Hello everyone! I’m writing this from my dressing room at Portland Stage Company. It’s my very first tech rehearsal as an Equity Actor, and honestly, it’s not that different than other tech rehearsals I’ve done before. It’s incredibly slow moving, a lot of stopping and starting, and it’s the time when everything should and does go wrong. But that’s ok, because now’s the time to fix it! For those less savvy with theatre lingo, a tech rehearsal is where all the lights, sound, furniture, props, and costumes get sorted out. Every cue that happens, every scene change, every transition of any kind gets ironed out in tech rehearsal. We have two days of tech, Friday and Saturday, and each is a twelve-hour day, from noon to midnight. Actually, it’s called a ten-out-of-twelve, because we get a two-hour break in the middle (from 5-7) for dinner.
While these are two very long days, they’re mitigated by the fact that we have an awesome crew (most of whom are interns), headed by our ultra-great Stage Manager Shane. We also have a BOSS design team (sound, lights, set, costume, props), and of course the cast is always a joy to work with. While there is a large amount of waiting around while the design elements are hammered out, it does give one time to converse, sometimes about rather significant things: I had a conversation about the struggles Garrett (the deaf actor playing “Billy”) has during tech, because it’s often so dark on stage (as they work out the lighting issues) that it’s hard for him to see his interpreter. I had a conversation about the difficulties and benefits of being an actor in New York; I’ve gained some great advice from Elizabeth, who plays my mom in the show, about how to navigate such scary waters as being a starving artist in an expensive city. And I’ve had time to bond with my stage-siblings, finding the brotherly/sisterly love.
It’s actually insane to think that this show opens in less than a week. We have tomorrow as our first dress rehearsal (even though we’ve been in costume all through tech, we haven’t actually RUN the show in costume), then we have Monday off, then Tuesday is our first preview! Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are all preview days, which means that they are still dress rehearsals, but they are at the same time our shows will be, and we will have a paying audience seeing us run the show (so we sort of treat them as performances). Things are still liable to change during this part of the process, and we have rehearsals from 12-5 each of those days, then a performance at 7:30.
So we are very much still in the rehearsal stage, but we can feel the clock ticking down until opening night. There’s a new energy now that we’ve moved into the theatre (as opposed to the rehearsal room we were in during the first two weeks of rehearsal); suddenly the play feels that much more real. Working on the set makes me feel like I’m in this family’s kitchen, and working with the props makes the acting that much more authentic. This show is really starting to come together, and I’m excited to see the progress in the coming week!
It’s my second day off since I’ve been here, which seems slightly bonkers. The second week of rehearsal was much more exhausting than the first; maybe it’s because we’ve graduated from table work and are doing much deeper character work, maybe it’s because we’re doing a full run of the play each rehearsal, or maybe it’s because I got sick at the end of the week . . . oops. I’m using my day off to recuperate, do some of my own character work (digging through the script a bit more for character traits/quirks, researching bipolar disorder and stammering, finding deeper connections between my character and the other characters), and catching up on household chores (dishes, laundry, etc.). Quite the glamorous life!
There’s been a clear difference between the first week of rehearsal and the second, a distinct shift to the next level of work. I haven’t been able to do this level of character work in AGES, if ever. Being able to spend six hours a day in rehearsal – exploring freely and collaboratively – and then to spend several hours a night working independently on my own character . . . it’s so nourishing as an actor. Working at Portland Stage Company as a full-time professional actor honestly feels like a wonderful, hot, home-cooked meal after months of eating ramen in college.
One revelation I had this week was that from here on out, the majority of the audiences I see in front of me are not gonna have the FAINTEST clue who I am as an actor. This was so important for me to realize because for the most part, I’ve played to academic audiences (i.e. my high school or college), and they are made up of my peers, many of whom know me. So in college, I was always paranoid that some part of myself would appear on stage, rather than ONLY the character I was playing. I was afraid of any overlap, in case someone in the audience thought to themselves, “Oh, that was SO Matthew.” Well, with regards to the audience that is going to see Tribes, hardly ANYONE is going to know who I am, so how the hayballs would they know if a face I made or an intonation I used was “Matthew” or not? THEY DON’T KNOW ME!
This revelation made me think of a Johnny Depp quote I heard once (and I’m paraphrasing here), where he said that “you have to put a little bit of yourself into every character you play, because if you don’t, then it’s not acting: it’s lying.” So this whole last week I’ve really been trying to relax into the role; not obsessing over whether something looks too “Matthew.” If infusing a lot of “Matthew” into the character makes it more real and believable, then that’s what it takes. The audience isn’t going to know if I infused a “Matthew-ism” so that I could find the truth of the character; what they will notice, however, is if there is a lack of truth in the character I play.
What I’ll be focusing on in this coming week of rehearsals is finding that next layer of truth, the naturalness that will bring this character to life, into the lives of the audience. I have a lot of work to do, but it’s all work I want to be doing, so I consider myself lucky!
Anyone who’s a Barenaked Ladies fan, switched on his or her radio in the 1990s, or has spent more than four minutes with me will know the song “One Week.” Well, it’s been one week since I started rehearsals, and holy cow, what a week. In some ways, this week felt like the year 2013 did for me: it went by SO FAST, but it feels like the beginning of it was AGES ago . . .
