Letters to Holly

Wednesday, December 10

Countdown: Two Nights

As I've mentioned before, I spend the vast majority of Act One sitting silently. I'm lazy enough to enjoy this and let someone else do the heavy lifting this time. But becuase I have to use an accent, this onstage downtime works against me. Normally, I'd practice backstage before going on. If I had a proper entrance, I would pace backstage, tighten my accent, wait for my cue, walk onstage, and make with the British blabber. In this play, I don't have that immediate prep time, and our speakers aren't using true accents. I can't vicariously keep my accent muscles ready by listening to them. I start talking cold.

I've concentrated on my accent over the last few days. I can hear BBC Radio over the internet. I have a British author audiobook for the commute. I've even played with mixing dialects, moving from Michael Caine to Ricky Gervaise and Hugh Grant and Patrick Stewart. Cratchit can't be refined. He's low class compared to Scrooge, but Scrooge is only successful middle class. He's not aristocracy, which may be the most subtle trick of the original story. Scrooge is marginally higher in station than Cratchit, but he's hoarded his money. The middle class, then, can be comfortable and successful without being born into money. Scrooge has earned it but with such focus that he became a miser. He has no servants or coachmen. Scrooge represents the potential of wrong in all strata of society. A Christmas Carol is not class warfare. It's the "prodigal son" story if the dad went bad.

One more note about British accents. Almost all us amateur actors make the same mistake when they slap one on: They get airy. They push the voice high and powdery, and they lose projection. The cultural association is that British speakers have no vocal bass. It's wrong, but there it is. I had to bring my voice down when I really tried Cratchit the first time. It remains the first trick for me to keep in mind. Then I work on selective enunciation -- "and" becomes "n" and "men" becomes "m'n." But certain syllables are drawn out for that dry texture. And then of course there's the "r" pronunciations. Yes, it's a lot to work with, and this is why I wanted the accents dropped when we did the spring play, and it's probably why the major characters don't have them for this play.

But let's get back to the rehearsals.

Here's when you know you're in real trouble: The director makes Xerox copies of the script for the lead actors who have not had one clean rehearsal. The script is enlarged to a loose-leaf format to be easily read at a glance. They can be kept onstage and used throughout the show. No more awkward pauses and obvious requests for lines. She holds them out to the actors. They refuse them. Now -- right now -- you're in trouble. The actors claim their notes are sufficient. These are the same notes that have failed them all these weeks. These are the same notes that befuddle them as they run scenes. These are ineffective notes, and the actors clearly state they prefer them to the full script which they can refer to any time during the show.

I was in the same position -- the exact same position -- last year. I had a shitload of lines in a courtroom play. I had notes. I had a near-disastrous open rehearsal where I confused my cues at the exhibit table and blanked hard for what seemed like eight years. But that was my lone boo-boo, and I expanded my onstage notes. If someone had offered me a full script, I would have refused. And I think I did. But I tightened my notes, and I didn't have that hiccup with an audience, and that error happened just once. Once.

The judge is told to arm himself onstage with the script to cue the actors when trouble arises. he explains it will confuse him. He's already reading half his lines from his bench, so I don't know what the problem might be.

Anyway, we have our first audience Thursday night, and we there isn't one scene without line trouble. Doc says he did the math and realizes we'd be fine if we had Wednesday rehearsals. I agree. Tonight's practice is not bad for a show that opens in a week, but it's scary for a show that opens this weekend. Whole pages are skipped. The four-page climactic argument is rearranged. The defense attorney only halfway stands up during objections because he's not sure if he should object or on what grounds. Mrs. Cratchit reads her great comic interjection as a weepy monologue. The costume chief wants us to reblock the last scene because she doesn't like the sight of the empty witness gallery. The tech board operator petitions to add music we hadn't planned for. The circuit breaker cuts off our lights randomly through the show.

The director asks if we can add a rehearsal Thursday afternoon, and I say I can't make it. I have to work. Other voices echo mine. The stage manager says the judge and attorneys should meet up and run lines, something I thought of about two weeks back.

Here's what I can do: Prepare my lines (only takes five minutes to run them), and treat this show as an exercise in improv. Stay on my toes. Worry only about my stuff. Nail my scenes and stay light.

As I type this, there are ten hours before we take the stage for invited guests. Then we have three nights of performances until Monday's wings and beer. Wings and beer are my tunnel light. Wings and beer are my Christmas spirits. A chance and a hope.

A chance and a hope, Ebenezer.

Picture of the Day

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