Theatrically Nasty Thoughts – Edition #10 – Emerging from ISOLATION to VANYA
Emerging from ISOLATION to VANYA
“All I could think was why can’t it be a hundred or two hundred years from now. You know? We’ll all be gone, none of it will matter. I mean, the people then, will they even remember us? Have anything good to say about us? They’ll just forget all about us.”
–‘ASTROV’ from Uncle Vanya
Having just experienced two drastically different spectrums of my theatrical adventures, I thought it was a good time to refresh this Theatrically Nasty Thoughts series of writings I tried to keep going moons ago … thinking on the work and processes helps enrich my experience overall – this is the time for reflection and an analytic approach to what happened so I can learn to use or avoid certain behaviours in the future. When I’m in a project, I’m *in* it with a much different frame of mind than what I’m doing here …
I’ll be delving DEEP into this past year’s work on my own solo piece, Are You In ISOLATION JONES, in and over which I had complete control and involvement in all aspects, and contrasting/comparing that with the group-oriented work I was fortunate to absorb with The Next Folding Theatre Company’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.
I’m going to follow my year, beginning with spring 2022 (and some backround) and moving ahead through summer and fall theatrical escapades … and yes, this Nasty Thought did get rather LONG …
~ Are You In ISOLATION JONES ~
w/ Nasty Shadows Theatre Co.
This piece has been a lifeblood of sorts for me since COVID-19 shook up our lives. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were in the initial stages of getting a series of short Beckett pieces into production, but this clearly wasn’t going to work at that time, so we scrapped the idea. Isolation life hits us all. An opportunity arises to make some theatre, create something from scratch to perform in a parking lot with a few other shorter plays, and ISOLATION JONES is born to meet that need. The parking lot event, THE FIFTH WALL, which we staged with Herbert the Cow Productions, was to happen in August 2020 and starting late spring of that year I began to ponder what I would perform. The “theme” of the event was to create a piece that dealt with or used the pandemic in some way – this led to a wide variety of drama across the 4 plays we presented for THE FIFTH WALL.
Due to our states of isolation at the time, I thought this seemed like a good opportunity to create and stage my own one-man play – I’d performed a number by MacIvor and others, it seemed time to try this myself now that I’m attempting to breathe more original work into Nasty Shadows’ life (I do have a larger one-man piece I’ve had for a while that I’ve been hesitant to stage but it didn’t fit this event – however, that character would appear in a later version of this new one-man piece … and I’ve since created another longer one-man show that I staged in 2021). Looking at a length of 15min max so we could stage all the pieces in the evening at a good start time before the sun got low. What could I create as a short one-man play? What story was worth telling? Well … it became apparent that the piece I would create would exist in my world of “The Great Seclusion” as this is where all my original work now seems to live and since our real world had become one of seclusion, this all seemed to jive weirdly well … and then I knew the story I could tell: What happened to ‘JONES’ when he fled at the end of A STORY JONES – this was a play we’d created over a number of years, with various Shadows participating along the way, culminating in an intimate staging of the play in the spring of 2019 in our 3 NB cities we try to visit (for now). The play is inspired by a Shadow who passed in 2014, Andrew Jones, a guy who LOVED to tell stories, so the character of JONES is a Storyteller, trapped in the “job” but escapes at the end … so … then what? This is where ISOLATION JONES picks up.
I began to wonder what happened to ‘JONES’ when he escaped his storytelling-circle at the end of A STORY JONES. I also had to keep in mind that the short play I would create would need to exist as its own story, independent of the earlier play and my overall myth of “The Great Seclusion”. As the play developed it became HEAVY on exposition and explanation at times. I struggled with this as I HATE needless exposition and any of that really needs to be done well (see my VANYA notes below). I finally ended up with a draft where I stripped all that away, attempts at backstory and explaining who JONES was – the piece became poetic in a way, at least to me. Suggestive. It showed a man struggling with where he was standing at that moment, a man used to having an audience and trying to create “something” that an audience might enjoy but unsure how this can happen in the wake of the “Seclusion” we’ve all experienced.
