And It Comes Together, As Do We

I write this in an exhausted, feverish, overly sentimental frenzy. I am very sick today. I spent all of last night throwing up, and I woke up this morning after a restless sleep to do more of the same. I sent Jeff a frantic text message at 8:30 am — “Jeff, I hate to say this, but I don’t think I should come to rehearsal today. So, so, so sorry.”

I spent the next six hours dozing off and on, dreaming about Laramie. I’d like to say that this was simply some fever-induced phenomenon, but that wouldn’t be true.

The thing is, this play has infiltrated my thoughts and my life this semester. There’s the simple matter of time, for one — “I can’t, I have rehearsal” has become my mantra of the past few months. But it’s much, much more than that. I find myself quoting lines from the show with regularity. I light up when I see fellow cast-members out and about around campus. Julian and I were joking about how the beginning of the semester, when I only knew him as our soundboard operator in Proof, seems like eons ago. We’ve come a long way.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve had my doubts. During that two-week stretch where it seemed like all we were doing was staging an intricate dance of changing costumes and moving chairs, I worried that this was going to end up being a show with a great visual concept, but little overall impact. Why were we focusing so little on the acting? Why did this complex staging have to take priority? This is not to say that I doubted the expertise and strategy of Jeff and Jules, but I worried about how the disparate moments and scene changes were going to fit together. I doubted my ability to make the words of the play seem natural or connected to a larger story, especially when so much of the way characters spoke often seemed stilted or overly presentational, at least to the eye upon the page. I worried that we would lose our audience, that the show would drag on for hours, that the third act would seem overly sentimental or forced. I frequently thought about these concerns at night or in the shower, as I went over Reggie Fluty’s speeches or Sherry Johnson’s monologue.

I should add that this litany of self-doubt and insecurity about the final outcome of a performance is nothing new for me. I have yet to be in a show where a week or two before opening, my answer to the question, “How’s the play coming?” hasn’t been full of trepidation and complaints.

That being said, within the last week, I have watched this show come to life. I finally had the opportunity to have an individual rehearsal session with Jeff, and we worked at length on my scenes with Afftene. I finally have a sense of the mother-daughter relationship between Reggie and Marge, and I feel so much more natural and comfortable now that I know that regardless of when our respective interviews may have been conducted, Reggie and Marge can engage in a dialogue, listening and reacting to what the other has to say. I feel extremely grateful that in a show where dialogue and interplay between characters is hard to come by, I have not one, but two, scenes in which to play off of another actor. I was pleased and excited that during Thursday’s run when Afftene and I did our Act 3 scene between Marge and Reggie, for the first time directly responding to one another and letting the humor and excitement of the scene shine through post-work with Jeff, the rest of the cast laughed heartily in response to the changes we had made. I kept looking over at Cameron’s parents to gauge their reactions, and I was similarly pleased to see them smiling and laughing and emoting and responding throughout the show.

I can’t wait for us to have an audience. I am proud of the work we have done. And the newly installed lights completely change the theater and make the space magical. We are ready for opening night. I just need to get well first!

2 thoughts on “And It Comes Together, As Do We

  1. Emma–

    I’m sorry you were struck with the ick. Glad to see you walking the boards today (Sunday).

    I think it has been a difficult road where it’s seemed as if technical materials have been in the lead and other things in the backseat. I do believe that the costumes can/do play an important role in developing the acting, particularly the changes from character to character, environment to environment. I’m not sure how you all are handling warm-ups but it might be useful to find at least some time in any vocal/physical work to spend a bit of time with at least some of your costume pieces — putting them on and off and letting that piece feed the physical and vocal changes you see as important to your characters. Does that make any sense? So that the act of taking on a person is part and parcel of taking on their clothing. Of course, any such warm-up would have to happen with the blessing of Don and crew and making sure any pieces got placed back in their proper homes for the top of the show.

    That puts me in the mind of a thought I had today watching you in Reggie’s windbreaker. The polyester rigidity of a cop/sheriff’s uniform, especially for women (a body not originally envisioned as ever wearing them, I’d imagine). Even though you’re only wearing the outer gear, how does the uniform affect Reggie’s posture, the way she interacts with people, esp. Tectonic? I know this might change as you get the final base costume, but think about posture all the way down to your toes/stance. How does Reggie hold herself with the various interviewers vs. how she might allow herself to relax (even when wearing the uniform) when near her mother.

    I agree with your assessment with the palpable emotion (tension, joy and relief) that comes when you and Afftene interact as mother and daughter. You’ve got a few other moments (as with Cantway at the end of Act 1) and the Death Penalty (as Zackie) where you are referencing on-stage folks as if you’re taking in what they’re saying, so you can hold onto those moments as “interactive” as well.

    There is no doubt that the presentational quality of the piece is difficult. I’ve been trying to think of ways to give you all ways to ways to attack the issue. Also, how to bring the weightiness of our subject matter — someone’s beating death at the hands of two other people — back to the front of our minds even as you have to pick up and drop different threads of different characters over the course of three acts. I was struck by this subject matter watching today and thinking about the shape of Torry’s set in relationship to the places and things that people describe in Act 1: the Laramie skyline, Matthew’s smile, and the concave part of Matthew’s skull. I saw this connection as something that might be helpful especially in that trio scene with Reggie, Cantway and Aaron. It’s a very viseral image, but in the context of that scene what about thinking about that center point of the stage as covered in dried blood. Maybe give yourself a particular point on the stage to focus your “remembering” the state that Matthew was in and the fear, revulsion that the professional Reggie is trying to tamp down as she recalls the finding, the freeing, the passing him on to others. It’s just a thought; just one more way to connect the “stuff” that surrounds and fills the acting space to the acting process.

    –Jules

  2. Emma, I am so sorry you have been struggling with sickness. I know what it is like to have to be on stage when you should be in your bed with someone taking care of you.

    You have done a terrific job with these characters.From the beginning you have understood their differences and you have rendered each with the utmost care and subtlety. You have a powerful voice, but your voice is also connected to the physical choices you make for each character you play. I find them believable and compelling. Your story telling is clear and confident. I feel as though you have ownership of each character and that instills confidence in your fellow cast members and will have the same effect on the audience. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. I hope we have the chance to do it again before you leave.

    Thanks for all your hard work. Jeffrey

Leave a Reply