Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I Am the Worst Actor in the World.

If you're an actor, you've had that thought. You know what I'm talking about. You've been in a rehearsal where you just weren't feeling it, or you blew an absurd number of your lines, or the director didn't like any of your ideas. Well, that's me, last night, in rehearsal for Measure for Measure. And I'm going to write about it, not to get sympathy or compliments, but because I think talking about it is valuable.

I'm playing Angelo, a tricky role in the best of circumstances. He's the "villain" of the piece, who goes from puritanical legalist to attempted rapist overnight. Actually, it's faster than overnight; it turns very nearly on a dime.

Now I've played bad guys before; Cassius' motives were somthing short of pure. And I've played a sex-crazed womanizing bastard before; in fact I wrote myself a part in Project Evil's Held for the express purpose of getting a chance to stretch as an actor. But I was just nervous and self-conscious all night last night, in ways I haven't been in a rehearsal room for well over a decade. I really should be better than this.

Part of it may be simple distraction. I was working last night with the specter of a business trip kind of looming; I am in fact typing this in the Charlotte airport on my way to Cedar City Utah and the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America conference (by way of one night in Las Vegas). So I had this long trip on my mind, as well as the fact that I'm about to be spending the next five days with 130 people who are all, frankly, far more knowledgeable and passionate about Shakespeare than I am.

Part of it is, of course, the simple facts of early rehearsal: my script is still in my hand, I haven't made much of any decisions about my intentions in the scene, I'm trying to remember the blocking we tried when we ran it a minute ago, I'm trying to write blocking in. Part of it is the subject matter of the scene; if I was comfortable with the first rehearsal of a scene involving sexual coersion I would probably not be the man I want to be. And honestly, part of it is the fact that my scene partner, Liz Blake, is really pretty, and I have always been shy and stupid around pretty girls. (Yes, I know; I've been married for ten and a half years to an incredibly beautiful woman; she's pretty much the only one who doesn't turn me into a blithering idiot by making eye contact.) Liz is a great friend, she's my unofficial little sister, and we've worked together a bunch in the past few years. I should be much more comfortable; I should be able to do this better.

What really bothered me was that I wasn't coming up with much of anything in the way of concrete or interesting ideas, and when I did hit what I thought was a spark of something, James (who, I must mention, is very nearly my favorite director of all time, right up there with Gary Hopper) steered me toward something else, pretty much every time. And James' ideas were so rich, so vibrant, and so damn interesting that I frankly spent the whole night pissed at myself for being so utterly bland and boring. I just couldn't focus all night.

You know, I'm pretty good at this. Art hasn't always come exactly easily to me, but it's at least come naturally; even when it's a struggle I can usually see where I'm eventually headed. Right now I don't see it. So now I'm in the Charlotte airport, waiting for a flight, angry with myself, realizing I can't listen to music on the plane because my MP3 player is in my freaking phone, I should be working on my lines, and today just sucks. I am the worst actor in the world.

So thank God for rehearsal.

Let's get real here. It was the first time running the play's most difficult scene. It was script in hand. We have four more weeks to make it better. It's a hard freaking role. It's fracking Shakespeare. And theatre is a collaborative effort, not a contest. James knows what he's doing; it's his job to have better ideas than mine. It's my job to put flesh on his ideas, to realize them in the best way that I can. As Jennifer Massey taught me, I am sufficient. As Stanislavski taught me, and as I try so desperately to teach my acting students, who I am is infinitely more interesting than anything I could ever make up.

Because here's the thing: rehearsals are all about failure. It's what they're designed for. Where else can you try something that sucks, find out it sucks, say "Wow, that sucked," and determine to do something else instead. I've got four weeks to discover something else. Not I, we.

So thank goodness I sucked so badly last night. And believe me, I sucked the joint up bigtime. Rehearsal is for theatre artists to, in the words of Aaron Anderson, "Take the suck out."

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  • At 1/08/2008 10:38 AM , Anonymous Phil Hamm said...

    When you do that scene, try to think of the conversation heart "COAX HER INTO THE SACK"!

    I'm sure that will help.

  • At 1/08/2008 11:25 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    No, sir. Last night I was the worst actor in the world - at least, for the first few scenes.