The way rehearsals work for this particular show at Portland Stage Company (it changes show to show) is a six-hour day, usually noon-6pm (although it fluctuates slightly). With a lunch break and two ten-minute breaks, this is actually only five hours plus change. You might think, “That’s considered full-time work?” Well, think of it more like a school-day/day at university: for every hour I’ve been in rehearsal, I’ve racked up about half-an-hour of homework. Each day I’ve spent at least a few hours on the script in some manner (either memorizing lines or researching my character). Oh, and we have only one day off a week (Monday).
What does one research? Well, I lucked out when I got cast as Daniel in Tribes, because I got a rich, deeply developed character with much to explore. After spending two full days of table-work (it’s what it sounds like – we sat around a table for two full days, reading through the script, pulling it apart; discussing the grand, sweeping themes of the text as well as the minutia of a particular character’s idiosyncrasies), as well as four full days of rehearsal, it was clear to me that the character I’m playing is bipolar. I’m so glad Nina Raine (the playwright) didn’t simply put “Daniel: 28 years old, bipolar.” It would have detrimentally simplified the character, and it was great to make this discovery on my own through well-placed clues throughout the text. At the end of the play, Daniel starts stammering for the first time since he was ten, he has auditory hallucinations, he can’t sleep . . . he’s a hot mess. So I’ve been researching different types of stammers/stutters, the ways bipolar disorder manifests itself, what factors might contribute/exacerbate Daniel’s condition, as well as cultural and societal influences (this play is set in London). Needless to say, I’ve had my hands full!
The cast is an eclectic and hilarious mix of people (as evidenced by the photo above); in some ways, my first day of rehearsal felt like the first day of kindergarten: all of my castmates (except one local actor) are professional actors who do this as their full-time job; this isn’t something they all do after working a full day at the warehouse. These are people who have been honing their craft for, in some cases, almost thirty years. These are the COOL kids, the ones who know the playground and the lunch room and how to stay on the principal’s good side . . . Needless to say, I have a lot to learn from this bunch!
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you? Be in touch!
A very brief reflection of my first day of rehearsal!
Just a quick update before rehearsals start!
Don’t worry, don’t worry. This is not a review of the Harold Pinter play No Man’s Land (although if you want the brief Matthew-review: don’t see it, it’s Pinter). No, no. This is not a theatre review. This is about the transition between Seattle and Portland; between dream and reality; between job and profession. And this is actually being written in No Man’s Land. Or rather, no man’s AIR: I’m on the flight from Seattle to Boston as I type. What better place to write about transition than in transit?
In order to fully understand a transition, one must know the “was” and the “will be.” Here’s where I was: today, or . . . yesterday, I guess (Friday, let’s say), I had my last day of work at Diva Espresso in downtown Seattle. I have worked there for two years (with a six-month break in the middle to go on tour with my friend Bryan), and I have never enjoyed a job more (and I used to work in a HalloWEEN store!). The company itself is amazing to work for: quality-driven but casual (hey, I’m a fan of any place that lets me wear basketball shorts to work!), friendly, and invested. And on top of that, the branch I work at is pretty boss: I was at the Chinook branch, which was housed on the ground floor of a government building. What this meant for me was that I got a regular shift, every morning, Monday-Friday. We didn’t work weekends, and we didn’t work evenings. Heck, we even had holidays off! (Unpaid, of course J) Not a bad gig for the service industry! But even if the perks WEREN’T great, I’d still love that job. I got to make coffee and talk to people, and get PAID for it!
On my last day of work, I received so much support from my co-workers and customers, all encouraging me to pursue my dream of acting and performing. The customers at the Chinook Diva are off-the-charts-awesome. Throughout my two years there, they would ask if I was in any performances over the weekend, ask how they went when they saw me on Monday, and some of them even came to see me perform! So when I informed my customers I was leaving to make acting my full-time job (at least, for six weeks), I received such warm blessings from everyone that I couldn’t help but be optimistic about choosing a career that can be brutally competitive, constantly uncertain, and hardly ever lucrative. But the best part of my day BY FAR was when my coworker Eric (who had to go out of his way to buy basketball shorts to achieve this) and two of our customers dressed up like me! I almost died laughing.
So if that’s my “was,” what’s my “will be”? Well, today . . . or tomorrow, I guess (Saturday, let’s say) I will be landing in Boston at 6am after taking a redeye on the evening of my last day of work. Seeing as I’m already pretty tired after having been awake 22 straight hours (at the time of writing this), I’m pretty sure that by the time I POST it, I’ll be downright pooped. I’ll spend the day in Boston seeing a friend or two, then I’ll train/bus it up to Portland, where I’ll get settled and probably sleep for two years. Well, maybe not quite that long, but I do have Sunday and Monday to recover, because rehearsals for Tribes don’t start until Tuesday. Starting then, I’ll be rehearsing six hours a day, six days a week for three weeks. Then tech and dress rehearsals, then three weeks of performances (more details on those as they get closer).
So until Tuesday I’m hovering in limbo a little bit, preparing my heart for the joy of having my passion become my full-time job, and preparing my head to accept the reality of a dream come true. As I pause for breath at this frenetic crossroads, I give thanks for all the encouragement and support I’ve received, from Diva customers, from teachers and mentors, and from friends and family. One phrase I heard over and over on my last day at Diva was “Good luck, and have FUN.” I’m so grateful for the reminder that while this ride might be crazy, unstable, and sometimes frightening, it’s there to be enjoyed.