I Am the Worst Actor in the World.
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."