There are weeks, days, moments in life where you think you are right on the edge of not being able to handle what is being asked of you. And I know as I re-read that sentence that it seems laughable given the amount of things that I and the other members of the SITI faculty are currently asking of our SITI Conservatory company members. It also seems silly given the fact that my wife and I have a baby on the way and, from what people have been telling me, I don’t yet know anything about what it means to be overwhelmed and underprepared. Anyhow, for better or for worse – and even though I know the repercussions of “failing” are pretty small compared with what many people have to deal with in the world – I did have a moment of feeling completely overwhelmed this past week.
It is kind of a crazy thing to be an actor. You are asked – and doggedly pursue the opportunity – to put yourself into seemingly impossible situations. In this case, I am referring to the opportunity to be fit into a short tour of Café Variations, a show we made at Arts Emerson in Boston a couple of years ago and have proceeded to re-make into a smaller version. The role that I had created in the show originally has changed into something very different and now I am being asked to take on an entirely new role in the show. Originally played by Tom Nelis and then by Barney O’Hanlon, the shoes that I am being asked to fill are not small. While, literally, I have smaller feet I think you must understand what it is that I mean. It is the role of the waiter in the Café and he doesn’t really leave the stage except to quickly grab a prop or costume piece for the entire show. The world of the Café is his to take care of and let me tell you it is no small task.
This past week started by getting to the studio at 8:30 each morning to work on an incredibly beautiful and challenging solo dance choreographed by Barney that is in the piece. This was followed by Suzuki and Viewpoints training or teaching each morning and Scene Study teaching or training or rehearsal each afternoon. There was a party for the conservatory on Friday and then a run-through of the play for an invited audience of Conservatory Company, SITI staff and board members on Saturday. Somewhere in there, most importantly, I managed to see and occasionally cook dinner for my wife. Numerous attempts were made to take care of the million other things that need attending to in life. I’m pretty sure I showered… but I can’t be sure. It was a whirlwind that culminated in this rather panic inducing opportunity to perform in front of people. And I am not talking about the tour. This was all before the cast and crew will travel to Seattle for the “first” performance which will be on Thursday the 21st.
I am really very fortunate to be teaching in our conservatory. Our international company of twenty is incredibly bright, talented, hungry and fierce. Their energy is infectious and it pushes my company mates and me to go further. Every moment of the day I question or doubt and confirm or re-confirm what it that I believe as an actor and how to communicate that to others either through a dialogue with them or performance (a type of dialogue for sure). As I said, I am also surrounded by many of my incredible company every day and we are pushing each other and testing the boundaries together. Add the staff and board to that and you have the trifecta… and so it was in bright neon letters, it seemed to me, knowing that I was going to have to perform for them all that this sense of being overwhelmed started to spell itself out.
When did this happen you may be asking? What is the exact moment that this feeling came to me? For me, it’s not a slow burn and it never is. It happened right after Anne (Bogart) finished her welcome speech to everyone gathered, sat down, looked at me and nodded, “Go”. Wham! There it was, that fraction of an instant where either extreme paralysis or the urge to run as fast as possible to as far away a place as possible kicks in. It is a powerful feeling that makes you really ask the question of yourself whether you can handle what is being asked of you. With all eyes on me, I stepped onto the stage and breathed. I took a big, deep breath that shot directly down and through my stomach, where that feeling of panic seems to be centered. And I smiled. If I was going to go down in flames at least it was going to happen while I was doing what it is that I love to do more than anything else in the world – be an actor on the stage. I looked at my waiter’s apron, carefully put it on, looked up at the audience, and went to work.