Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pretending Frankenstein

We've been rehearsing about three weeks, now. Long enough to stage the whole play, and get a cautious, choppy run through in. Like Victor Frankenstein's famous Creature in the night, our production is starting to pick itself up from playwright Bo List's silent pages and stumble around the mountains and laboratories of Jerome Wills' increasingly fascinating set. I say increasingly, because every night we actors arrive to find that Tech Director, Dawn Connerley and her crew have built some new detail or structure for us to play around, under, or on top of. Last night, composer, Rob Thomas was in the booth, supplementing our on-stage rehearsal with some of the music he has created for the world of Frankenstein, and it was like having lightning bolts shoot through me as I played. So much talent is coming together to make this all happen.

Patti Heying, our director has conducted our cast like a maestro. She seems to have an instinct for knowing just how to work with actors of many different backgrounds all at once. She might tell one young actor, "You know what? I cast you because I liked YOU. You don't have to pretend to be somebody else, just be yourself and imagine what you would do if this happened to you." To a grizzled veteran, she can just nod with a furrowed brow or a knowing smile and tell you all you need to know about where to go next.

Getting my own Creature up off the slab has been a painstaking, joyful process of asking questions, and trying on answers to see if they fit. You ask physical questions. How does the Creature walk? What does his voice sound like? What does it feel like to be electrocuted back to life from the dead? What happens to your joints, your brain, your senses, your emotions when you are suddenly, violently reborn?

You ask psychological questions, too. What does the creature want? What stands in his way? What does he love? What scares him? What drives him? What does he learn? How does he change?

And of course, you point your curiosity toward relationships as well. Who matters to him? Who disappoints? Whose approval does he need? Who does he want to hurt?

And always, you are asking, "Why?" Why do I run away? Why do I hide? Why do I keep coming back when people are always hurting me? Why is the old blind man's love so important to me? Why do I kill some people and spare others? Why do I speak like a child one moment, and like a Shakespearean tragic hero the next?

See what happened there? Sooner or later, you stop thinking about "Him." The role stops being "That Guy." He isn't somebody else. He's me. He's Bob, pretending to be a monster in 18th century Geneva. You stumble and limp and chase down blind alleys and try all the possibilities, but finally you have to stop thinking about the guy and become the guy. I'm not there yet. But I'm getting tantalizingly close in spots.

In a famous video clip circulating on Facebook, Sir Ian McKellan explains acting the role of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings this way: "I imagined what it would be like to be a wizard, and then I pretended..." And that really is what we all do. Because, you see, whether you are Ian McKellan or a 10 year old boy in a little community theatre in Versailles Kentucky, the way you act is just the same: you ask yourself, "What would it be like to be that person?" And then you pretend.

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