Salempost 1: schedules

With Susan and I both being in the play, it has brought the Citizen Actor paradigm to the front of my mind very often. How I long for a Monday – Friday, 9 – 5 work week. After going to great lengths to describe to the director and stage manager what we are up against, and asking for one of us to be let go in the afternoons in time to go pick up Griffen and Ella from school and daycare, that request was virtually ignored. Susan and I have large roles, it’s true, and the director felt that it was impossible to arrange rehearsal so that only one of was needed three out of the four weekday afternoons. I thought this was folly, and had to restrain myself from offering to draw up such a rehearsal schedule. In any case, Susan and I were left to buy a lot of “extended day” coverage for Griffen, and more weekday afternoon babysitting than we had budgeted for. We just spent $500 on babysitting to cover tech week, so perhaps I am bit raw about this just now.

“Why do we rehearse on the weekends?” I asked a friend in the theatre the other day. “Why do we have Mondays off?” He thought about it for a moment and couldn’t come up with an answer. I think I know: it’s a cultural left-over from a business paradigm that caters to the Vagabond Actor. It’s a theatrical affectation that has lost any necessity. The professional theatre is constructed on the assumptions that if you work in the theatre, ipso facto you don’t have children. And, I might add, you don’t go to church, meeting, mosque or synagogue either. No wonder we have had to live down the suspicion that we a godless bunch of libertines. Weekend rehearsal also contributes to a cultural diminishment of the actor’s work: working weekends is what people do who have real jobs during the week. To this day, after 20 years of professional acting, parents of my children’s friends are surprised to hear I get paid to act. Working on the weekends turns acting into an avocation in the public’s eyes.

Then there are all the things Susan and I can’t do that the rest of the world can: take our kids to parties, go to their athletic games, work as volunteers, work for our spiritual communities, and perhaps most important, just hang out with our kids and be a family together. My longing for Griffen and Ella is almost visceral, and twice recently Susan and I have kept them home on Mondays so that we could have at least one day all together. I occasionally drive by Ella’s day care on my way to work, and the thought of her in there, experiencing moments of revelation, joy, heartbreak that I will never witness is almost too much to bear. I want to strap her to my chest in a papoose, arrive at rehearsal and say: deal with it. I have been at the center of a difficult negotiation between our meeting and the school attached to it, but my involvement with this work has been hamstrung by my weekend rehearsal calls.

I wonder: what is so complicated about our work that it can’t be done in a regular 40 hour work week like the rest of the world? Is our work so much more involved than that done by corporations around the world that we need an extra day? Of course, once tech begins everything changes, and we must perform on the weekends. But for the bulk of rehearsal, I can see no good reason to void the weekends for all involved and tack on an extra day by virtue of habit. Perhaps my grumpy mood leads me to say this, but I wonder if the 40 hour work-week I propose might lead to a more efficient use of human resources?

The grumpiness is due in part to working with a director who works “organically”. By this I mean, he essentially allows the actors to follow their impulses and he slowly begins to shape what he sees. Ordinarily I would sing his praises – he puts the actors’ work first. But with a play as large and complex as The Crucible, with big scenes with upwards of 12 actors on stage, I have found myself longing for the old-school blocking approach to staging, in which the director says “you go here now, right, and on this line she comes here, good” etc. There is a way to split the difference, I believe, in which such blocking is presented as a blueprint to get us started, and the actors are invited to deviate from it when they feel moved to. But David has many gifts, and as his actor, I am called to work in the format he presents.