I’m shy about exposing myself, my ideas, my thoughts, my emotions, my plays, but ISOLATION JONES helped me get over another hurdle in that feeling of reservation – it was wonderful to open up to folks in those August sunsets each night, sitting on a black wooden box in the middle of a parking lot, sharing in the memory and spirit of my theatrical cohort, my friend JONES.
Fast forward 2 years … it’s now spring 2022.
I found myself getting late acceptance to the Fundy Fringe Festival without a show, having to cancel the plans I had for staging a summer play with some other actors due to scheduling conflicts. Once again, working solo seemed the easiest solution to any scheduling concerns since it’s easy to meet with myself (and I honestly loathe the scheduling and management side of the theatre process so much that it has been a relief to not worry about this angle the past few years – that said, I *need* to make more theatre with others!). In 2021 I had created a very personal one-man show, a confessional of sorts about 2 key theatric/artistic influences on me: Spalding Gray & Daniel MacIvor. The show was called I LEFT AN ENTITY IN MY ROOM?! because I feel a lingering presence from both Spalding and MacIvor in any attempts at my own solo work, so taking a nod from one of MacIvor’s recent shows, Who Killed Spalding Gray?, which I saw. I stole the “entity” idea MacIvor used in that ‘Spalding’ piece but spun it in a different way using a character from my world of “The Great Seclusion”, a man who is part of a theatre/church group known as ‘The Shadows’ – the character’s name is simply ‘X’ (not being “myself” helped distance me in a necessary way while still embracing the influence of these two artists).
In 2022 ‘X’, and the “stealth Shadow sessions” idea I created the summer before, became the perfect vehicle for further exploration of the ISOLATION JONES work from two summers earlier. I created a story for ‘X’ where he is preparing to tell his fellow Shadows the bad news of JONES being dead, but before telling the Shadows he wants to practice the tale in front of a test-audience which means he needs to prepare what he would show the test-audience. And but so the “show” is ‘X’ imagining himself showing a test-audience what he will “perform” for The Shadows as a way to break the terrible news of JONES’ passing. This all culminates with the text that was the shorter piece, ISOLATION JONES, now used as an ending to this story ‘X’ is trying to prepare to tell about JONES.
Are You In ISOLATION JONES is a mash-up of new story-driven text I created in summer 2022 appended with the more poetic/abstract text from 2020 – I kind of dug the vibe this created with two starkly different sections to the play created at opposite ends of this pandemic/isolation time in our lives. Performing the show 6 nights at the Fundy Fringe Festival this past August allowed me to really absorb and know the piece – so thankful to those audiences who joined my “stealth Shadow sessions” this past summer. Like the previous year, I performed in the tent outside the Saint John Theatre Company building but I was glad to see the stage was simply a low platform this year as opposed to the raised stage from 2021 – this allowed me to be closer to the audience, not talk down to them from a higher plain, which I prefer much more and works better for these solo pieces with the character ‘X’. It was very playful under the tent and I had the support of the Fundy Fringe folks managing the venue, tickets, etc. and the tech folks to set up the lights and cues I had built into the show – unlike the earlier version of the piece and 2021’s solo adventure, which I performed in parks, on riverbanks, and at the festival (basically something I could do anywhere), this new 2022 show relied more on having tech since I knew it would be available for the performances of the show (in 2021 the show was designed to play outside or in).
So, during Are You In ISOLATION JONES I used the stage lights and the house lights over the audience throughout the show to create the moments and scenes I wanted, which I think worked well – sometimes I was alone in the light and other times I shared it with the audience – and I was glad and grateful to have my Fringe tech cohort, Zee (sp?), controlling the lights for me after we spent an afternoon together working it out before the festival opened. At one point during the show, ‘X’ points out how lighting changes might be helpful, and on cue the lights magically change for ‘X’ as he carries on with his story. When I was in the process of writing I realized the layers I’m creating in the show, that sometimes I’m acting like I’m alone, sometimes I’m pretending I’m talking to an audience, and other times I’m imagining how I’d perform the sad story for my fellow Shadows. It became apparent I needed to use both stage movement and lights to help convey these changes of focus/attention for an audience – something put into focus for me by one of my theatrical gurus, Daniel MacIvor – and then this attention to movement in conjunction with the lights became part of the show itself, something ‘X’ is aware of throughout the show as the lights change to signify and illuminate the moments he needs, whether it’s on stage or in the audience, the lights “know” what to do (I’m not oblivious to the fact the audience is inherently aware that a person is controlling the lights, but in the world of the play this is ambiguous and/or irrelevant on a certain level – the audience sees the “lights” behave the way ‘X’ wants/needs, as if the lights themselves are responding to his wishes by something I like to call “the magic of theatre”. And so, while ‘X’ is aware of the lighting changes, demanding them at times, he’s not truly in control of them … that’ll come later as this work develops (see further below).
