Theater Thursday, Featured

Theater Thursday: Relatively Speaking

Acting hasn't been a part of my life for too long, but in the last few years it has been incredibly influential and undeniably eye-opening. As I wrap up my eleventh production in almost five years, the conversations I've had and the memories I've shared with my theater family have made me realize I don't remember all of my previous productions as well as I had thought. So this blog series seeks to delve deep into the experiences I've had thus far, as few as they may be when compared to many people I've acted beside.

Being a part of a large, ensemble cast - such as with Jack the Ripper or A Servant of Two Masters, is a very fun and unique experience. There is nothing like a small cast, though, and I was lucky enough to be one of the four actors in the play Relatively Speaking, directed by Erik Steen in 2016...

To Hell With Large Casts

Laura Marsolek, Daniel and Virginia Rohr, and myself. That was it for Relatively Speaking. It was a surprisingly intimate, allowing a lot of time to be spent on our scenes, our lines, our interactions. We delved deeper into the nature of our characters' relationships, and we were afforded more time to simply enjoy each other's company as fellow theater-lovers. It lacked what large casts have in the way of energy and excitement, but it more than made up for that with a quiet contemplativeness, a general feeling of 'these are good people, and I feel blessed to be among them.' Not that large casts don't share such a feeling, but more like you don't have the opportunity to really let that feeling sink in with large casts.

The pacing was different than any other show I've done before. I was already familiar with Erik's directing style, after acting for him in The Mousetrap and Bill W. & Dr. Bob. He like to tweak things on the fly, like to throw out a suggestion without a real answer in mind, and liked to watch the actors organically come up with their own solutions. Patrick and Erik really felt like they approached directing from almost opposite places - Patrick provided the actors with the foundation, his vision for the play, and then we helped to define it, to bring it to life. Erik seemed to approach a show as a blank canvas, allowing the actors to really build the foundations themselves as they explored their characters. Erik would then come in and fine-tune the performances, offer suggestions or make directorial decisions. In either case, both directors are a joy to work with, because they both approach a show with only part of the finished product in mind. Granted, they are the only two directors I've worked with.

 Myself, Daniel Rohr, Laura Marsolek, and Virginia Rohr

Myself, Daniel Rohr, Laura Marsolek, and Virginia Rohr

I found a fellow geek in Laura Marsolek, even if our interests only partially intersected. Even if I didn't care much for anime, and she wasn't as familiar with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, we connected in our passion for the fantastical and the otherworldly. In Dan Rohr I found a soft-spoken man with a wonderful sense of humor and a creative eye that instantly went deeper than most others. And in Virginia I found someone who was empathetic and open-minded, someone who was genuinely interested in the creative processes of others, even if the subject wasn't of immediate interest to her. I found that I had a lot to learn from each of them, and am infinitely grateful for the time we spent together, both learning each other and bringing this show to life.

"You Won't Be Naked, But You Need to Look Naked."

This production opened in a small apartment in London, with my character - Greg - rising from a bed on stage and going about his morning business. It was a surprisingly intimate opening to a show, and one I was excited to explore and see where we would take it.

I remember one point, late in the rehearsal process, Erik came up to me and said "Nick, how do you feel about lying under the sheets of the bed before we open the house? So that when the audience is taking their seats you're under there waiting to start." And I remember responding with "I guess I thought we were already doing that."

Well, after the first few times of us trying it out, it became clear why Erik asked me if it was something I'd be alright with. Despite lying beneath a standard bed sheet, it still got warm under there, and once we were working with the lighting as it would be during the performances, it got even warmer. I had to adopt a very specific position so that my hips and knees wouldn't ache by the time I had to get up. And not only that, but my character dresses throughout the first scene, so it was made to look like all I was wearing for the first little bit was just the bed sheet itself.

I'll admit that I was more nervous about not adequately covering my underwear - in order to give the illusion of being naked - than I was about anybody thinking I was naked. That was the goal, right? To get the audience to believe I was naked beneath the sheet. My stress around the early moments of the play came entirely from wondering if they could see the elastic waistband or not.

Live Performance - 2016

Live performances for this show were a lot of fun. This was the first time I got to be present during the opening of the house, lying beneath my bed sheet as the audience slowly filtered in. I caught snippets of their conversations, heard more than one person ask "Is there someone in that bed?", including my own mother.

Not only that, but there was something oddly freeing about playing a character going through his morning routine, being flirtatious with his girlfriend, all as if nobody was watching. Also I remember my character's movements, the way he interacted with the set, the props, and with my fellow actors, felt much more natural than most other shows. Generally I'm wondering about how I'm going to cross the stage to be in place for an exit, or something similar. With Relatively Speaking, the character I was playing was an average guy, and the scenes he was in - especially the opening scene - felt incredibly natural. I can only hope that it came across the same way with the audience.

My next show, however, felt much less natural, as I was playing a young medical student working for his doctorate in the dramatic show Flowers for Algernon...