubt that Mr. Shepard is going to die.” It’s hard because you’re working with a snippet from a much longer conversation but I think having a bit of contrast between Rob at the beginning of the interrogation and him at the end might give you a sense of pacing and clear emotional arc (the kind of arcs you’re building solidly for Phil D. and Rulon).

    It’s not easy playing the “regular” guy. It is going to be obvious to our audience that you’ve done a lot of work to give each one of these men a clear sense of purpose, a three-dimensional inner life, and emotional variety.


  2. Cameron,

    You’ve done an amazing job of differentiating these characters. You are really starting to settle into the skins of everyone you play. Just remember, if you stop believing in the character yourself, make an adjustment that brings the energy back while continuing to fill the space. You are doing a great job of picking up internal pace now and focusing on your objectives. That is what will drive the character. I agree with Jules note about being more aware of the imaginary environment that Rob finds him self in when you are working that long center stage area. Keep up the good work. Your discipline and growth is an inspiration to the cast. You own these characters and it makes you present on stage and the part of the story you tell is powerful and moving.

    Best- Jeffrey

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