I am an actor who prides myself on the ability to take a note from my director quickly. In rehearsals, as we are building the show, building my character’s place within the whole of that show, as the director gives me notes that shape and influence and change the direction of my character, I think one of my strengths is to be able to hear that note and the very next time we run the scene, make that note come to life.
So imagine my surprise, to find myself in rehearsal the other day completely stymied by a note.
I should take a step back and clarify a little bit. When I say that I take notes quickly, that is a true statement. It should also be said that if I think a note is not quite in keeping with the text of the play, or is going against the grain of the character, I will certainly voice those opinions and a discussion between myself, the director, and/or fellow cast members will ensue. Sometimes those conversations can bog down rehearsal. But that is rare, and in fact, the result is often a more profound understanding of the play and my character for all parties. But in the end, 9 times out of 10, even if there is a discussion, I will take that note, incorporate it into my character, and away we go.
So, back to rehearsal the other day. We are a little over a week into rehearsal for Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, a one-man play where I am playing 18 parts (but who’s counting). It has been a wild, fun, exhausting, brain-melting, totally wonderful rehearsal process so far. And then the other day, Kristen Coury, our fearless leader, was giving me a note about a moment in the 2nd Act of the play and I started what I thought would be one of those discussions I mentioned above. But then the discussion dragged on. I was dragging my heels. I didn’t want to take this note. So, as usual, I asked for more explanation. And she gave it to me. Logical, text based, on-point reasons to take the note she was giving me. And still I wouldn’t do it.
So I started going through a mental and emotional checklist. Why are you being weird? Take the note! Are you right? Is she wrong? Are you being precious about a choice you made? Just can’t let it go? What are you doing?
And finally I was like, “Sorry, I know I’m being difficult, and I don’t know why.”
And Kristen, being the badass that she is, totally helped me talk through it. And what I finally realized was that in this one-man show process, I never get a moment in the shade. What I mean by that is that in most processes, the focus of the director’s gaze and notes is split up among the cast. No one person is getting all the notes. And in this case, I am the only one getting notes. I realized that I was feeling like I couldn’t escape, that everything I was doing was being scrutinized, and that I couldn’t do anything right. Obviously none of that is true. What is true is that I am the only one who is gonna be getting a note. I am the only one who is gonna get corrected. And as soon as I figured that out, and said it out loud, I was able to take the note.
This has been a total trip. I am learning a ton about myself as an actor, because everything I usually do is in sharp relief. It is all amplified, and therefore a clearer picture emerges of me and my process. I have always tried to leave ego and fear at the door when I walk into rehearsal. But I realized this week I have limits to my ability to leave fear and ego out of the equation. With “no time in the shade,” with no time to not be scrutinized, I backslid a bit and those creative killers, fear and ego, walked right into the room and slowed things down.
But with the help of Kristen and the working relationship we have cultivated, we got back on track, and I think, hopefully, I have added some knowledge and strength to my arsenal with which I arm myself to keep fear and ego at bay.