As it always is, having the opportunity to stage the play at the Fundy Fringe is a wonderful time of the year for me – this was my 3rd time there with a solo show, and although I tried to do so this past summer, hopefully next time it’s with other Shadows performing instead.
~ UNCLE VANYA ~
w/ The Next Folding Theatre Company
The opportunity to be involved in the staging of a Chekhov play surfaced in early August or so, and despite some reservations (a variety of reasons) I decided to jump into an existing cast which had lost a couple of key players – as a result, I was asked to play the role of ‘Dr. Mikhail Astrov‘ in Uncle Vanya, produced by The Next Folding Theatre Company (NFTC), another local theatre troupe that’s been quiet in recent years but surfaced this past year with a couple projects, one of which was to stage this production. I had previously been part of a group-created/produced show with NFTC back in 2018, the type of project the company had often staged as part of their output. This time I was jumping into this wonderful play by Anton Chekhov and would be directed by a longstanding theatrical presence in Fredericton, Ms. Ilkay Silk, with whom I had never worked having seen countless productions directed by her (she and I did perform together in Xmas at the Playhouse one year but that process isn’t exactly rewarding from a creative standpoint – anyhoo, she was my mother-in-law in one of the scenes I did). I’ve known many students of Ilkay’s over my years in Fredericton since ‘98 and they have all raved about her, but when one hears this type of praise it’s hard to know if it’s the eyes of adoring underlings or the real deal – which is not to slight the work I’ve seen produced but seeing good work and working with the person at the helm are two different things). I can verify that working with Ilkay is in fact “the real deal”. Working with Ilkay was an invaluable experience to me in all honesty. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some wonderfully insightful directors and some not so-insightful, but after one night in the rehearsal room under Ilkay’s guidance I knew I could trust her to take me where I and the show needed – and what a great ride it was!
Rehearsals can be like my Pilates and gym routines: I often loathe going, wish I could find an excuse to stay home, but then I NEVER regret going. Never. I’m a person who simply likes to stay home and be home with my fam in that environment away from the world. Well, for Uncle Vanya I looked forward to each session in the room under Ilkay’s direction. And I was also surrounded by an incredibly talented group of actors ranging from young to, ahem, older folks – I really loved playing off everyone in this cast and watching them all work. There were varying degrees of experience among the players, but everyone rose to the occasion, bolstered by each other I felt, everyone striving to do their best and all this was pulled out and guided by Ilkay’s rehearsal process.
My first rehearsal was a full play read-through in early September, with myself and Stephen May being new additions to the cast since an earlier read-through done sometime in the summer. We met at Theatre New Brunswick’s great space on the fringe of the city – I dig this space immensely! I have played in a previous incarnation of the room before these latest major renovations.
ASIDE: When TNB began wanting to use the space as a performance venue the Shadows used it first, I believe, with our fall 2012 staging of The Art of Success – at that time the room had seating facing the back wall but it had no tech since it was mostly a rehearsal and teaching space, so we rented lights and scaffolding grids to hang them from and as a result we created the performance space. The next time Nasty Shadows used the space was in 2014, it still wasn’t developed into a proper venue, and we re-mounted Robert Moore’s Rouger Magic but this time we used no tech at all, put chairs in a large circle on the floor and played under the working lights (I had returned to the idea of embracing the minimal, where the Shadows began). But it’s just a great room for some reason, good sound and a nice space to use. Of course, it’s completely different now as it is more of an established venue with all the necessary fixings – yet it still has a good vibe, I can attest to that having seen shows in this new space and now played in it again.
