Salempost 6: process

I have had a lot of time to witness the way actors work. This is a sizable cast, and I have been struck by how different our methods, habits and processes are from each other. Basically, I discern two processes: the stop and go process, and the barge ahead process. I am of the latter. Some of us are inveterate cut-ups, and there is a hallowed place for fooling around in rehearsal. And yet, I have felt frustrated by the way such behavior wastes time, an especially sharp pain for me given the way I am missing my kids and all the other things I cannot get to in my life. Some actors are like creative surgeons, and proceed at a slow and thoughtful pace, pausing a great deal to consider the next move, asking the director a question which leads to million others. Here too, I grow impatient. And then I began to see in my reactions to others my own way: I am drawn to live in the moments uninterrupted, and explore in great swaths, before pausing to reflect on what has just transpired. I find it very hard to explore half-way.¬ I need to be in the thing as fully as I can. I feel my way through moments, as opposed to think my way through them, and I need to experience the kind of collective energy Mary Warren speaks of in order to sort it out creatively. I have also become aware of what a liability my impatience is, although I am getting better at masking it in rehearsal, so that I don’t groan and roll my eyes quite as much when something grinds to a halt.

I have been startled by Susan’s extraordinary work as Elizabeth. From the very beginning, she cannot play certain scenes and moments without the tears streaming down her face. She confided that she feels embarrassed by this, and I told her she has gift that many actors would give their eye-teeth for. She is like a solar flare when her feelings erupt out of her, and I have watched other actors shrink away from her in intimidation, or drop out of the scene because the emotion she brings to it is too much for them handle. It is one of the play’s great strengths that, in the midst of this historical drama set the 17th century, there is this strikingly modern marital relationship. In an exquisite bit of casting, Susan is working opposite the actor who just played her comic love interest in the Panto – Chris. Chris works very technically at first and is a born jester, but he brings a odd darkness to Proctor. Susan works more like me: instinctually, feeling her way through things and wanting to work uninterrupted. They have been a study in contrasts in rehearsal, but are making beautiful music together anyway.

Being in this play with Susan has been wonderful for us. Despite the financial uncertainty in our lives, we have returned to the life we were living when we first fell in love: two local actors making a go of it. The difference is that now, we have two kids, two cars and a mortgage. But traveling to the theatre together, talking about the play, about moments or people that frustrate us, all of it has been fulfilling. And sharing the stage and a couple of wonderful scenes together has been mutually inspiring. It’s remarkable how little I feel of my deep connection to her when I am Hale and she Elizabeth. It’s not that I ever “forget” I’m looking at my wife, but rather that Elizabeth Proctor and John Hale are so much more interesting then and there. She worried once about how I would feel watching her and Chris kiss. But far from feeling jealous, I remember a moment when they weren’t kissing and I thought they should have been. I almost shouted “Kiss her, you big dolt!”

The mentoring continues. Susan was intentionally put next to a young actress in the women’s dressing room to be a calming influence. Kristy wants to have dinner with me and Susan, and find out “how we do it”. It reminds me of Jenny saying she wants to be like me. The girls in the play have all bonded, and within this young group there is kind sisterhood occurring, in which older ones like Kristy frequently embrace the littler ones like Claire, who at 14 is playing Betty Parris. All of this multi-generational leading and following has made me feel the ancient form of the family companies, like the commedia companies of 16th century Italy. It’s no wonder so many actors make the theatre their surrogate family. For Citizen Actors who stay in one place, the bonds between artists are almost as deep (and depending on one’s family of origin, sometimes deeper).