As I sit backstage waiting for my turn to act, I occupy myself with doing the crossword puzzle, getting into costume and observing the rest of the cast as they silently move around the narrow space or wander in and out of the side door to smoke or talk in the alley.
I decided my co star Bruce looks likes a young Francois Truffant, whereas I look like Jodie Foster if she really, really let herself go. Ralph plays a homeless man and looks like a drowned rat next to Bruce in his stylish pinstripe suit right out of GQ. The kids in “And I feel fine” are like the Olsen twins on caffeine. Most of the plays are contemporary except “Mother Courageous” which has a faint Eastern Europe during the Soviet heydays. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve come across a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” by mistake. “Where’s Tevye?” I’m tempted to ask Lynn, a big woman in full skirt and scarf wrapped around her head.
Actors are frequently accused of being vain and it may seem that way as we primp and fuss before the long mirror but it isn’t vanity, we need to make sure our character looks right.The fussing and dressing is also part of the acting process. I’ve noticed there are two ways actors get into their roles, one I call the light switch. One minute they are behind the curtain chatting with you then they step out on stage and boom- they’re in character. The other is the tee shirt; it takes time like changing into another shirt. This requires being left alone to get inside the characters head or to calm ones nerves. My years of martial arts training have taught me to tame any anxiety. I can’t pinpoint the moment I become the character except that once on stage, I’m there.
Before a show actors always “run lines” meaning they run through the entire script to insure they know their part. At first this is merely an exercise where the words are delivered quickly without inflection or pauses. Very dry and boring but in time more nuance is added until it becomes a private performance between the actors as words are tossed back and forth. I sometimes find it more interesting than the performance on stage.
Since we are backstage we don’t see the other plays (except during rehearsals) so they are an auditory experience sprinkled with favorite moments and punch lines. My favorite is “Thirty Seven cents” about three homeless men. Richard Leebrick and Paul Rhoden ‘s angry edgy dialogue always leave me riveted.
Theater is like a family reunion of eccentric siblings who joke and support each other but when the show ends and we wander back to regular life, we lose touch with each other. I can’t wait for the next reunion.