Ritual de lo habitual
Let's face it: Acting is mysterious. It is a mystical thing that happens when the lights go down and the actors we see before us transform into other people. As Robert Edmond Jones (shout out to RC!) puts it the actor should step aside and let the character use his body as a host, so it is the character's words, the character's voice the audience hears...Heavy stuff for anyone who is not in the theatre. But of the actors I know, the large majority would say, "RIGHT ON!". We cling to ritual and superstition to connect us. To connect us to the ancient stories, our history. My sacred space is the theatre, my church. A place where we meet, tell stories about the human experience and hopefully we learn and grow in the process. Connecting us to each other, our past and our future. And it all happens in the dark. We can transport you in space and time all by some strange magic...Powerful stuff. Shape shifters....but I digress... Most actors have pre-show or post-show rituals that they strictly ascribe to. So about these rituals... I LOVE this stuff! Some I have seen or heard about are light-hearted & quirky and some actors (myself included) take them pretty seriously. I thought THE GREEN ROOM would be a perfect place to share, laugh and consider our deeply personal rituals. Namaste~
Sara Morsey, beautiful inside and out! She is an actor of the finest order, most recently playing Prospera in The Tempest at the Hippodrome Theatre. Brendan and I had the great fortune of meeting Sara when she played our mom, Amanda, in The Glass Menagerie at Florida Rep many moons ago. Since then we have played in numerous shows together, laughed over many a drink, pondered life and politics over many a cup of coffee and even cried together I think...She is a legend in theatre circles and I couldn't be prouder to call her my dear friend, my "theatre mom" of sorts. And she is also a hell of a visual artist (www.SaraMorsey.com).
Take it away, Sara--
"Since I was an obsessive/compulsive little girl, (I had rituals for everything...how many times to kiss my baby dolls and stuffed animals before I went to sleep, etc),I have studiously avoided such rituals in my professional life. BUT anyone who knows me, even a little, knows that one thing always accompanies me at my makeup station. It's that cuppa cuppa cuppa, cuppa joe, coffee culture, cafe, yum, love, lightly creamed COFFEE.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Also good in the makeup kit: Immodium AD and arnica gel..."(I too have Arnica Gel in my makeup kit and use it when I slam into the furniture...RBP).
"And I usually have a picture of Mark Chambers in some kind of drag as well -- does not have to be female drag!" (We will be hearing from the one and only Mark in the days ahead! Whoaaaa! Looking forward to that one~ RBP)
Lauren Warhol Caldwell
THE one, the ONLY, Lauren Warhol Caldwell everybody! This woman is a force of nature in cowgirl boots. She is the Artistic Director of the Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, FL and is an Artist with a capital A. My love runs deep. Lauren allowed me to be in the room during the rehearsal process for Christmas Tuna this past season and I am ITCHING, I tell you, to play with her for a couple of weeks. Big love and mad respect! Here's Lauren on acting and directing--
"Because I direct and act, the rituals are very different. As an actor, the shoulders always feel heavier with more at stake. The fear is more potent. The process is slower. It is easier as an actor to dispose of the anxiety and release the adrenaline...once the foot steps in the arena. My dressing table must be the same every night when I walk in. Lipstick in the same place.... and all other make up, etc. When I reach for it, I want it right where it needs to be. My brain has no time for searching for the face that I must possess. I have afrin, aspirin, throat coat, sore muscle cream and more. I swallow and slather it all on whether I need it or not. Suit up. Smear and inhale and GO. I go backstage early. What goes through my mind is never the same. Sometimes it is silence, sometimes it is a lyric to a song, sometimes it is a moment in the play that I am re-thinking (try to rid myself of that one), a quick prayer to the darkness of the backstage to hang with me through the night......... mostly just releasing myself to surrender. Often I pace, other times I sit still (before entrance). My nervosity as a human is unpredictable.... so it is the same with my ritual.
The clown at the dressing table is what I see in the mirror. NO MATTER what character. I cannot stop seeing that as I complete my ritual of getting ready.
