Monday, March 29, 2010

Conan McCarty on Becoming George W. Bush

Icarus Continued...

The first rehearsals of any play are always fascinating. You reconnect with the director, many times for the first time since you met at the auditions. You meet the other actors, and for the first time hear the play through their voices (and they always seem to be so much better than you were when you were playing all the parts yourself). You meet the stage managers, the guys who hold any production together, and the other members of the creative team and the staff of the theatre where you all will gather to dream together and then present this dream to the public in the hopes that all involved and watching can come to some greater understanding of themselves and the world they live in.

We are blessed with Paul Meshejian as director. Paul runs PlayPenn, a work space here in Philadelphia for the development of new plays, and his expertise with new works quickly becomes evident as he breaks down the script and brings the three actors together, making sure we are at least on the same page. A director friend of mine likened her work to walking backwards the length of a steel girder atop a skyscraper still under construction, coaxing the cast away from the support beams and out onto unchartered territory, trusting that the girder you are on is long enough to make it to the other side. While I like the image very much, I am afraid of heights. Still, IF I was a betting man, I’d put money on Paul.

Peter Schmitz plays Piet, the Dutch employee of the hotel at The Hague where our play takes place. He has done prodigious amounts of research on all things Dutch, and has become an extraordinary font of knowledge. I would not be surprised if he has taken to wearing wooden shoes around his home, and there are rumors he will be giving a masters’ class in Appreciation of Seventeenth Century Dutch Painting. Actually , I am starting those rumors, because what he has brought to the play is incredible.

Kim Carson is one of the gamest actors I have ever met. She rehearses her role as Anna-Lisa, a Bosnian refugee, with us all day and then goes off to People’s Light and Theatre so she can be banished by her cranky old father, come back to save him, then die by hanging in a prison cell in King Lear. Talk about a rough day in the office! She is remarkably self-possessed, and the city of Philadelphia should delight in watching her for years to come.

The glue holding us all together is Tom Helmer, our stage manager, ably assisted by Danny Guy. They keep the rehearsals on schedule, make sure we get our breaks, relay questions back and forth between us and our writer, and always manage to have one eye on the script to remind us (me especially) when we are saying things that do not remotely resemble anything the playwright actually wrote. Someone in the asylum has to be responsible for the inmates, right?

It is a priviledge to be an actor. Biased opinion, I know. It can certainly be a tough line of business. At any given time 85% of the members of Actors Equity Association are unemployed, because there are simply not enough jobs to go around. Partly because theatre is not really viewed as a source of income for the community at large (New York City and its relationship with Broadway being an exception to that rule), partly because there is so little emphasis on culture in America. I actually think we spell culture here with a capital ‘K.’ Check your television listings, more people would rather watch ‘The Biggest Loser’ than ‘Masterpiece Theatre.’ And in the end, we are the biggest losers. Regardless, with the possible exception of armed combat, no profession I know makes me face more of what I fear on a daily basis, and that’s a good thing. And the outstanding people who are bringing SEA to life remind me once again of Ben Hecht’s comment: “if I should make it to Heaven when I die and find that the streets are peopled by actors, I should not be unhappy.”

We are now several days into this Awfully Big Adventure; the rehearsals are a lot of fun, but very intense because there are only three of us and we are onstage A LOT. I come home beat each evening, and my voice is beat up a little because Dubya never shuts up and I caught a small cold just as we started, but it has been an awfully long time since I looked forward to work every single morning. They say that the greatest thing you can share with someone outside of your labor is your love. And if you are fortunate enough to share both, than you are truly blessed.

- Conan McCarty

Read past entries of the Icarus Chronicles: Parts I & II, Part III, Part IV Part V

Find out more about InterAct's World Premiere of Lee Blessing's WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA

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