When it comes to theatre, a crisis is usually a combination of disasters – but this time it boils down to a mauled rehearsal schedule, and having to replace an actor who up and quit on us without notice.
And when I say “us”, I actually mean the company. I have written them a couple of things, and then sort of taged along as a part-time director’s assistant, and unofficial lighting designer…
On the whole, not an especially good reason for the director to saddle me with the replacement – but she is busy with the now very tight rehearsals, and I did take drama classes back in the day. I can’t even deny it: she knows, she was my teacher…
So she took this twenty-something boy, very recent acquisition, very untried, largely untrained, and…
“He has seven lines and a half. Drill him. I don’t care how you do it – just… drill him.”
Yes, I know. She does talk like that – especially in critical moments… She’s a director. She has enough sense of drama for a large regiment.
Anyway, these past days, before and during rehearsals, I’ve been running the boy through a crash version of what I can remember from my own training. It turns out there’s a reason why he had no lines at all before necessity struck. He comes from another, quite amateurish troupe where, apparently, nobody ever bothered to teach him anything. Nevertheless he thinks himself both experienced and good enough – or did, before we started in earnest. Now he is like the Centipede in the poem: flailing in the ditch, and more than a little frantic with the need to readjust everything.
I’ll confess we started on the wrongest foot, because I don’t like his attitude, and he probably thinks I’m awfully stuck-up. Also, at first, my motivation was purely selfish – the seven lines and a half belonging to one of those conveniently gender-less roles, and I being the next in line to inherit, should the boy fail. And I don’t play anymore, thank you very much.
Moreover, I’m not what you’d call a patient woman, and I’m sure he was less than overjoyed at getting stuck with me, so it may be that we started out a tad roughly.
And then, it began to work.
He stopped sulking, he centipeded – and that flailing, frantic state was something I recognized from my own early attempts at the game. Something I could relate to. And something clicked into place, and at least now he understands what one tries to do with one’s voice, and he’s stopped slipping out of character as soon as he’s uttered the last syllable of each speech – which may not seem much, but is a definite improvement…
Now, let’s be clear: I’m not turning him into Laurence Olivier, I’m not a good teacher (much less a drama teacher), he’s not a good pupil, I doubt I’ll ever grow to like him – but I think we stopped hating each other, and it seems to have dawned on him that he might actually learn something, and I want to hammer the seven lines and a half into him, not just so I don’t have to play them myself, but to see him succeed and do it.
I have hopes it might be enough – for now.