So, apparently I’m an actor now.
I think I’ve mentioned in the past, but David, the HR guy at my new office is an actor himself, and one of the senior people at a local group. In the time I’ve been here I know that they’ve done stuff like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Fool’s Gold and Annie. He’s admitted that he’s got no Shakespeare in him, never done it. Never had the opportunity.
Until now, it seems. He tells me a couple weeks ago that one of their donors said he’d drop a huge chunk of cash on them, if they’d do some Shakespeare. Specifically, on Shakespeare’s birthday. Even more specifically, King Frickin’ Lear. Why someone would want to pay good money to require a bunch of actors who admittedly know nothing about Shakespeare to tackle Mt. Everest I have no idea, but fools and their money, you know how the expression goes.
“You’re screwed,” I told David.
“Want to help? he asked.
“Ummm….ahhhh…..errrrrrr……” I said. I’m great when I’m behind the keyboard and I’ve got Google and my other friends at my side. But am I really foolish enough to try this stuff for real? Other than some play-writing in college – where my job was entirely to sit behind the word processor and turn in a script – I’ve got no real connection to the theatre at all. I’ve said that many times.
“Absolutely!” I told him. Apparently I was just that foolish. He knows full well that I’m not an actor. He just wants me to sit with him and the director during a few rehearsals and such, and ask some questions. I at this point have no idea what those questions will be, but I’m assuming it’ll be a lot of “explain what’s happening right now so the actors know what they’re doing” sort of stuff.
So I get introduced to everyone, and sit in on a rehearsal. They weren’t terrible. They were all (well, most of them) giving it their best shot. Nobody had anything memorized at this point but I could tell that they were at least trying to find the verse while still trying to act it and not just fall into the rhythm of students reciting it for their homework. A couple of times an actor pauses to ask exactly what’s going on with his character at a particular point, and they all turn to me for the “translation”. That’s fun, I enjoy that. Every now and then Derek, the director, leans over to me and says things like, “Goneril should be nastier here, don’t you think?” and I give my two cents.
Poor Fool had a tough time of it. He’s trying to be too funny, even though he completely doesn’t get most of the lines (he lets us know that the whole “seven stars because they are not eight” joke is completely stupid). Here my own weakness at this stuff begins to show, and I do a pretty terrible job of trying to get him through it. Fool’s got some fairly deep stuff to say, and I don’t know how to make it sound convincing.
The real problem turned out to be Edmund, this guy named Ken. Dude is just lost. He’s saying the words but you can tell it’s not really connecting in the brain. “He’s not getting this, is he?” Derek whispers to me.
“Not really, no,” I whisper back.
He then cuts the scene short and tells Ken to listen to me while I show him how to do it. This is the whole “stand up for bastards” speech so I start in on Edmund’s motivation and such, but then director is all “Nonono, we’ve been over that…show him how to connect what you’re saying to what Edmund is saying.”
So I give it my best shot. After all this is just reciting a speech, I can do that. I start in with the “Thou, nature, art my goddess…” and the actors up on stage start yelling “We can’t hear you!” and my friend Dave starts nudging me to go up on the stage. I’m not sure how many times in my life I’ll have to decide between reciting Shakespeare and throwing up on my shoes, but this time I went with the Shakespeare. I went up on stage and started in again. “Now we can’t hear you!” Dave shouts from their seats in the audience. Once more I launch into it, projecting as best I can. I have been on stage before, to give technical presentations. So I do know at least a little something about how to project my voice. But all at once like this, with a script? Never!
I actually get through it and wrap it up on the best “Now, gods, stand up for bastards!” line I can muster. There’s an exclamation point there in my copy, I honestly have no idea if that’s always there or what, but I figure it’s a sign to end with a bang, not a whimper.
They actually applauded! I can only assume that it was out of encouragement and not talent, I’m not fooling anybody. I turned seventeen shades of red and sit back down.
I don’t really remember all the details for the rest of the night, because I spent it all going over that scene in my brain again and again, tearing it apart by each syllable, pondering how I might have done it differently. Now that it’s over, I want to do it again!
That was a few weeks ago. I go to more rehearsals, and much of it is the same. I get more confident that people are actually paying attention to my opinion, and I’m less reluctant to launch into a soliloquy every now and then, although the opportunities become few and far between as the actors are picking it up very, very fast.
I get into work this morning and Dave finds me almost immediately, asks me to come to his office. “So,” he says, “You want to be an actor.”
“Not really,” I say, “No.”
“Yes,” he says, “You do. We all can tell.”
I do little but blush and shrug. I guess I kinda do?
“Here’s the thing,” he says, “I’ve been talking with Derek and he’s not happy with Ken at all. We love Ken, he’s done great for us with other shows, but he’s just not picking up the Shakespeare thing like everybody else is. And he even told us when we asked him, he doesn’t want to do it.”
“You’re not gonna say what I think you’re gonna say, are you?” I ask, turning beet red to ghost white I’m quite sure.
“Want to play Edmund?”
Seriously. I’ve heard the term, I’ve used the term, but I think this might well be the time my mouth would not move to form words. Weird feeling.
“Let me rephrase that,” he says, “I know you *want* to. But will you?”
I swallow a few times and finally manage to get my voice back. “Can I play Fool?” I ask.
I don’t think he was expecting that. “Why would you want to play Fool?”
“Because it’s April Fool’s Day, of course.”