Epiphanies from The Ruiner of The Play

It’s the middle of rehearsal and we’ve begun to get The Elephant Man on its feet. I’m struggling every step of the way: I can’t seem to connect with my character, my physicality and voice feel all wrong. The initial excitement of being offered a part in a play is now a distant memory. I try to move a different way, I try raising my voice, but it’s no use. I’m exhausted and embarrassed. I look ridiculous and I’m certain that this is the rehearsal where everyone will see me for the untalented fraud I am. I start to wonder why I didn’t become a gardener instead, or a taxidermist. Everything else I’ve done before this has been a fluke, a stroke of luck that had to end sometime.

I try to tell Shannon this, but as usual she’s having none of it. We’ve worked together for four years now and she seems to believe in me or something ridiculous like that. She reminds me that she wouldn’t have cast me if she didn’t think I play the part, but I’m pretty sure that every other actor in the world was unavailable. Still, she is just as stressed as me, so I furrow my brow, trudge back to the stage and accept my fate as “Ruiner of the Play”.

We begin the scene again. And as I look my scene partner in the eye and we start our dialogue, something happens. There is a moment, a connection, an exhilarating feeling that surges through my entire mind and body. It’s almost impossible to describe; it’s the moment where everything seems to line up, where the actor becomes the character, where you are just so in tune with everything around you.

Of course, it’s only a moment and it’s fleeting, and then I am back to awkwardly stumbling around the stage. But I remember, not for the first time, that this moment is the reason I have not given up yet. These are the moments in acting that I live for. They are rare and it takes a thousand frustrating wrong moments to get that golden one, but when you do it’s the most glorious feeling ever and when it’s over you will be willing to go through a thousand more bad ones to get to it again. I know through personal experience now that I cannot make these moments happen at will – they will happen when they happen and I have to be patient.

In a professional rehearsal setting, rehearsals are open and loose, but moments like these are kept private. There’s no real time to dwell on it – it’s just on to the next scene. It’s not like that with my fellow Bench actors. Watching street-involved actors make connections of their own is exhilarating. Many of them are new to acting and they’re just as frustrated as I am. When something connects, you can see their eyes light up and instinctively they grab on to it. Unlike me, however, they don’t hide it. They shout out and celebrate their discoveries. They share it with everyone. I wonder about the lives that my cast friends come from and the rough times they’ve gone through, and I think that maybe it’s because of this that they understand more naturally to savour these moments.

At first I felt uncomfortable listening to these epiphanies declared so casually, but the feeling’s infectious, and it spreads through the cast. I’m learning to share my own moments now, and I’m realizing that not only do we teach and inspire each other in this sharing but also that it feels good to get these experiences out in the open. It’s not always easy, but I’m getting there. There is still frustration, there is still the occasional despair and doubt, and I will continue to wait for my next grand moment. Only this time, I’m waiting with an entire group of people, and when that moment happens, we will all benefit from it.

-MW

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