Sometimes I forget that I was trained as an actor. My work at college was 10 years ago, and in the past few years, I’ve only ventured back onto the stage a couple of times. So, when we decided to produce Aunt Dan and Lemon and Bridget told me she would like me to play Dan, I was both excited and absolutely terrified. Dan is a force – she is brimming with life, argumentative, passionate, brilliant and a little bit of an intellectual bully (for a while I was joking that she was a collection of all my worst qualities pushed into the extremes); to embody her onstage was a challenge that I was eager/petrified to take on. Which, in my experience, is exactly when you should just dive in – that combination of fear and excitement leads to wonderful things.
Working with Bridget on this project is amazing. We’ve actually collaborated before – she cast me six years ago when we were both living in DC for a production that she was directing for Phoenix Theatre – a company she co-founded. And then, over the past six years, she’s gotten to me one of my closest friends, but also one of the people whose artistic opinion matters the most to me. Let me be very clear – she is much much smarter than me. And she’s a phenomenal director. So I get to walk into rehearsals for this process feeling much more confident than I think I normally might, because I have absolute faith in her work, and in her ability to see things in this play that I might miss.
That said, last week I had the kind of rehearsal that I think every actor knows is, at some point in a process, waiting for them. After three weeks of relaxed, comfortable, confident rehearsals, I had the kind of night where I just could not get out of my own way. If I knew where I was going, then I had no idea where I was. I found that talking and moving simultaneously became impossible. (And forget about adding thinking into that mix…that was a distant dream.)
Which is pretty much right on schedule, as far as I can tell.
I always feel that when I’m directing, there is one rehearsal (usually the first run-through that we do for our designers) when I suddenly become horribly acutely aware that I can’t direct, that I have no business directing and that this is going to be the project where everyone else realizes it too. It’s usually a rough day. It’s also a crucial day. In one four-hour stretch, I fall out of love with a project and question the very validity of pursuing it, and I come out the other end determined to find a way back to the feeling of loving creativity that filled the first few weeks of rehearsal.
So the next day, I go back into rehearsal and dive back in and somehow, wonderfully, the play becomes shaped and loved again, and the work relaxes again to the place where we can really create. But in order to get that second wind of relaxation, I apparently need to go through that one terrible afternoon.
So, having that moment as an actor before we even got to our first run was a very good sign. And then the designer run was Saturday – and it felt great. There were still large passages of the play that flew past me, leaving me with the impression of a blur of Kissinger and Lemon and the desperate need for specificity on my part. And now I have two weeks to work on that. Which actually feels luxurious.
So this week we are going back to the top of the show and working our way through it in even greater detail. We’ve had a chance to see how the show breathes – where it tumbles along and where it takes its time, and now we get to do the fine muscle work of making sure that each moment is lived and inhabited.