Monday, June 13, 2011

Opening Night

Have you ever impersonated someone? Have you ever impersonated someone in front of them? Have you ever impersonated someone for twenty minutes without pause alone on stage in front of them, their sister, their mother, their employer, plus your girlfriend, your friends, not to mention your father who has flown across the country just to see you, and all mixed with a random assortment of strangers who have paid money for the show?

I don't get stage fright. But I have to admit, my first stage performance in New York City under the Actors Equity Showcase rules, which was incidentally the closest I've come to a one-man show, made me a little jumpy on and off for the twenty-four hours leading up to the stage manager's call for places.

My father flew into town to see the opening night of my show. We were walking through the 51st and Lexington subway to an escalator down to the E line when he told me that he'd always loved the moment right before you go onstage. It's certainly a moment you remember. Weirdly, I usually have an easier time remembering that than any moment on stage. He agreed with me on that one.

There are two other actors in the show, and they're doing the some thing. A twenty minute solo impersonation of a real figure that they find interesting, maybe even inspiring. Before the house opens, they have to go to the other side of a stage and stay there.

So when I was pacing back and forth alone in the dressing room, I had no idea what kind of reaction I'd get from all these people. I wanted  the audience to be entertained. I didn't want them to go away scratching their heads about why they paid as much as they had for their tickets, or thinking "yeah I mean, it was okay, I guess." I wanted them to understand that if I didn't sound or look exactly like Danny, it was because I was just trying to make a good piece and that you know I had so little time actually with Danny to observe and learn how he talked and moved. And I really really didn't want to mess up any of the facts.

I guess I wanted a lot.

I go through a little routine before acting. It's like the special little dribble on the line every basketball player does before taking a free throw. It doesn't matter what it is, so long as its yours. For me, it gets mixed up a lot as I go with different breathing exercises and stretches, but at some point before I ever go on stage for any performance or audition, I almost always do a quick recitation a few of you already know by heart: "To sit in solemn silence on a dull dark dock, in pestilential prison with a life-long lock, awaiting the sensation of a short, sharp shock, from a cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block." Possibly a bit grim, but it runs through just about every consonant sound I can think of.

And then I go onstage. I do remember bits of my show. Actually I remember a lot of what it was like. Hearing the laughter, even in the parts that really shouldn't get laughs. Thinking I was making my character too comical, and dialing down the funny, dialing up the cool. Catching the huge smile from who must be Danny's real sister. Not quite daring to look at Danny himself. Telling the story. But it all kind of becomes a blur until...

The theater director stuck his head in the dressing room right after the show to ask me to come out for pictures with Danny. And that was when his sister came to me and gave me the best compliment I can hope to receive for the entire run of this show:

"You nailed him. You had him exactly!"

I guess I got what I wanted, and a little more besides. Speaking of which, I had a little surprise waiting for me when I walked into the dressing room for the first time of the night.

At no point in the rehearsal process did anyone mention money. I didn't ask. I assumed the show was unpaid, just like my last two off-off-broadway gigs. Sometimes on the first night of shows, the director leaves a little note for each of the actors, thanking them for their work. So, when I went in the dressing room to get changed, I wasn't that surprised when I found an envelope with my name on it.

"I forget the protocol" I said to the others "are we supposed to wait to read these until after the show is over?"

"What?" They said. "That's your check."

Turns out I'm actually getting paid to act in New York. Nine months after my arrival, in my third show. Not, you know, a lot, but in my mind it's the principle that counts.

image courtesy of The Metropolitan Playhouse (facebook)


  1. Huzzah for a successful and paid gig! And I am also familiar with that vocal warm up. It accompanied me through every cast call during my run in college. There may also have been an interpretive dance accompanying it. :-D

  2. Thank you for your comment. I've definitely also been gluttonous for punishment--my submissions and auditions certainly haven't stopped; I was just really invested in that particular year-long project. But ah well, tomorrow is a new day!

    And YES, it HAS been driving me nuts, not having an open forum easily accessible for working on materials. The theatre community in the ATL as a whole generally plays it close to the chest when it comes to reaching out and helping other artists, which is crazy because there's such a large number of young professionals just like me that are thirsting for a better way to do things. I'm currently on the move to get out of my hometown; I may just have to visit NY soon and take you up on those free workshops--that sounds like the perfect way to spend an afternoon right about now.

    Bust some knee caps with everything you are working on, and thanks!