    Does it matter that I was walking on a freshly sprained ankle? Or that work (as in your case) was a distraction, given the fact that customer complaints and stress levels due to some major corporate changes are at record highs right now? Should it make any difference that I'm playing one of theatre's most challenging roles - Hieronimo, in The Spanish Tragedy, which is basically the middle-aged actor's equivalent to playing Hamlet? Does any of that matter?

    Yeah. It does. And it's no freakin' excuse for dropping one of my first scene lines just three days before opening, among a few other gaffes.

    But you know what? It was a REHEARSAL. I know I sucked. And by the time we got to the second act, I knew all that other stuff was merely something a loser would use to explain poor performance. Shake it off Creasy, I said: Then immediately reminded myself, as Jen Massey would, that I'm not CREASY, I'm Hieronimo. You think CREASY has problems? Hieronimo's son was brutally murdered by one of Spain's most powerful royals, the nephew of the king! Who will revenge his murder, if not ME? NOW am I thinking right? HELL YES!

    Is it distracting to have pretty young Liz all up in your grill? Sure - right now, Kerry McGee threatens to do the same to me (through NO fault of her own, God knows it's not her fault she was born drop-dead gorgeous!) But she's not pretty Kerry, she's Bel-Imperia and she's the ONLY one who can help me revenge my son's murder.

    Yesterday, Andrew, we might have been the worst actors in the world. But that was yesterday. Today - and on opening night - I warrant thee, it will be much different.

    Let Hercules himself do what he may, the cat will mew and dog will have his day.

    Peace brother.

  • At 1/08/2008 1:35 PM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    I feel your pain gentlemen. So let me just join in the pity party and say that I had the WORST audition for Mattress at Swift Creek Mill on Sun night. First I accidently printed out my music in the wrong key and ended up having to sing it without piano THEN I had to dance...I think I heard people screaming "my eyes, my eyes". Tom Width knows me and maybe he will take pity and call me back anyway, but honestly I don't deserve it.

    On a happier note...James Bond is in town! Hot damn!

  • At 1/08/2008 2:48 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Jacquie, sounds like you came away from the experience "shaken, not stirred."

    Sorry, had to tag the Bond reference immediately on to that comment!

    Bet the audition went way better than you think Jacquie. It usually goes that way.

  • At 1/08/2008 4:43 PM , Anonymous Terry said...

    It is the same for writers. Lately I haven't been able to get the editor in my head to stop shouting "everything you write is stoo-pid!!" and the problem is, then I don't write anything. The great thing about acting is that you have this awesome community there working with you who can help you get back to work. And you must get back to work because many of us are so looking forward to seeing this play : )
    And by the way, I am trying to get hold of you to come and do a gig in my class at UR. call or email or something...

  • At 1/08/2008 5:49 PM , Blogger Joey Fanelli said...

    You just have to remember, if you were really, really that bad, would you even be there in the first place? Simple and obvious, and you've probably already thought of it, but it does work in the long run.

  • At 1/10/2008 12:15 PM , Blogger Cynde said...

    But on another note- How was Las Vegas?
    Hamm - I know you'll be fine. You have the same problems I do: do much thinking and exCatholic guilt.

  • At 1/12/2008 2:30 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Vegas is pure, concentrated evil. It's like the black stone pieces of Evil at the end of Time Bandits. It's fascinating, boring, beautiful, and terrible all at once. It winks at vices that would be considered destroyers of character in any other place. I look forward to and dread heading back there again tomorrow.

    Ka was amazing, though!

  • At 1/15/2008 2:44 PM , Blogger JB said...

    wow - anyone who can throw out an obscure "Time Bandits" reference must have loads of creativity and talent.
    Enjoy the journey. Literally and figuratively.
    and give your self a freakin break.
    to me almost every scene comes down to a quote from my favorite author, Russel Hoban. he says "how pitiful and heroic it is to be a human being".
    have a safe trip back!

  • At 1/16/2008 4:02 PM , Blogger pnlkotula said...

    In the words of Amy Perdue - "That's why we have play practice!" I quote it to my choir all the time. Any they need it MUCH worse than you, I'm sure...

  • At 1/17/2008 9:16 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I had a couple GREAT rehearsals Monday and Tuesday night. Monday was the scene I had sucked up so badly the week before, so it's all good.

    Thanks for the moral support. Please feel free to let me know when you need encouragement as well; I'm pretty good at that.


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