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My First Experience Doing Shakespeare
by Paul Theron
Lately I have been auditioning for everything. I figure its good exercise and could also accidentally land me a great role.
I havent been in a play in a very long time, being bored with stand-up and on a break between film and T. V. roles; I decided that it couldnt hurt to do theater again. I did Community Theater for over ten years and was in a comedy troupe when they opened The Comedy Workshop on 15th Street in the early 80s. I stepped onto that stage and havent looked back til lately.
So I auditioned for lots of plays and got a few bites, none of which really grabbed me; unlike the old days when I took the first part that came along; I now feel I can pick and chose.
On this Sunday I did three auditions. The first was a strange play about Nazis to be performed in a church. The next was the Halloween trilogy, which had a huge turnout (probably because it paid). I had a great time hollering myself hoarse in the role of Montessori in The Cask of Amontillado (Poe). Great Fun! An actors role if Ive ever seen one. A friend once said that the best roles are kings and crazy people. Before I die let me play a crazy king! I was cast in the role immediately and wanted to do it, but I still had a callback for Falstaff in the Merry Wives of Windsor to go to that day.
This was the first time Id ever auditioned for a Shakespearean role much less played one. I think Im the only guy who read for the Falstaff role. But not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I grabbed it. A lead role in a Shakespearean comedy was just what the doctor ordered to round out my resume. And there was a bevy of ladies in the show, which warms the cockles of my bachelor heart.
First readthrough was at an apartment complex swimming pool. As it got dark it became obvious we couldnt read our scripts. Luckily I had my work van with me and pulled out extension cords and drop lights. This was my first clue that things were amiss. We spent that rehearsal and most of the following poolside wading through the script and trying to figure out how to cast the remainder of the play. Several of the womens roles were pre-cast as the core group was 4 or 5 women. It was becoming plain that women would be playing mens roles as opposed to the way men played all the roles 400 years ago. No complaints from me.
Then on the third day the director announced to me that her 7-year-old son would be playing my page and would be following me everywhere. I remember turning pale and feeling faint and trying not to yell, run or quit on the spot. I prayed to God it was a typo. Cant one of these babes be my page? Oh please, I screamed in my mind! PLEASE! Say it isnt so! A child! I was going to be followed around for the rest of the run of this play by the directors 7-year-old son! Now I know God is dead.
I am not a parent and my experience with other peoples children is that most are spoiled uncontrollable pains in the butt. But because I had committed, because I loved the role, because I thought I might get laid if I act like its all right amid all these women and their maternal instincts, mostly because I thought maybe this time things would be different; I kept my mouth shut. What could I do? I waited for the inevitable impending doom as the sword of Damocles creaked overhead.
Slowly the days went by as we rehearsed every night. I discovered that I was having a hard time memorizing. Go figure. I worried that thirty years of living on the edge destroying brain cells had taken their toll. I ran to Central Market and bought 100 dollars worth of assorted brain and memory pills. I dont know if they helped or not. The shear volume of words and the foreigness of the 400 year old Kings English was mind boggling.
I got a copy of the original script with notations on the side; a kind of English-Shakespeare/Shakespeare-English reference guide attachment. Still, a lot wasnt covered and I have a few sentences that I deliver with authority and flair and I havent a clue what Im saying. Its all good though. Its a celebration of words and an honor to perform one of these ancient plays. My Shakespearean experience has been limited to movies. Loved Mel Gibson as Hamlet, Johnny Leguzamo in Romeo and Juliet, Pacinos looking for Richard, Branaugh in whatever that was , and of course Renaissance Man.
This play is allegedly written at the behest of Queen Elisabeth who so loved the Falstaff character from the Henry plays that she requested a play about him in love. I assume that Billiams troupe of actors was huge and that he created this 5 act monster with side plots to keep every one working. We of course trimmed it to under two hours.
We suffered setbacks due to actors coming and going. I showed up for rehearsal once and was the only one there. Apparently the director had one of her personal problems and figured we wouldnt know how to run lines without her. People would bring their dogs and children to rehearsal and proceed to occupy everyones time playing with them and telling stories about them. If we ever started earlier than one hour late I dont remember it. We constantly stopped for no good reason; all too often because of the boy.
We had to switch to another apartment complex swimming pool because we had fallen out of favor with the one we were at. When it rained we took the ever growing cast to someones small apartment living room. Little did we know we were in training for the blocking nightmares to come. As dress rehearsal approached, it became obvious that not much thought had gone into my costumes. As a normal sized guy playing a big fat guy I needed padding. Some foam tailored to my butt and a pillow rounded me out but in the final scene I am suppose to come out with antlers and in hunting garb with a chain. The director hands me a plastic helmet with cow horns. I say antlers! The script calls for antlers! Several references to deer are in it! Are we to rewrite "My doe with the black scut" to "My cow with the black udder"? She tells me none of the costume shops have antlers. I say Ill find some. The only two costume places I know about have a variety of antlers. In the end we had four different sets. I also bought fur tunic and feet and a spear (they werent going to) and chain to round out Herne the Hunter.
We finally get to rehearse on the stage that we intend to perform on. Its a nice change and almost feels like legitimate theater. Its in a beer garden behind The Gingerman as Shakespeare was intended to be performed, they tell me. By this time we have two guys playing double roles and a gal with a mustache. But its turning into a show. I and several other members of the cast have to run out through the long bar past patrons around through a parking lot past several rank dumpsters and through an alley (or the reverse) to get to stage left or right entrances and costume changes.
One run through was all wed get on that stage before showtime three days later. Most of us werent off book yet! But opening night came, on my birthday, and we started the play in front of family, friends and civilians and it was wonderful til the rains came in act two. Somebody said it was good luck to have rain on opening night. We moved inside and set up in front of the pool table. The show apparently must go on. We pulled it off and everybody loved it. We were all very proud as the hard work paid off.
The next night we had four people in the audience, two from ACOT to consider us for next years awards and it rained again and we moved to the pool table again. The next night it was raining when we got there so we set up at the pool table. The rain stopped the whole time we performed and started again when we finished.
That was Sunday Monday Tuesday. On Thursday we went to a retirement community and set up in their lounge. Friday we did another one. This time with no stage left entrance! We had an upstage and downstage right entrance past walker and into hall respectively; but no left. Did entrances get messed up? You betcha. Heck, I almost walked. Not because of the blocking nightmare, but because Damien the antichrist child had slowly intensified his evil barrage of harassment to the point of me wanting to kill him and get a much needed break in prison. It turned out to be the best show so far. Those old folks really got into it and I for one was starting to feel comfortable in the role. I really started hamming it up and they loved it.
Sunday it was back to The Gingerman and rain. The director and boyfreind tried to build a tent over the beer garden with two by fours and plastic sheeting. Ten minutes of thunder storms brought it down on their heads. She then stuck us in the corner with the dartboards and created bleachers around us for the large crowd of over 40 that was coming. I had said we could do this play in a phone booth but never expected to be called on it. We now had only one entrance and exit; through the crowd down right. Blocking was catch as catch can and backs to the crowd was the norm. Luckily I had years of stand-up so pacing and cheating to the crowd was instinctive for me.
We pulled it off. We did it in the corner three times as it never quit raining. It was a great role, it was a great pain and its in my resume. Were talking about holding the show over. I can just see us running forever like Cats on Broadway going from bar to bar. Bad Dog says we can do it there and The Hideout on Congress has nights, too. If every body wants to keep doing it who am I to refuse? Last night I did one of the Falstaff monologues on the stage at Cap City Comedy Club. Maybe Itll start a trend.