So we gathered around tables set on the performance area, the cast and crew. Ryan Griffith is the Artistic Director of NFTC, and he assembled a great group all around. It’s been a while since I’ve been part of a project involving this many folks and many of them working to support the performers and the telling of the of the story. In my Shadow world there may be one non-actor involved a production, running tech for us, but in the NFTC zone we had the support of Stage Managers (Carter & Finn rocked it!), a Properties Manager (Brennan always had what we needed and more!), lighting design (Chris weaving a wonderfully warm mood) and a technician (Alex made it all happen smoothly in the moment), and I think there were a few others there for that read-through whose names escape me right now, my apologies – my main point is that this project had support. It was a great feeling to be part of this group – and I’m fussy about my groupings. In the past I’ve shied away from and/or gradually left some theatre troupes because the scope was just too large for me. This felt different.
That first read of the play at TNB with everyone is a bit of a blur for me. I remember Ilkay making a couple of comments that made me feel she was happy with what I was bringing to my ‘Astrov’ reading that night. I also remember wondering if I was too melodramatic, and I may have been, but I think I was in the ballpark of what’s needed for ‘Astrov’ and this is what Ilkay saw too (I recall reading Laurence Olivier saying you should go big in that first read of the play altogether, throw it all out, so I always try to embrace that, I find it helps expose limits or open possibilities). I also had a weird memory of the character going into that initial group read – it had been a while since I’d read the play – and in retrospect I had confused ‘Astrov’ with the cynicism of the title character, ‘Vanya’, so I probably sounded a bit odd at times on that first read. I remember the women, Jilly, Naomi, and Kate already embracing their roles and the intricate characters they would become (Linda would join us a bit later to fill out the cast). And I recall the men too all delivered good solid versions of themselves … my memory mostly focuses on my own reading, always wishing I’d made different choices but happy to just toss out what comes to me and then await the first rehearsal, when the process takes momentum, and we dig into the text because this is when a (good) play really comes alive for me and starts to “make sense” in a whole different way.
There are different ways to approach a text, and I was VERY happy to find that Ilkay’s method was not academic and did not focus on what I call “busy work” for the actor where performers might focus on stuff outside the text (character backstory, textual analysis, etc. – this is all bullshit). Rather, Ilkay was very practical as we worked through moments of each scene, on our feet in the room, ever shifting and moving – this was exactly the kind of process I seek and try to create in my own Nasty work. Right from the first rehearsal we were on our feet interacting with each other, perhaps a quick read of the scene to pull us all into the task at hand, and then we’d just play with it and often in a very detailed manner, going over certain interactions or moments to flush out what could happen. I can’t express enough how much I enjoyed the work we did each time in the rehearsal room, it felt real good to play with the others within this framework. It was easy to trust Ilkay’s perspective and directions, and she was open to suggestions which would help lead to other options. The whole interchange between director and performer felt very organic and honest. It was a delight.
I’m just going to highlight some different rehearsal moments as a sample of how it played for me.
My final moment on stage in the play was preceded by some awkward chatter from my character, not wanting to leave, going through goodbyes to the other characters who are remaining on stage, and then I would turn to Jilly, playing ‘Sophia’, and simply say, “Well …” and our first time rehearsing the scene she then turned to me with a look that broke my heart – I felt gutted and almost brought to tears, physical reactions to Jilly’s performance of the moment. Her character has an unrequited love for my character, so the departure would have significance. The next time we rehearsed this scene, perhaps a week later, Jilly’s turn and look had a different intent. I was still heartbroken but in a more shared way with her rather than feeling jabbed by her gaze. This change came from Ilkay’s direction and Jilly’s incredible talent, and it was so nuanced, but it was exactly the right subtle change needed to make our last moment together less harsh and more communal – a human experience … despite this still resulting in a break between our two characters, something was shared and lost between us this way. But looking into Jilly’s face each time was a hard moment for me (and ‘Astrov’) … seeing the lack of what had been in her eyes for most of the show.
