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Monday, 29 May
Bad Acts

You never really get over seeing a six-foot-tall naked albino smiling and waving at you.

Surveying over my years of acting work in the theater scene, I can honestly report that the huge majority of the time, I was surrounded by professionals; actors who were dedicated to their craft, and who approached every performance with concentration, focus and respect. Occasionally, I was even one of those people.

And then there were the times when . . . we were not. The times when even the most talented, dedicated people found themselves not in the moment, as we like to say, because, well . . . we wanted to fuck around instead. Is this professional? Not hardly. Do some actors consider this to be complete heresy? Oh, man, yes, often some of whom find themselves playing around anyway. Is it unfair to the audience? Incontestably! But it happens anyway, for a lot of reasons.

One might be that the show in question is horrifically bad (and yes, for the most parts, actors are perfectly aware of when their shows are unwatchable nightmares). Or it might be because the show is good, but one's sanity still requires diversion because of the show's inherently debased or mind-whipping nature. Or it may just be that the actors have gotten loose from the reins and have begun running amok for no good reason.

One show I did, which became quite popular, necessitated several run extensions, and in so becoming, also some cast replacements as people had to drop out. For reasons lost to me now, by the time new cast members were being introduced, the green room had become littered with horrible pornography (I think it was left over from some other show--anyway, it was high comedy for me to see a wonderful, soft-spoken fortyish actress casually thumbing through a copy of Big Black Asses, and exclaiming, "Oh my! Oh!"). At one point in the show, our new leading actress was required to set up a screen onstage, eventually from which she would emerge. Prior to her debut evening, one of us decided to give her a jolt by taping onto the inside of the screen (where it would be the first thing she saw when she unfolded it) a truly hideous fake ad from a Hustler magazine, where a closeup of a woman's labia was Photoshopped into the shape of a vodka bottle, with the caption, "Absolute Pussy." We watched gleefully from backstage as she got into place for the scene, and unfolded the screen. She didn't bat an eye.

Later, we shrieked at her, "Didn't you see that nasty pussy bottle?" (There's a sentence the world surely needed.)

"Oh, yeah." She replied. "I just thought it was always there."

On closing night of that show, we also tortured another actor, who had to use a prop with a cheap digital playback device on it. His character was a salesman, and the prop in question was a "talking camera," which would inanely chant "Say Cheese!" so that the photographer wouldn't have to. That fateful night, however, our stage manager rerecorded over the "Say Cheese!" message to simulate the sped-up squiggle of a recording gone horribly wrong (thus ruining his sales pitch). We all watched as he played the awful thing, with the happy result that the audience went crazy, and the two actors stuck onstage trying desperately not to break, and finally with him throwing the camera offstage, saying, "I don't know why you'd want this. It's a piece of shit."

Perhaps our lowest moment was slightly--maybe!--defensible. Years ago, I was in a production of the legendary pervert Jean Genet's The Balcony. For those of you unfamiliar with Genet, he was a genuinely debased individual who enjoyed things like having a bouquet of orchids stuck up his ass while diseased ermine gnawed on his nuts. The Balcony concerns a country embroiled in civil war, where, for reasons not worth going into here, the fantasies of some brothel johns start to overtake reality, and soon the brothel denizens have become genuine figureheads of power. For example, my character was a "general" who enjoyed having sex with his whore of choice, with her acting as the role of his warhorse. Now bear in mind that this sort of thing is really just Genet with his engine idling.

Genet is also incredibly wordy, and takes some severely torturous locutionary paths in his dialogue, which makes it challenging to say the least to work with an actor who is either unwilling to or incapable of memorizing his lines in any linear way. This led to the rest of the cast being moored onstage with someone who thought nothing of simply vamping for sections at a time, hamburgering his lines mercilessly, and we would wait impatiently to hear something, anything resembling a cue line so we could (by now) insensibly chime in with our lines. Or imagine a scene, smack in the middle of the script (which we cut like hell anyway), which droned on for what felt like a geological age, in which the madame and another whore discoursed about the nature of illusion versus reality and mirrors and reflections and this and that, and everyone else not in that scene, thank God, went and chain-smoked in the alley.

