As ‘Twere With a Defeated Joy

Well, I’ve certainly been remiss lately as to the upkeep of this blog. I could use the excuse that I’ve been too busy, but that’s not really the case. True, I’ve initiated and collaborated on over a dozen creative projects this year. But, as per usual, I tend to find myself with mountains of free time. This comes from not having a day job; however, I do spend an inordinate amount of time stressing over how to pay my bills one week to the next.

This most recent project actually ate up quite a bit of my time. Jump-Start Performance Company and the Classic Theatre of San Antonio (who operate out of the same space in the Blue Star Arts Complex) decided to collaborate on a staging of a play by Shakespeare. For reasons never divulged to me, Hamlet was decided upon. (A problematic decision, in my opinion, in that there are only two female characters in the play). As a Jump-Start company member — and a new one at that — I felt it incumbent upon me to attend all open meetings and “play dates” concerning this collaboration. There had been talk about video projections. Perhaps with the ghost. Whatever the case, I made it known I was available to do whatever might be needed. That that “whatever” would be acting was certainly an uneasy possibility sitting in the back of my mind. But when I learned I had been cast as King Claudius, I did my best to let it be known I have no real acting experience. The production has two directors. ST Shimi, representing Jump-Start, and Diane Malone, of Classic. They didn’t seem terribly troubled with my lack of experience.

Laurie Dietrich did the cutting of the text. She took it down to the bare essentials of the characters of the court, removing the larger political drama. But I still found myself with 221 lines to memorize. And when I cautioned all involved that I’ve had my cell phone for over a decade and I still don’t know my own number, I guess they just thought it playful self-deprecation.

It was hell getting all those lines down. I spent at least five hours each day drilling. But, somehow, after an ugly and turgid (for me) week of tech rehearsals, I managed to do a serviceable job on stage for the first three performances. I still have another three shows this coming weekend, but I’m fairly confident I’ll survive.

It’s a mixed blessing to be surrounded by so many talented people. On the one hand, they’re always there to help out and give guidance; but, also, they bring to their performances a polish and competence that I really can’t match.

What I’ve learned is that while I don’t particularly like acting, it can be rather fun. When I was whining to fellow company member Chuck Squires about how I was drowning, he said I should trust the process. What the fuck? But, he was right. There’s this point when the lines are internalized and you walk out on stage and they just spool out, automatically. Yes, I have dropped a line or stumbled a few times, but when it’s all going according to the “process” it’s exhilarating, like all those things that move fast and don’t need conscious decision-making, such as driving, riding a bike, making music, etc. Just stand out of the way, and let it happen.

Here I am in costume backstage between scenes.

King Claudius

It seems ludicrous that one’s first acting gig should be a major character in fucking Shakespeare. And I’m getting paid for the job, and quite well. The fact is, it took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding bringing attention to myself. I don’t doubt that in my youth I suffered from social anxiety disorder. And even in college it took a great deal of inner resolve (and the occasional black-market pharmaceuticals) to manage to read aloud my own short stories in creative writing classes — and that was to an audience of fifteen people, tops. But, in the last seven years or so, I’ve been pushed on stage to introduce people, hauled in front of cameras in TV studios to talk about events, asked to participate on a few occasions in staged performance art pieces, and so on, until I really don’t think twice about getting up in front of a few hundred people. There’s no way I could have even thought of doing this a decade ago. For this production my biggest fear wasn’t so much a room full of slack-jawed gawkers staring me down, but the fear I’d fuck up and let down the rest of the cast. Ultimately I’m encouraged by the fact that even at my advancing age, I can still overcome some of my pesky and debilitating neuroses.

This has certainly been one of those opportunities where I’ve been forced to work outside of my comfort zone. And I highly recommend it.

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