So Ist Das Leben
I was once told that the best way to write something was to write backwards. Get a good strong ending and work your way back. During the last weekend, I went through a lot. The fever. The dislocated shoulder. The grappling with the fact that everyone that saw Vanya couldn’t help seeing how similar we are. But for the first time, relinquishing a character wasn’t difficult. Of course, it’s impossible to fully eradicate the character from me. When you put on someone else’s scope, you yourself gain a new life lesson. A lesson that was a lifetime in the teaching. But to give up the burden of Vanya, is a blessing. As much of a blessing as having the opportunity to play the part. I think back to one rehearsal when we were rehearsing the scene where Vanya is told that the estate will be sold. After doing the scene three times, I went to Thomas relieved to get a break. Upon giving an sigh of relief, Thomas gave me a perplexed judging look. As if I wasn’t happy or greatful to be doing what I was doing. I was of course happy to perform, but I was not happy as I transitioned back into being Sam. I operate under a few key assumptions. Everyone at some point has considered suicide of some form; everyone is pursuing an objective at all times and is therefore after something; and, important to this situation, the amount of grief a four year old can experience at the loss of ice cream can be of a similar vein as a man losing his wife based on proportional life experience. When I was taking off that bathrobe and getting ready to sit down, I was walking away from my Sam equivalent of the time my house was being taken from me. I was walking away from my own personal baggage at some level. Because although I was not thinking of that time in particular and nor was I embodying some sort of method acting technique, my body’s shape and movement held that same tension.
I also hated being a good person for so long. One of the big acting teachings I got from the O’Neill that I would have never picked up at Duke was the idea that the best actor was the best person. That your interpersonal relationships within the cast and with every one of your acting partners is dependent on your not holding judgement or criticism or spite. All of these elements can make the rehearsal space (a place where freedom and creativity must reign) toxic and murky. There were many times where I wanted to blow up at people or storm out of rooms or push the exact buttons I knew to make someone cry. But I didn’t. And I grew because of it. This terrible experiment of making college students work on a show together for a period ranging from 8-4 months has made me realize that thinking before I speak is essential. That their are two sides to every opinion and that I have no right to assume that I am not in the wrong. This wasn’t a characteristic that Vanya had unfortunately. But I was smart to avoid absorbing his temperament. I would even go to say that Vanya acted like an anti-idol for me in some categories. His inability to see the situation he was in and push forward was the motivation for many of the decisions that I have made through this rehearsal process. His combination of Sloth, Misogyny, and Self-hatred are all aspects that I actively try to avoid in my day to day life. But when I was on stage I did feel, from time to time, that I had the right to indulge in these horrific mannerisms. I would, if only for a second, sit in my chair and feel true laziness before snapping back into being an actor playing Vanya with an activated spine, flexed abdominal cavity, and fixed relaxed shoulders.
I felt like these moments where I was just letting myself be him felt good. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because it alleviated the tension I had when I first got the role of Vanya. The apprehension at the thought of playing a huge character in such an iconic show. The apprehension went away within the first week of rehearsals in September, but I can’t say that the casting didn’t play into mindset. Being originally cast as Professor and then having to re-audition to get the part I wanted made me feel unworthy at some level. The constant thought of being “Another Vanya” instead of being “One Vanya”. But that was before I thought about the summer I had experienced. The summer that, in my opinion, was the only reason I was able to sky rocket in talent and be able to play Vanya. The summer where I had worked and sweat and cried. The summer where I shadowed a cast of Broadway actors on a production of a developing play where a key phrase from the play echoed in my head. The last lines of the play.
So Ist Das Leben