Friday, October 01, 2010

Dropped lines and their reverberations

Tonight will be the third Friday in a row that I’ve been to a show in town, something that probably hasn’t happened for at least 5 years or so. I’m doing what I can to see all I can because, in less than 3 weeks, I believe the door to most extracurriculars will close for me for at least a few months (more on that soon).

If you scroll down and look to the left, you’ll see a new addition on the blog listing: the online musings of the lovely and talented Emily Cole. I stumbled upon her blog recently – and fortuitously given her most recent posting about opening night of “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming.” Emily gives a compelling account of the panic she felt “going up” on her lines on opening night.

Ms. Cole should know that she is in good company. My understanding is that the inimitable Mr. Inscoe dropped a line or two during opening night of “Shipwrecked.” From my experience, there are 3 audience reactions to a dropped line or scene:

--> Don’t notice. That was the case for me at “Shipwrecked.” I only heard afterwards about anything missing from the performance. Whatever the line or lines that were dropped, they didn’t effect my enjoyment of the show.

--> Confusion. If there was anyone who did notice Ms. Cole’s slight miscue, I expect they were just a little confused. However, Ms. Cole, like the consummate professional she is, moved quickly and calmly past the moment of trepidation and brought her monologue home in a winning and amusing fashion. Any confusion was quickly forgotten.

--> Empathy and/or appreciation. Knowing a little something about the show, I noticed that Emily was mixing something up but my reaction was sympathy for her, knowing her mind was probably racing 1200 mph looking for the way out of her predicament. I was rooting for her in that moment, and when she recovered, I was relieved for her.

Which was a reminder to me that the single thing I hear from non-theater people that they find most amazing about actors is encompassed in the infamous question, “how do you remember all of those lines?” From my perspective (jaded by years now of seeing shows and hanging out with actors), remembering the lines is the bottom rung of the acting ladder, bringing levels of truth and meaning to those lines are the real challenge.

But still, given how many people are impressed by the memorization, most people are not fazed by the occasional drop. In fact, it reminds them that it’s live theater and that a certain level of wavering from the script is actually part of the charm and part of what makes the experience unique. And, if they are a nice emotionally healthy human, the situation actually makes them feel empathy for the actor, another human being temporarily struggling but then succeeding (assuming the actor doesn’t break down on stage).

In a kind of extreme case of that last scenario, I remember vividly a performance of “Children’s Letters to God” where my son was singing and lost a verse of the song. The dead air and the look on his face suddenly made him seem so small and alone I had to stifle the urge to run onstage and hug him. The empathetic response, coupled with a parent’s natural inclination to shelter their child from any and all discomfort (let alone terror), raised my blood pressure about as high as it has ever been.

He recovered, however, finished up the song, got plenty of laughs and applause and generally seemed blasé about it afterwards. It was one of those moments that I’ve been most proud of my little actor boy but also been most certain that there is some level of child endangerment involved in letting a son or daughter perform in a professional forum.

I’m sure he’s a stronger person for having gone through it. And based on her post, Ms. Cole also found something of value in the experience. So, all in all, while it’s certainly not something you want happening habitually, an occasional flub seems to have its benefits.

1 comment:

Bill Brock said...

LISTENING is also very important. During a recent performance of THE FOREIGNER, yours truly didn't drop a line, but changed one word that needed to be repeated for emphasis by another actor. The scripted line was, "Why, I have half a mind...," yet the line I delivered was, Why, I have a good mind..." The other actor was Richard Koch, who repeated the altered line thus the audience was none the wiser. I do recall bowing to the very impressive Mr. Koch as he exited the stage after my departure.