Eyes became a thing for me, possibly because it’s been a while since I’ve played in rehearsals and on stage like this with other actors, so as I have been doing with the audience in my one-man shows the past few years I focused on the eyes, but this time those of my fellow performers (looking at the audience was not an option). This focus surfaced and became more intense for me after Ilkay mentioned it one evening in a rehearsal with Kate. Kate and I opened the play, her ‘Nana’ seated at a table knitting while my ‘Dr. Astrov’ paced the floor. After some familiar banter between us about my drinking, I move to sit with her and tell her a story about a child who died under my care earlier in the year. We had worked this opening exchange and story a few different ways, blocking that had me distant, had me moving, and then settled on me seated at the table with Kate who is knitting as we’re talking. On this night, Ilkay notes to Kate there is a certain moment she needs to stop the knitting and just listen to my story, and that Kate and I should be looking at each other during the story, see each other’s eyes. We start the moment again, leading into the story, and when Kate stopped knitting and looked into my eyes, and I could see the sadness and concern in her eyes for me having endured the story I’m telling and the poor child who passed. Again, I was gutted. She passes me a shot of vodka during the story and as I gulped the empty glass that night in rehearsal, mid-story, I needed it. It was intense to tell this story straight into Kate’s face, talking of a child dying and looking into another’s eyes really made the moment real for me, and in turn it helped ‘Astrov’ feel and reach a reaction in the moment – this is always a weird thing to try to describe: Scott, the actor, was conscious of the mechanics at work in the physicality of turning and locking eyes with Kate, while I, Scott, was also aware of ‘Astrov’ and his/my interest in the moment at hand; there’s a weird game of consciousness at work here, almost magic when it hits right, and that night in the rehearsal room with Kate the magic struck … and I spent the remainder of the process chasing that feeling, brushing up against it, watching it wander by, but never quite hitting that exact mark again … and that’s the game, sometimes that “perfect” moments happen in rehearsal and sometimes on stage, it’s not a new exercise when working on a play and I was so grateful for that feeling and the chase that ensued. This is what “art” offers, a glimpse into the infinite and once you “feel” it you can’t quite explain it but want to share that feeling in some way with others … for me, it’s through performance and storytelling. But I get that “feeling” with certain music or reading a certain passage in a book … it’s the “good” that we should all share together.
But I digress … before I spin too far into “the philosophy of a theatrical moment.”
It’s weird on stage as a performer with other performers. You get a glimpse of it in the face of audience members during certain shows when you can/should see them, but it’s more concentrated between those on stage, there’s such an honesty between you and your fellow performer that is disarming – they see you and you see them. Completely. There’s nowhere for you to hide if you’re opening yourself to the moment and that is the aim of performance – being present and accepting. You are vulnerable in a trusting environment. It’s an intense relationship for me, some interactions moreso than others.
Back to the eyes … each performer’s eyes mattered to me, from the stolen glances with Ian in the first act as ‘Nana’ banters on about her routine being ruffled by the guests to finally seeing his broken eyes during our last scene together in act four when I’m trying to console his desolate ‘Vanya’; seeing Stephen’s eyes when I sing the folk tune to him before he and Jilly join in, and then the follow-up exchange with him a moment later after I quote a popular play and he responds with the next line which happens to be a very thoughtful notion – it struck me as a lesson each time; and then the brief interactions I had with John and his dismissive glance, his eyes looking right through me in some sense. Even the brief interchange I had with Linda was enough to open this communication, however fleeting.
The last larger connection I’ll refer to was with ‘Yelena’, played by Naomi. ‘Yelena’ is a love interest for my ‘Astrov’ – love or lust, it was a bit unclear to me to be honest, but that’s an essay for another time. What I want to speak to again are the eyes – I probably looked into Naomi’s eyes more than any other’s over the whole process, rehearsing and then performing the scenes between just she and I. Rehearsing the scenes with Naomi was appropriately awkward – it’s in the text (a lesson I learned from David Mamet: all these thoughts and feelings are engendered by the text). The scenes between ‘Astrov’ and ‘Yelena’ are ones where they are each trying to hide their feelings for the other while also working through those feelings in front of the other. For me, I felt odd throughout the process during these scenes *presuming* I was playing them in such a way that would appeal to Naomi’s ‘Yelena’ – I finally brought this up in one of our final rehearsals and it helped me move onto accepting my approach as ‘Astrov’; neither Naomi or Ilkay confirmed if my ‘Astrov’ was “doing it right” and they didn’t need to do that, it just allowed me as the performer to mark the moment, conscious of the work at hand, to express this discomfort with my fellow thespians, something ‘Astrov’ also does, in some sense, in his scenes with ‘Yelena’. There is no satisfying resolution for ‘Astrov’ in his pursuit of ‘Yelena’ (and it is a pursuit!), she seems to succumb to his advances and the situation but then she does not, moves on with life with her husband(!) and ‘Astrov’ is left feeling, well, rejected and awkward … which is how I felt about how I played the scenes, so I think I’d call that a Mamet-ian success … regardless of the Mamet perspective, I felt the scenes with Naomi worked and, for me, much of that began when I could finally look her in the eyes during certain moments.
