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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Brother, can you spare a penny?

I'm finishing up a show now, and as always happens when I've just done a show I care about and have invested myself in significantly, I find myself facing a Moment of Truth, such as it is.

The show is The Battle of Shallowford, by Ed Simpson, and it's set during the "Martian invasion" of 1938, that is, Orson Welles' radio broadcast that created an infamous panic. It's a very good script; the broadcast is a catalyst for the events of the play, but it's not the only thing happening by any means. I play Lonny Hutchins, a seventeen-year-old (NO JOKES, PLEASE) science fiction geek. He's a great part to play, but unlike most of my roles, he's not a clown.

This is quite significant, for me. I've played many different roles over the years, but certainly since returning to theater two years ago, my roles have either been classical, i.e. Shakespeare in particular, or caricature, i.e. Renfield and even Algy in Earnest to a certain extent. In other words, I've either been able to hide behind poetry or laugh lines through most of my work.

Lonny is different. There's no doubt that Shallowford is a comedy, but Lonny's a fairly straight role, with only one unmitigated laugh line (and that's only funny in context, not because of inherent cleverness or anything) and no physical comedy whatsoever. He's almost painfully earnest, and goes through significant changes over the course of the show. There's very little stylization or aloofness to hide behind. It occurs to me that this is the kind of part an acting teacher in London (Anna Sullivan, if those in the know are reading this) told me I should be taking, since it's far too easy for me to hide behind technique and language, and Lonny allows no hiding. Shit, it only took me, oh, fifteen years to take her advice.

But now that I have taken the advice, and gotten a taste of it, it has naturally made me re-evaluate so many other choices I've made. (Here's where you can stop reading, long-suffering friends.) For instance, I've told myself again and again that I wouldn't make it as a "professional" actor. And if you define "making it" as Hollywood or New York, of course that's true. But the reason I gave up was not cold-blooded realism; it was simply fear. Fear of auditioning for the most part--and that's something I should explore in another entry--but also fear of what an all-consuming career (and one that leaves me so emotionally fragile!) would do to my family. If you want to work, you've got to work. That's a facile statement, of course, but the fact is (unless I were to get an Equity card and somehow find work on that level) both rehearsals and performances are at night, and every night. Typically you only get one night a week off, and I expect that night is spent preparing for the next audition.

Also, the community and professional theater worlds are different in more ways than just getting paid. I excel at cold script readings. I'm not gonna lie. But I absolutely suck at prepared monologues. Guess what the pros use for auditions, in general (at least at the first calls)? The produced scripts are different, too; warhorses are popular everywhere, but in professional-land, you might well have a chance at a new play, while as far as I can tell, in community theater it's very rare to do a play no one has ever heard of before (which is 90% of the reason I jumped at the chance to do Shallowford).

Truthfully, in a lot of ways I prefer community theater. There's a hell of a lot less pressure, and for the most part the people who do it are just like me--they love performing, but they have other interests. I've met too many professional actors who are just actors, with absolutely no outside interests, who'd sooner read "the trades" rather than a good book or even a news magazine. I find that horribly boring. There are of course boors and assholes in any profession. But in the case of acting, I find it baffling--how can you play a wide range of parts if you don't have a wide range of interests?

So why am I even questioning my path? I'm not sure. After all, my recent success could probably be attributed more to my age and gender than my talent. (A lot more, to be fair--males in their thirties are seriously in demand.) So it's quite probable I'm deluding myself here. But if I'm not, and I've allowed myself to believe I've failed without any evidence... well, that's not a happy thought.

Well, we have three more performances. (Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 and 8, Bowie Playhouse, see the PGLT website!) Perhaps I'll have an epiphany in the meantime.

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