This Playhouse Perspective blog comes from actor Armando Acevedo, who plays Pablo in Native Gardens.
If I give myself enough time before a show, I like to enter the theatre through the house. Before the ambient music starts playing and the audience is allowed in, the house is dark, and the seats are empty. That ﬁrst quiet glimpse of our beautiful set by David Arsenault, which I have to cross to get to my backstage “oﬃce,” I can only describe as . . . magic. Cue the goosebumps. (Just for reference, if I don’t give myself enough time, I run through the stage door in the back evoking memories of The Muppet Show.)
Actors are no strangers to superstition, and I certainly have my rituals in getting ready for a show backstage. Check that my props are set stage right. Make sure the cuﬀs on my quick-change shirts, rigged with elastic for the purpose, are buttoned. Set my red water bottle in its place on the ﬂoor, my security blanket from which I sip compulsively until it’s time to go on, its blue counterpart at my dressing room station stage left. When Jason Weixelman, our stage manager, calls “Fifteen minutes to places,” on the God mic, I know that Maureen Silliman, who plays Virginia Butley, will be standing just outside the door, ready to go. I tell her to break a leg and have a good show, bid the same to the stage crew in the green room, and cross outside to get to the Del Valle side of the stage. From then until the time we go on, I pace; I drill my lines in my head; I lightly panic—all this bustle generating the energy necessary to create magic.
The moment right after the curtain speech, when the stage goes dark and the actors walk out on stage is the most harrowing. It’s pitch black. There’s a wire gate in front of me, set pieces to my left and right, an uneven ﬂoor, and a lonely piece of glow-in-the-dark tape way over there, guiding me to where I’m supposed to stand. The lights are about to come up, and I have the ﬁrst line of the play. Will I remember it?
If the trope about life imitating art is accurate, then Native Gardens is the play for me. The son of immigrants who settled in the United States to begin their professional lives, I have one sister who, along with her husband (Pablo, by sheer coincidence) has been embroiled in a border dispute with their friendly American neighbors in suburban USA. They came to see the show opening weekend, and my niece’s comment was, “Did you guys have a webcam spying on us when you were putting this together?” Alas, no. What we did have was a lot of discussion about the diﬃcult topics that this play addresses so deftly. Our rehearsal room was decked out with the fence and ﬂowerbeds right from the beginning, so it was easy to imagine the world we would inhabit when we moved to the stage in a few weeks. I appreciated working with director Kristen Coury because we had freedom to explore and to make many mistakes. It was clear when things didn’t feel right, which made the moments when they ﬁnally did all the more signiﬁcant. As actors we’re always questioning and exploring. We don’t have all the answers on opening night, and speaking for myself, there is plenty that hasn’t jelled for me by the time the curtain ﬁguratively goes up the ﬁrst time. The blessing of a three-week run is that we have the opportunity to dig deeper (pun intended) and discover more about these people on stage, making magic for our audience and for ourselves.
Native Gardens is at Gulfshore Playhouse now through February 2nd. For tickets, go to https://www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org/2019-2020-season/native-gardens/