IMG_9108-e1313007889439I'm suddenly surrounded by people who know more than I do.

I'm always with someone who knows more than I do. (Everyone knows something I don't.)

But, now, in this experience, I am surrounded by people who are much more experienced than I am.

A Freshman At the Senior Dance
That's how a participant in an improvisation training recently put it. "I so often feel," she said, "like I'm a freshman at the senior dance." 

That's how I feel.

And I'm going to feel it big, right through this Saturday night's performance at the Riffe Center.

One night only. Tickets will be sold at the door (or in advance here). It's a great play and we will fully stage it (although we will be carrying our scripts).

Meet the Seniors
I'm not the youngest person on stage (unless age = cumulative time, life-to-date, acting on stage).

Consider the formidable talents: 

(And me.)

The play will be directed by well-loved actor Ian Short, also known for his direction of Available Light’s Our Town, The Odd Couple, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

So Why Is This Different?
In all the other plays throughout my alleged acting career, there has always been someone beside me on stage — someone — who has less experience acting than I do.

Frankly, I've quietly thought, "Anytime I'm the most experienced actor on stage, the show is in trouble."

That's not happening on Saturday. These rehearsals have been unbelievably eye opening. Everyone around me is more than an actor. Each one is a theatre teacher, too.

My character — the most complex character I've ever played — has a strange stage direction in the script. I don't know what to do.

So, late last night, I sent a note to Geoff Nelson (who plays "James") asking him what to do. I broke a rule. It's bad form to ask another actor for direction. (That's the director's job.) But I'm in a learning mode and wanted to hear what the other guy on stage might say.

So I asked:

Hey, Geoff, this probably breaks all the rules (not that I know any), but next time I see you would you please demonstrate (from page 45) what you think it might look like when "Schultz convulses in horrible, strained, silent laughter"?

Here is his answer. (Ethical malfeasance alert: I don't have Geoff's permission to post this. There isn't time. I should not post it. I apologize in advance, which is not a true apology. It isn't fair. Geoff didn't prepare this for public viewing.)

But consider how excellently he wrote this in the late night. If you aren't an actor or director you might not appreciate how he does not tell me how to do it. (That would be too much intervention.) He simply teaches — correctly — where I should be spending my energy to "convulse" in the "horrible, strained, silent laughter." 

Geoff's answer, unedited, beautiful as it is:

Sure — but I imagine the problem you are having with it is not how it looks but what his intention is in doing it. Presumably, this is something he does completely consciously as a way to express, either to himself or to her, his reaction to whatever she has said just before this. The fact that "horrible" and "strained" are combined with "laughter" suggest to me that he views what she said (and I don't remember what that was) as incredibly hurtful yet also absurd.  It might be helpful to consider what his "subtext" might be, if you are familiar with that term in the actor sense.  (An actor has a lot of choices about the meaning and intention of every line he says, beyond the literal content of the words. (So a line like "Hi" can have a subtext of "I'm really glad to see you" or "Oh, my God, what are you doing here?" or "Who are you, exactly?"). His subtext might be "She is driving me crazy" or it might be "You are driving me crazy." Since the character himself is "acting" this feeling — illustrating it, in a way — then it is really a gesture, the same sort of thing as hitting yourself on the head and then saying "I could have had a V8!" or pointing your finger at the side of your head about someone or something and humming the Twilight Zone theme.  He is commenting.  The size of the gesture — it's a very large comment — is meant to convey how deeply he is affected by what she is doing.  I don't think you need to worry about it being "real" — it is his way of giving expression to the depth and pain of feelings that he cannot easily express in a natural way.  It's his symbol of how he is feeling, meant to convey how much more strongly he is feeling it than his outside demeanor might indicate.  It is also a pretty bold and a very brave sort of statement of who he is and what he feels that no other character in this play would have the [courage] to make — at least at this point in the play.  
Anyway, I'd be happy to work on it with you.

Isn't that marvelous? In Geoff's hands — and the others on the cast and crew are equally gifted teachers — this is a truly teachable moment.

I'm sorry for posting Geoff's comments without his permission. I will seek it today.

Go ahead. Come, spur of the moment!