"Suffering is the badge of all our tribe"
Well, a difficult weekend for old Shylock but I may be slowly climbing out of the very unpleasant hole I felt had been dug for me earlier. For those who may be interested in the kind of stuff actors "go through" in the rehearsal process, here's an example:
We're two weeks plus into rehearsals and just under two weeks until we open. I am finally feeling that some of those little bumps along the road to learning lines are smoothing out and that (obviously) the more those lines become internalized and reflexive, the easier it will be to continue to build what passes for "character;" the many forces within this crazed old Shylock that actually PRODUCE the lines in the first place. Ok, fine. Then, Friday evening, as a long rehearsal is winding up, Murray hits me with the new notion that Shylock should be delivering his lines in a staccato, gun-shot kind of rapid-firing. He has several reasons for this. Shylock's words are like nobody else's in the play--he is the outsider on so many counts that this difference in style can add to his weirdness. Also it will (not inconsequentially) help me, the actor, enunciate more clearly. Thirdly, the staccato stuff will give more bite to Shylock--make him more unpredictable, a force to be reckoned with, a "macher" as the now appropriately Yiddish word would have it. (The word sometimes means "big shot" and sometimes "a schemer with many plans," both of which could apply here.) But I'm caught very much off guard with this idea and do not greet it with open arms. What I am is slapped across the face with a cold trout.
Giving an actor a new cadence to his lines after saying those lines out loud in rehearsals for two weeks and in his study, shower, car, etc, for over a month is like suddenly knocking down a comfort zone that was just developing! You know how to sing a certain song do you? You have the rhythms and flow of it in your head? Now just before you sing it again, sing it as a R&B or in the style of Springsteen, or Mozart. Yeah? Go ahead and see how comfortable you are now! Nothing, but nothing is the same.
So after I go home and sleep (badly) on this and start spitting out Shylock's speeches for a bit Saturday morning and not liking it a damned bit, I'm REALLY unnerved. Rehearsal on Saturday afternoon is, for me, shaky with this new idea. I go home and Saturday evening, after some more work on this, and with some new and very juicy epithets for Murray very much in mind, I go to bed grumpy.
But Sunday morning, something interesting happens. I play with this stuff again and find the staccato becoming infused with a heavier and heavier New York accent. My New York roots are sprouting new tendrils and they're leaking into my speech. For reasons I can't explain, this give me more comfort. It's as though a stew I was making and that was flat and uninteresting, suddenly became infused with an ingredient that brought it to fuller aroma and taste. I did some of the speeches again, taking care not to make the accent the focus, not to make the New York "portion" of the delivery either too pronounced, like too much cumin in the stew, or any kind of parody that would draw focus to it. But it felt right (finally) and I now feel, to mix my metaphors, that the train is once again on the track. It ain't NEAR the station yet, but I feel that unless the maniacal switchman, Murray Ross, shunts me down the line onto a spur, I'm on the track that will take Shylock and me to the depot.
My rehearsal today is in the afternoon and I'll purposely do nothing on the script until then so as to see what comes out of Shylock later. But as shaken and lacking in confidence as I was on Friday evening, so am I coming into this week's work with more confidence that I can bring something to Shylock after all. So the creative profanity I had been happily inventing for Murray has now morphed into an appreciation for stretching me in this new direction. Mostly. And for those who don't really know what a director does, for those who think that a director says "move over there" and then goes home, let this little tale tell you otherwise. The actor gets most of the applause but the director's vision, ideas, stimulus---that's what makes theater, in part, such a collaborative venture. A good director may throw 20 ideas to an actor and only one "takes," but if and when it does "take," it may grow in directions nobody anticipated, as this one did. Who knew that staccato would morph into "New York staccato" or that this would be a centering for me?