This week’s blog came to mind because I’m in what theater folks refer to as “Hell Week”. That would be the week before a show opens, when all of the different aspects of a show have to come together, within a specific time frame, to spell success on opening night. Lights, props, scenery , sound cues, blocking, lines, choreography & music (if you’re doing a musical) all need to jell, all at the same time. It’s also a time when nerves are a bit frayed, tempers get short, and theater people earn their reputation of being, shall we say, a little “over-dramatic”.
But my role in this is fairly simple. I’m an actor and it’s a straight (non-musical) play. My job?
Wear the costume, hit the spot, say my lines.
You can get all artistic about it, talk about “character arc” and “method” and “Stanislavsky” and all that, umm, stuff. But, basically, when the bullet hits the bone, what I need to do is get where I need to get & say what I need to say. Simple, huh?
It might be simple, but it ain’t easy.
I’ve been kinda spoiled in the last several years. I’ve either been doing musical reviews, where I do a couple songs, usually songs I’m familiar with, or doing smaller roles, or roles I have done before. Not a lot of heavy memorization. Well, this time, I’m coming into a show I’m not familiar with, after the rehearsal process has started and am doing a leading role. A leading role with LOTS of lines.
I mean freaking LOTS.
And I’ve been struggling. Today is Thursday and we open tomorrow night. Last night’s rehearsal was the 1st time I got through the show with what I would describe as a fair command of my lines. Not perfect, but alright. Now I have tonight’s final dress to start looking at being this character I’m portraying, as opposed to the character of “an actor struggling to remember his lines”.
Fortunately, several things are saving my mood, self-image and outlook on life.
First, I’m not alone on this struggle bus. Other folks, much younger than I, are having the same issues. Also, 12 years ago, I perfumed the role of Teach in “American Buffalo”, a 3 person play famous for the number, brevity and pace of the dialog. During that process, at the age of 50, I pretty much thought that I was obviously losing cognitive function. Studied hours & hours a day. Screwed up on a nightly basis, even during the run. The 3 of us actors saved each other constantly, and more than once were on stage, in front of an audience, staring at each other, telepathically saying “I don’t know whose line it is, exactly where we are in the script, or how to save us”. I learned afterwards that the show is famous for making actors question their ability, retention & sanity.
All this to say, I know it’s not just because I’m getting old.
Second, the “stuff” I’ve learned through 45+ years of doing this theater thing is kinda working. I’m using a lot of the tricks, as well as just plain old repetition. The phrase that has gone through my head the last few weeks is ” Nobody cares, work harder”
I know, it’s kinds blunt, but I think there’s a grain of truth there. Excuses & reasons and ” oh my dog ate my homework” are common, and will elicit the obligatory ” No, you’re doing great, everyone is doing great”, at least the first 2-3 times you use it. But it ain’t gonna help you when you’re out in front of an audience. So, as Ru Paul so elegantly put it, “You better work”. So I’m working.
Now, to the point of this week’s blog.
No, this is not just me whining about doing something which I am finding challenging.
It’s me saying that this type of challenge is worthwhile, useful and even important.
Especially to those “of a certain age”.
I think everyone, no matter what their age, can benefit from doing something so challenging that it scares them. Something that they are not sure they can pull off.
But especially older folks. Many older folks no longer have the constant challenge of a regular job. They are usually done with raising their children. They may be spoiling their grandkids, but that’s not the same thing. If there’s tears or drama, you just hand them back to their parents, ie your kids, with that “Now you know how it is” smile on your face.
Studies show that as we grow older, our bodies rely upon exercise to stay fit and strong. If we don’t use our bodies, then we lose the ability to physically function the way we desire. The mind is the same way. We have to exercise our minds through mental stimulation to ensure they remain sharp and we maintain our cognitive skills.
Without mental stimulation, we are at risk of declining cognitive skills including:
And I’m not willing to use the “well, I’m getting older” card either physically or mentally.
So, for you, the message today is:
Take on that thing that you’re not sure of, that maybe scares you a bit. You may succeed, you may fail. But I’ll bet the sun comes up the next morning in either case, and I know you’ll be better for having done it.
And for me, this is just an affirmation that even though I’m not completely happy with where I’m at as regards this particular project, taking it on was the right thing to do.
And 2 days after I close this one, rehearsals start for the next one. Rock on.