As a Director, I feel more at home. I think because that is what I do most often. I love actors and really get off on watching the character unfold like a beautiful flower as it blooms to full blossom. It is extremely important to tell MY story while honoring the playwright. In my opinion, most directors should have a stamp, a style, a recognition of work and other times this should be hidden. Depends. I research more than you can imagine. I dream nightly... often very violent dreams as the process is going....... I listen to music. I draw story boards or notes in my script, but NEVER blocking. Writing down blocking robs the actor of their own contribution. I cannot be married to just my vision. My vision leads, but does not exist in a vacuum. As I sit in the seat on opening, I say a prayer, once again to the darkness of the arena that the actors feel confident and safe and find the click of surrender. After the show, I always sneak to the ladies room for a moment of reflection and always take a selfie in the mirror. I also sing this after the curtain comes down... very quietly to myself:
Are you happy, are you satisfied
How long can you stand the heat
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
Firstly I have to say that Bari Newport is my best friend. She is also the Artistic Director of the Penobscot Theatre in Bangor, Maine. She is a hell of an actress, director, she is wicked good at developing scripts, she is an AWESOME producer and is an all around theater gal! She has won awards, was a TCG recipient for Future Leaders of American Theatre -- did I mention she is my best friend? Bari and I met at Florida Rep more than 10 years ago, we have worked together when I flew up to serve as her Interim Executive Director at PTC, and most recently we co-directed/associate produced a Theatre Festival on the Island of Bequia! Here's Bari~
"Okay. You asked me to post my ritual. This is a little embarrassing, but for my whole life, after I have gotten a huge project or production up, I take a good 1-3 day recovery nap, where I shake it off and then move on. If that recovery zone is at all interfered with... Well, I don't even like to think about it. I know I'm not alone in this. I've met a lot of other artists who hurtle towards creation and then lay down and rest. I've always been interested in this pattern." (and this is Zippers-- the best pooch evah--demonstrating a nap).
Michelle and I met in Gainesville this many seasons ago the Hippodrome Theatre while playing in DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER and were fast friends. Michelle is one of these women who is genuinely funny. I mean REALLY funny. I found myself laughing at her through the entire process. And her French dialect is something to behold! She is a great gal and a shape-shifter! Love you! Here's Michelle~
"I started acting when I was a fifteen, and I have a few rituals that I have been doing for the last 20 years. The first one is practical, I try to not eat up to four hours before a show and I drink green tea with honey in my dressing room. I will keep walnuts or almonds in the dressing room just in case I am starving— but other than that, nothing. My second ritual begins about ten minutes before my first entrance. I usually say a title prayer thanking my character for the opportunity to play them and I ask for their support in telling their story. I ask them to walk in front of me onstage so they can guide me in saying what they need to say or do that night. I know, sounds a little “woo woo,” but I feel like it takes me out of myself and keeps me focused on the responsibility of telling the story."
A Little Backstory:
If you are not in the theatre -- then most likely some of this is news to you! Here are some tried and true superstitions and rituals to fill you in:
Ghost Light: It is common practice that the last person out of the theater at night leaves a light burning on stage.
At least touch your script: This depends on the actor but most actors at least touch their script after half hour and before they go on. Some read the whole play (or the very least their lines)... (ahem). Actors sometime even leave the script in the wings (backstage), just in case...
Not "Good Luck" but "Break a Leg": Lots of different explanations for this one. So if you really want to know look here. Or Merde.
Lord have mercy, Don't whistle in the theatre: In the old days, theatres would hire sailors to do the rigging for the fly systems. Different whistles meant different commands. If you whistle, batons come down. On your head. Don't whistle.
Bad final dress = Good opening: Many actors feel that if a final dress rehearsal sucks then the opening night is sure to be a success. (?) I've had a few of them and yeah. It seems to work. Don't take a chance on this one people...
The Scottish Play: If somehow you don' know what I am talking about...it was written by Shakespeare and rhymes with MacSeth. Actors freak out about this one. Seriously. With various degrees of intensity. Some actors NEVER say it and some just avoid the word in a proper theatre. Look it up here.