Sunday, September 4, 2011

Going To See The Elephant

Way back in April, I did an audition for a little theatre here in the Blue Ridge called Ensemble Stage Company (Check out that post here) and, naturally, I assumed that I wouldn't be hearing back from them after I had waited a good while. I set my winter/spring audition marathon in the past and went forward, which ended up with me in a uninsulated cabin in the Rockies taking miniature actors and dancers under my wing. But not so fast! The last week at camp, I got an email from Gary at Ensemble Stage asking me to be at callbacks for 'Going to See the Elephant', the last show of their season, on that Sunday. The fact that I intended to be leaving Colorado at the time of the callback resulted in frantic email writing and nail biting while waiting for a reply.

But all was well. I went to alternative callbacks on Wednesday with a couple other girls. (And you know what? I have no idea what I wore. Sorry, not my usual M.O., but things have been a little crazy!). The callback was with Gary, as the audition was, and he had us reading from three or four sides and swapping out characters. I ended up lagging behind for a chat with Gary as the other ladies left, which resulted in him offering me the role of Etta.

Wait, would that mean... My first professional role? Why yes it would!
There we are at our first read-through! I'm the mess on the left. Photo by Jeff Eason.
 We had nine rehearsals. Count 'em. NINE. Not only am I used to leisurely rehearsal periods, I also usually get parts like "MacDuff's Child" with only 10 lines. It's a bit of a different story when there's only four women to share 50 pages of dialog. I was hoping to really apply the Practical Aesthetics technique (read A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Bruder, Cohn, Olnek, Pollack, Previto, and Zigler) but ended up doing a truncated version of the script analysis for the sake of time, since the technique is usually very particular and nitty-gritty. So, to be honest, I don't think I've ever used any of my "as-if's" from my work, but outlining my objectives (or "actions") was definitely helpful. The whole thing desperately made me wish I had that pocket-sized version of my teacher that I always joke about.

What has been very beneficial and worth the time I put into it has been my physical work. Good ol' Chekhov. I love him so much. A little "contracted with hope" here, a touch of the largest circle of awareness there, plus avoiding eye contact... It's gotten me pretty far in nine rehearsals and just as many performances. Except I have weird knots in my back now because of Etta's physicality.

Photo by David Rogers. Again, the mess on the left.  
One thing I really love about this show is that it's about women, by women, with a female cast and (in our case) a female director. And yet it doesn't scream angry feminism and burning bras. While men aren't present on stage, they are present in the characters' lives, and are spoken about in honest, often loving, ways. But having the men offstage or "in town" allows an opportunity to show what women are capable of and what they did regularly as pioneers--coping with trauma, putting a beloved cow out of misery, making their children's pants out of flour sacks, nursing the weak and burying their yucky dysentery stool, and somehow managing to find some joy in a piece of ribbon or a book of maps. They were absolutely against all odds. They lost hope, children, peace, but Kansas is settled, as well as everything west of that. It makes me wonder what else we can tough out, what else we can pioneer--women and men alike.

The show closes tomorrow. It's been such a joy to work with the cast and with Lisa and Gary. The hilarious rapport Gary and I have built will hopefully continue through future projects, perhaps a children's acting camp on Saturdays, and who knows what all. It's been a whirlwind--a hurricane if we want to be more appropriate for the season--of a process. I couldn't be happier with the play or the people that have been my first professional show.

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