Saturday, June 14, 2008

still in the cage

Lessons from doing The Zoo Story
Bobo and Brian Russo were asked by Tom Davis of the Peaceful Valley community to perform the play one last time (we did four performances at Empyrean in late April) -- only this time, in an actual outdoor city park:
Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 pm, at Glover Field, outside where the marmots roam just east of the Peaceful Valley Community Center (which is itself below and just east of the Maple St. Bridge) Five bucks; cash only. Outdoors. We're apparently going to be miked, because of the rushing-river noise. We'll literally have to sweep up all the marmot shit out of the playing area in order to be able to perform. The setting does have a Central Park in NYC vibe, which is suited to where Albee placed his 1959 play.

Bobo doesn't think he was very good in the role. (Way to keep that confidence up, going into one last performance!) I mean, I don't think I completely embarrassed myself, but I think I overreacted while listening to Brian's Jerry rant on and on. I was OK. The knifing scene and tragic ending came off better than I feared -- I really thought it was going to be just laughable and awful, and I _think_ we avoided that. (Not entirely sure.)
I learned how much effort it takes just to publicize a play. Making all the arragnements, putting up all the posters, hoping against hope that somebody, anybody will show up. (We were hoping for 4 x 25 = 100 paid playgoers; we got something like 26 + 20 + 32 + 63 on the four nights. Expecting to LOSE money on this venture, Bobo actually made some money on this gig. Does that make him a professional actor? Ha. Far from it.
I was reminded of all the work that goes into memorizing and blocking and re-blocking a show. Best of all, every time I felt like giving half-effort ("But my job is so demanding!"), I'd remind myself: People who act and volunteer at the Civic (and lots of other theaters in this region) have other jobs, too. They're tired. They still give it their all. Stop whining.
I discovered that varying reactions while listening onstage is really difficult. Jerry is the star; Peter (my part) is just the straight man. Since Brian was the director and the Gonzaga student who was supposed to videotape our performance blew it, we've never really seen ourselves. I'm not saying I was badly directed, or didn't get any direction. I'm just not very good.
But it's good for a critic occasionally (was Guys and Dolls at the Civic really six years ago?) to get out there and take a whack at doing what he so presumptuously criticizes all the time.
The need to practice with props, over and over, paying attention to every little detail even in the awareness that you are not in an earthshaking Broadway show, and does it really matter even a little bit in the grand scheme of things? Just another tiny pebble in the grand edifice of theater history.
The need to bring it every night, never knowing who's going to be out there: The "green room" at Empyrean was their food storage area, a concrete cell. Russo spent the half-hour before curtain every night pacing around, smacking himself, muttering his lines. Opening night, he comes out intense as hell, blew me off the stage. Second night, not quite as sweaty or with it, he goes up entirely at one point (remember, he's got a 15-minute "dog" speech, and that's only one of his long speeches), has to backtrack obviously, I can't figure out how to help him -- and that's the night Michael Weaver was there.
So much for getting a job at ARt.
I really have no idea who showed up. Some friends from work. My wife and daughter. Patrick and Heather McHenry-Kroetch and Abbey Crawford on closing night.
The constant self-berating: could have done this better, should have done that better. Ho-hum -- actors go through that all the time.
The anticlimactic let-down at the end: We put all that effort into it, and now it's not going to be duplicated, ever again, quite the same way (or at all). Welcome to the transience of theater: all the more to be treasured, because we are all wisps, going going gone.

Did going through all these difficulties make me a kinder and gentler critic? Not according to the adherents of Man of La Mancha. More on that in a moment. But Bobo is very much aware that there are dozens, hundreds of people in this town far more talented that he is at singing, dancing, acting, you name it. I'm in awe of the dedication and resolve on view on stages all around here. I often come out of plays thinking, How did she do that? I could never do that.
Disagree with me if you want, but don't think that I'm not a supporter of the Spokane theater scene.

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