Sunday, May 23, 2010

Behavior modification in the theater

I'm not an actor, but I sometimes play one onstage. It's a humbling task-- especially for anyone who's accustomed to exercising creative control.

The process of submitting one's mind, body, and voice to someone else's words and someone else's vision makes this erstwhile playwright and director a little testy; I've often caught myself in rehearsals speaking out above my pay grade (the expression is entirely euphemistic in the context of the "semi-professional" company I've been working with for the last year). When I'm in the throes of some urgent insight, I seem unable to honor the principle of divided labor that helps to keep peace in a room full of contending minds and egos. The next time I direct, I hope I will show better patience than I have in the past with actors who are unhelpfully helpful! As with teaching, I sometimes have the guilty thought: please God, don't let me get a student/actor like me! (i.e. total pain in the ass)

The irony (or maybe the gift) in the present situation is that I am playing a character who could also use a horse pill of humility. On Thursday we opened a production of David Auburn's Proof, a tale of love, madness, and math. Catherine, the protagonist, appears to have inherited her father's prodigious talent with numbers, but she fears that this legacy might be entwined with another: Dad went nuts, and the fact that Catherine is celebrating her 25th birthday in the company of his ghost doesn't bode well for her own sanity. Maybe an adorably self-effacing, drum-playing mathematician named Harold Dobbs can tether her to the here and now, but only if she can trust him with the closely guarded secret of her genius. She's written a groundbreaking proof regarding prime numbers (Auburn is artfully vague on the particulars). Will he believe it's hers?

Catherine's mistrust (of other people, of her own mind) is her most formidable antagonist; my character only rises to the level of an irritant, but a supremely irritating irritant she is! I play Claire, the older sister, who only knows Catherine well enough to know everything she needs: downtime, vegetarian chili, and a move to New York.

The image is an Ulam spiral. Numbers can blow your mind, no matter how strong your grip on sanity.

No comments:

Post a Comment