Well, something had to be done. And so we played Assassin.

Let me say again: this sort of thing is really indefensible and wrong. It goes against every single thing an actor should stand for. It was also, sadly, crucial for our collective sanity. I blame Genet, since it's a lot more convenient than blaming myself.

Assassin is simplicity itself. You're trying to "kill" your fellow actors in the most inconvenient way possible for the intended victim. How it works is, you're onstage, and you catch your victim's eye, and then, in character, indicate--our preferred method was with a "blowdart" gesture--that you are killing them. Then, the poor bastard you just nailed, possibly right in the middle of your speech about the illusory nature or real power, has to also in character acknowledge that they have been "killed." Possibly with a little shudder, or with a well-placed hand to the heart, or maybe with a toss of your head and an upstage wince. You'd think it would be hard to find a good spot to fake a blowdart, or that audiences would buzz about some sudden horrible shudder that went through an actor for no good reason, but as near as I could tell, nobody ever noticed a fucking thing. The thing is, with timing and discretion, It's really pretty easy to play without anyone being the wiser. The opposite thing is, as should be obvious, it's antithetical to anything even remotely close to acting. After all, it's hard to give full weight to an emotional monologue when your mind is whirling with killing strategies, or when suddenly, none of the other actors are looking you in the eye for fear of seeing your masterfully crafted blowgun gesture disguised as a quick wipe of the lips.

One night, I was on a roll. I had "killed" the Chancellor, a photographer and . . . someone else I forget, and was starting to gear up for slaughtering the Bishop, if the fucker would just look over at me. He was going down. Then a stage door opened for the entrance of the madame, and I looked over to acknowledge the entrance. She came in.

And there, behind her in the doorway, invisible to the audience, stood C., our six-foot-tall naked albino (he played, in the whorehouse, the Slave, who was forever naked and covered with filth). His chalk-white hair shone like an unkempt halo, and his watery blue eyes shone as he grinned at me. His skinny ribs strained against his skin, and he had made sure to smear some brown makeup right on to his depressing penis.

His smile broadened as he brought his hand up to his lips and shot me dead. My character was a ticcy, neurotic, helpless thing, so it was child's play to manufacture a shudder for him, and a hand to my chest as acknowledgement of the kill. I was "dead," so I was done killing for the night. He gave me a triumphant, jaunty wave.

We got a particularly enthusiastic round of applause that night, our finest hour.

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


starting to gear up for slaughtering the Bishop


Comment number: 007541   Posted by: TheBrad on May 30, 2006 01:04 AM from IP:

Skot Darling. That opening line was soooo Dan Brown.

Comment number: 007542   Posted by: Lung the Younger on May 30, 2006 03:53 AM from IP:

That cheered me in ways I can't even begin to describe.

Comment number: 007543   Posted by: kerewin on May 30, 2006 10:37 AM from IP:

Dan Brownier: "Six-foot tall naked albino C. stared unforgettably through the velvet curtains of Small Theater's symbolically-laden backstage area."

Comment number: 007545   Posted by: redfox on May 30, 2006 09:01 PM from IP:

"he was a genuinely debased individual who enjoyed things like having a bouquet of orchids stuck up his ass while diseased ermine gnawed on his nuts." Actually I thought that this sentence was much worse (better???) than the "pussy bottle." I think the world can handle it though.

Comment number: 007546   Posted by: Todd on May 30, 2006 09:29 PM from IP:

About ten minutes ago I threw up all over everything in the bathroom. No, I don't know why. I feel fine now. Or I *felt* fine until I opened your blog for a little diversion while my guts calmed down. I hope you appreciate this, because I'm not.

Comment number: 007547   Posted by: Kate on May 31, 2006 12:17 AM from IP:

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