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Malvolio Production Diary: Another Opening, Another Show

Twelfth Night opens tonight. We’re ready. We’ve been ready, really, since Monday—oh, that’s not quite true, in that there have been a few improvements. Mostly technical, though, and entirely minor. A couple of props have been replaced with better versions; a couple of costumes have been altered to improve them; a couple of lights have been refocused. Sometimes the addition of lights and sounds and costumes and props makes for real and necessary changes; not this time. The bit that I do down at the very edge of the stage is now a couple of feet further upstage, so as to stay in the light, which might not be quite as effective, but doesn’t require rethinking the whole thing. Remarkably, flying in the cell worked exactly the way we thought it would, so we didn’t have to do anything different and new (I tell a lie, I made a very small change once I knew it would be visible) with the Prison Scene. The set has no doors, so that’s all right. We added one tiny comic bit with a piece of set decoration. Nothing substantial had to change, not even a line reading, as far as I know.

I don’t think I’ve ever written here about the thing that always seems to happen to me when I’m rehearsing a comedy: sometime during tech week I lose the ability to see the humor in any of it. This hit me particularly hard in the run-up to Rough Crossing, when for two or three days I became convinced that there wasn’t anything funny about Turai. He’s not funny; he’s just a dick! I said, and my castmates assured me that he was, in fact, a funny character. And eventually we got people in the seats, and they laughed, so it turned out to have been funny. That’s why I feel we need an audience so desperately. I can’t tell any more what is funny and what isn’t. Things I thought were funny three weeks ago (my own bits and other people’s) have been unfunnied by familiarity to the point where none of it is funny at all. Or worse, the only things that seem funny are the newer bits; not because they are actually funny but because they aren’t so drearily constant.

There was an article recently, I can’t remember where, that said that the reason so many actors were so fucked up (begging the question, I know) was that we trained our minds to inappropriate emotional reactions through constant repetition. If you play Othello a hundred times, you wear some angry grooves into your neurowhatsit, and while it’s all fake, your brain doesn’t know that. Humans, very good at patterns, not so good at breaking them. I don’t know that I agree with the premise, but I do have to say that very strange things happen to a stage actor’s brain, doing the same show over and over. And I’ve never had a long run of a show. There are nine performances of Twelfth Night (tickets still available!) which is about average for a community theater show. I think the most I have ever done is twelve. It seems like it’s not very many shows for all the work we put in, but we all have lives outside the theater (thank goodness, but that’s another rant) so it would be difficult to get a cast committed to six or seven consecutive weekends, even if you could sell tickets. Anyway, while I absolutely have had the experience of having the triggers installed during rehearsals still there at work and at home, mostly it’s the other thing, becoming desensitized to what is actually happening on stage. Sometimes that’s my ability to ignore somebody having a weeping nervous breakdown or a furious violent rage a few feet away, but mostly it’s the inability to laugh at stuff that I think is probably funny. Probably. Well, we’ll find out tonight.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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