Notionpost 2: sickness and the Six

Aaron has been felled by what seems to be a vicious bacterial infection of some kind. He came to rehearsal looking like death warmed over then left to see a doctor, leaving us in two groups to work on our own with the Stage Manager’s assistance. I feel bad for him. This is a big piece, he wrote it and I can tell he’s really pissed about being so sick. The doctor did what doctors do: told him to go home and rest.

And so again, I experienced the remarkable way actors work together. I am in a kind of chorus in the play, a group of men Aaron calls “the six”. We function as group narrators and each take on one or two supporting roles. It’s through these six that Aaron is trying to convey the environment of the play, both natural and dynamic. So today he did something kind of remarkable for a workshop in advance of a reading. He left us to work on a page and half long choral passage in which there are no roles assigned. It looks a like a long poem on a page. We were to generate ideas for the playing of it in performance, not for the reading next Thursday.

The six of of us – all local actors except me – sat around and divided up lines based on ideas about the passage and ways to bring it to life. We worked at the table on and on our feet, undirected, for about four hours with a couple of breaks. We ended up with something broken into three sequential parts, with the lines divvied up according to six categories we had created. We added a character (Lee, who is in fact on stage but not assigned lines), gave him lines and then created simple but energetic staging around him. Finally we added the actor playing Lee and worked him into what we had created.

From an organizational dynamics point of view, what we did was dazzling. Aaron had asked me and one other actor to “co-lead” this exploration, but it quickly became a group process with me functioning something like a Quaker clerk (indeed, in the midst of it, I flashed on the way my Quaker “training” was at play in this rehearsal room). I can confidently say that all six of us shared ideas, had them tested and tried, had them edited and rejected, had them adopted and complimented, and not one nose got out of joint – not even close. in fact, the whole thing had a remarkable joyful quality to it, as challenging as it was. And this is our second day of working together. We went from nothing – words on a page – to a small but complex, six person script in hand performance in four hours.

It’s experiences like that which leave me feeling convinced that our training as actors has broad application in the world we live in; convinced that there is money to be made and people and groups to be helped through passing on the ways of working we all understood and displayed today. And it certainly helped that there was familiarity around the table, that these guys all knew each other, and that I recognized that familiar vibe from a different place. I fit right in. I thought, I know what this is. This is citizen actors doing their thing.

Before rehearsal, I had a touching citizen actor discussion with Jennifer and Blake – two other actors in the cast – about raising kids and being an actor. Jen is a single a Mom with a two year old, full of ambition and doubt. Blake is an actor-Dad from LA who has written a book with interviews of working actors, which I want to find and read. He’s also a member of the Red Sox Nation. I could tell Jen really wanted to talk about all this stuff: how do you get childcare that’s compatible with crazy actor schedules, how do you feel good about yourself as a parent and still be an actor, where do you live, etc. But rehearsal started, and more later, I guess.

We need to have these conversations. Maybe we need to have them in a more organized way, so that we are coming together and helping each other more intentionally, in this chaotic life we lead. We need to lift each other up and say, yes, you can.