Aside from the eyes, the biggest lesson I learned from the Chekhov text, and Ilkay’s guidance through the work, was to embrace a slower pace. This led to some wonderful moments of both tension and comfort and was EXACTLY the lesson I needed to bring back to my own theatrical ventures (see below).
All of this Vanya blabber adds up to one of my most fulfilling theatrical excursions of my life, I think. Honestly, I loved working with Ilkay and how the rehearsals worked and then the entire production aspect was smooth as could be – it was nice to worry only about my performance and its relation to my fellow actors and not have to be concerned with the other aspects of the show … fast forward 4 days and …
~ TAKE #2: Are You In ISOLATION JONES ~
w/ Nasty Shadows Theatre Co. ~
… I stage a “ONE NIGHT ONLY” performance of Are You In ISOLATION JONES at Memorial Hall in Fredericton on the UNB campus, an evening unfolding at the opposite end of the scale from the well managed and group supported event that was Uncle Vanya the previous week … I’ve embraced more of a “Garage Theatre” vibe in the Shadow world and, as mentioned, of late that has meant solo work, but I’ve been supported by other entities with the staging to cover tickets, tech, etc. This time, while I was graciously provided a space to perform, it was all me beyond that and it was quite a thrill and helped me push this solo-show into a new direction by embracing an all-encompassing staging: I did publicity (as usual, such that it is), handled the door, ran the tech while performing, and performed the show that I created. It was quite a trip! Humbling and I don’t recommend it for everyone nor for all of my own theatrics by any means, but handling all these elements to make this show *happen* was very invigorating and I really like what it’s added to the show – so much so that I’ve already planned additional stagings to explore this new angle a bit more and embrace it … I have further ideas for the pre-show time when I need to check on folks in the lobby, perhaps peek at my pay-what-you-will hat, start the show, etc.
I am VERY grateful to those who attended my experiment in November.
‘X’, my role in the show, is hosting a “pretend” stealth session so it makes sense I manage all these other production aspects as well … and ties in nicely to another (yet to be performed) play of mine where ‘X’ begins the show in the lobby and unlocks the door to let the audience in. But in this current show this sort of pre-show interplay was not something I had planned because I had built the show for staging at the Fundy Fringe Festival which provided all of the support needed to invite, ticket, seat an audience, have technicians for light and sound support, etc. And so in Memorial Hall I had to figure out a way to use my own lights, run them myself while performing, and also handle the pre-show audience business.
I put a hat on a chair right outside the entrance to the performance Hall itself with a sign that read “PAY-WHAT-YOU-WILL”. I set my lights, 5 total (2 white, 1 blue, 1 pink and then I added a green into the mix a few minutes before opening) and figured out how to do my “lighting design” with those 5 lamps I brought and the house lights, plus the vestibule entry light for “effect” during one moment – and that was my play area, the entryway to the performance Hall with the seats set to face me standing in front of the doors, so the audience had to walk through that space and sea their seats looking at them as they entered.
