Thursday, October 28, 2010
Darryl is a Boy (And He Made Me Sweat A Lot)
I find that many who enjoy acting in plays or musicals but are reluctant to pursue it as a career share a common desire for stability and control. These kind, unassuming folk (and may God bless them for their sanity) feel that, when there's enough rehearsal and preparation time, theater is a happy fun time of love, truth and beauty. But there's gotta be plenty of time to get comfortable with the material before delivering it to an audience.
The ensuing story will help illustrate how 95% of professional theater work is nothing like this.
So, if you're like me -- which is to say, an actor who is, ahem, between theater contracts -- nay, even if you happen to be in a production contract -- you might get asked to do a number of gigs outside of your job (or lack thereof) usually as a favor to a writerly friend who wants to showcase his or her new work. These gigs run the gambit from performing in classrooms in jeans and a t-shirt, reading the score from a binder, to dressing up all fancy-pants and delivering memorized songs in a concert setting -- songs which you've presumably worked on with a director or coach and have polished within a few reasonable inches of perfect.
Even trickier: when you say, "Yes, I'll perform in your gig," you often don't know what exactly you're getting yourself into until, oh, say, the day of the performance.
You want me to give you an example? Okay:
Some of you may have know the song "Darryl Is A Boy (And He Lives In My Closet)." I sang this song about a year ago in a concert and, because everything was sort of last minute, I had a lyric sheet to guide me through the performance. It was fun and low pressure, and went off pretty well. But it gets zanier.
Fast forward to present day, mid-October. The composer of the song, Michael Mitnick, asks me to perform "Darryl" again at a showcase of composers that are signed with William Morris Endeavor agency. Cool. I've never met Michael, but he's seen my YouTube, thinks the song suits me, and asks me for the favor. I am happy to oblige! It'll be totes chill, I think. No biggie. I've done this song before. I'll just do it again for some friendly composer folk.
Fast forward to day of the gig, October 25. I roll up to Playwright's Horizons (which, in understatement world, is kind of a well-known venue). That should have been a clue right there, but I am determined to trick myself that the gig isn't a big deal. I haven't rehearsed the song yet so I am scheduled to run it with the pianist during a 3-3:30pm sound check. (Gig is at 6pm.)
3pm no pianist. 3:15pm no pianist. 3:25 pianist arrives. We have five minutes to run the song.
The fact that we have such little time is, in and of itself, intimidating. Add this to the fact that the man directing the concert turns out to be Lonny Price, a legendary Broadway actor/director/writer and general awesome dudesome, who is at the rehearsal to watch and critique. Gulp. Okay, I run the song. I, um, sort of have it memorized? Basically. So I keep a lyric-sheet security blanket on a nearby music stand, and glance down only a couple of times. Okay great, says Lonny. But then, in consultation with Michael, he changes one of the lyrics. Gulp. I get some more notes about the diction and rhyme scheme but -- yep, we're out of time.
The intimidation factor keeps mounting. After sound check I chat more with Mr. Mitnick about what tonight's event is all about. Huh...it turns out that this showcase of new composers -- organized by arguably the most reputable and influential talent and literary agency in the world -- is going to be performed for THE MOST REPUTABLE AND INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN THE THEATER INDUSTRY. Yep: producers, investors, directors, and all them other folk whose names appear above the titles on theater posters. THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE I'M GOING TO BE SINGING FOR. I'M SO NERVOUS MY THOUGHT-SENTENCES END IN PREPOSITIONS.
Needless to say, I start sweating a lot, and not just because I am a raging Italian.
For the sake of Blog Drama, I wish this story had a truly awful ending, but, the truth is, after I sweated my brains out anticipating some terrible and violent conclusion involving me, razor-lined tomatoes, and a theater full of booing Broadway producers, it all went off quite well. Indeed, there was more intimidation to be had when I saw who else was performing (think Jenn Colella, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Carrie Manolakos, to name a few), but it all ended up being quite a fun romp through brand-new-musical-theater land.
Indeed, even as the performance was upon us, there were still some unknown factors to be dealt with, like, who should move the music stands, or the microphones, when and where to enter and exit...but it all got worked out. You just have to pretend you're 100% confident and comfortable with what's going on. That, my friends, is acting.
Let me also say that I blame no one but myself for my copious sweating: the burden of preparation was on me, and it probably would have done me good to put more time into practicing the song several days before. But, yeah, I assumed the event was low pressure. And, it's like that age-old saying about what happens when you assume: you get really large pit-stains from anxiety.
So let that be a lesson to you all.
But, then again, it went well in the end, so maybe the real lesson is: just act like you know what you're doing and you'll be fine.
Also, don't do drugs.