It was rough (apologies to my lighting professional friends out there). It looked, well, it looked like I’d thrown this together to try and make *something* work for lights – and this fit the vibe of the show entirely! In the Shadow world I’ve learned to embrace the practical, the moment of what is available, and the plays I’ve created also embrace that same energy – I try to focus on the only thing I can ever control, the performance itself. I had a rough idea going in how this could possibly work and if it didn’t, I’d just perform under the house lights without any light changes – the piece can still work that way, the text and the performance (I hope) is what pulls folks in, I’d just have to play some moments a bit differently acting like it’s an earlier “draft” of the work that I’ve yet to try with all the bells and whistles … but the lights did work! Working them while performing was a bit trickier than I’d anticipated but I think the conceit of this development certainly worked for the small audience that gathered and I got somewhat more comfortable as the show went on … and suddenly it was over (a bit too quickly due to a *slight* line snafu about 10min in that found me skipping ahead *slightly*, but that’s a tale for another time). This part of the experiment was a success! The performance side was, well, it was a performance …
I don’t want to “apologize” to the audience for that night in November, but I should have and could have given them more if I didn’t allow my focus to be pulled so much by the other aspects – the new elements, admittedly, threw me a bit so I went into my default speed-mode of delivery, I’m afraid, which is a symptom of my lack of direction (and lack of listening to my wife!) … although, I like to think this is part of my “Garage Theatre” vibe, a low-cost/$0 experimental theatrical experience (to paraphrase something a favourite comedian of mine said: “I’m like Evil Knievel. I get paid for the attempt.”) Alicia always tells me to slow down when I share something with her, and I know she is completely right – I get excited, and this overwhelms other control mechanisms I have at times. In performance I can usually control this but it’s always lurking under the surface – Ilkay had to put the brakes on me during the Uncle Vanya rehearsals because I was just going TOO fast. Her direction in this regard was one of my favourite things about the process, she reigned in my energy and focused it elsewhere with my interaction to the other players and how the text allowed room to breathe.
My solo-show texts are not necessarily built with the idea of “room to breathe” – I mean, I’m interested in dynamics throughout, but I know I don’t play them well – partly because of a confidence issue, I think, where I feel if I move over things quickly then the audience won’t have time to process whether or not the moment or the show or the story is “good” … this is a problem I’m trying to overcome. But I also like a quick pace – a balance between the two is needed, and the encounter of performing Chekhov under Ilkay’s direction just kept telling me, “I need to apply these lessons to MY work, specifically to this JONES piece I’m going to stage – slow it down!” There is room and a necessity for speed with my show but there are plenty of opportunities to slow it down – some of which, in fact, look to be built right into the text itself … well, go figure … it’s funny how a “text” can work if you respect it, a lesson I’m well aware of with the works of other playwrights, it’s something I preach, but not something I quite gave my own text. I think part of the reason is the aforementioned confidence issue but also because I’m trying to be fluid with the work, between the performance and the writing – which defines what the play “is”? For me, it has to be the performance … so some of the disrespect for the text comes from the fact that I can alter it at will, should I so desire – it’s *my* text. It’s not a power a wield lightly or often because I’m also a believer that one should “stick to the book”, that actors should memorize and deliver the words the playwright wrote, not sprinkled with their own, “ums”, “ya knows’, or downright paraphrasing of lines – I know when I write, I try to weigh word choice, rhythm, emotion, information, etc., and if an actor tries to alter that, I’m not happy as the guy who wrote the words – “writing” is not the actor’s job … but with my solo-shows, I’m both the actor and the writer so it blurs those lines allowing a freedom not found in other theatrical endeavours.
All that to say, I had the power but did not wield it properly on that November night. Damn it. I was disappointed. I just rushed too much, too hyped-up. I LOVED the experience of performing in the Hall, nestled into a controlled area out of the larger space and having those wonderful people endure the show I spewed into their masked faces, but I wanted a chance to incorporate some of the pacing lessons I’d learned from Ilkay during Uncle Vanya explorations. Unfortunately, I did not apply those teachings to my performance on that night – it became an afterthought immediately upon finishing: WTF did I just do?! Damn it.
And so, I’m back in 2023 with another kick at exploring this play and seeing what happens, so I have arranged “4 Fridays for Freddy” where I am performing 4 Friday evenings in Memorial Hall over the next 5 months, the first being TONIGHT! Hoping to squeeze a Moncton date in during my off-month of March to fill in the gap.
And I’m also hoping to incorporate some of the pacing lessons I learned during the Uncle Vanya rehearsals … I’m very grateful to Trent and UNB for the use of the space to play, something I partly learned thanks to my time at UNB, so it’s wonderful to have use of the space for these 4 Fridays … I just need to make the most of them to celebrate this show’s namesake …
FOOTNOTE: I did have the opportunity to do 2 film related projects this past year, a short film and a video-play monologue … but that’s another nasty thought for another theatrically nasty thought …