Sunday, January 4, 2015

Here's What I Know or My Top Five Dream Roles

This isn't the blog I intended to post.

For the last few days, I've been writing on a topic related to some of my experiences in the local theater community, but I remained ambiguous about what I had to say and how I was saying it.  My tone didn't feel right.  I would get done jotting down what I felt was honest, passable writing, only to look back at it a while later and wonder what in the hell I was thinking.  On top of that, I wasn't getting the sense of satisfaction I usually get when I work on a piece - the satisfaction that motivates me to keep writing and get it finished.

Then the other night, it finally dawned on me what the problem was.  Yes, I was being honest in what I had to say.  Yes, the quality of the writing was about the same as it always is.  But, the difference this time was that it was all coming from a very negative place inside me.  My tone was spiteful and defensive and, at times, extremely critical of things of which I have no business being critical in the first place.  And, worst of all, I was allowing myself to get hung up on things that I have no control over and, therefore, shouldn't have been bothering me anyway.

In the past, I've been good about keeping myself in proper check when it comes to my life in the local theater.  I set my boundaries to keep what amounts to a hobby from infringing on my professional and personal lives.  I tried not to engage in petty gossip while also trying to be a friendly, positive presence in whatever production I was in.  And, most importantly, I stayed in my own lane regarding my responsibilities for a show and made sure I was holding up my end regardless of what others were doing or not doing.

Of course, none of this was executed with anything remotely resembling perfection, but I was doing a good job with it, by and large, particularly with the last one as it helped me maintain my sanity through some tumultuous theater experiences.  But then the woman I loved ended our relationship, and part of my coping with that was to immerse myself in my creative side.  I started this blog.  I started reading and writing more in general.  And, I participated in one theatrical production after another.

I went from The Sound of Music to Les Miserables to Witness For the Prosecution to South Pacific to Sweeney Todd (a span of over a year) without taking a breath.  And, I did all that while working part-time at the hotel, advising Possum Juniors, the youth theater group at Possum Point Players, and sponsoring the National Junior Honor Society at my school on top of seeing to my regular duties as an English teacher.  It is no wonder then that the boundaries I had so carefully maintained began to fall away, and the conduct with which I comported myself slowly devolved to the point that even the first draft of this blog was downright venomous.

The funny part is that it took my getting tagged in a meaningless Facebook poll in which theater people are being asked to list their top five dream roles to fully realize the change in my attitude and to become motivated to do something about it.

Oh, I don't mean to be so melodramatic as to suggest a single Facebook tag suddenly galvanized my thinking.  On the contrary, I've been in the process of self reflection since some very negative experiences on the production of Sweeney Todd this past Fall.  I can say with a clear conscience that nothing I said or did brought on the negativity, but I have been concerned with how much I allowed it to bother me and affect my actions.  More accurately, this poll has provided me with a way to address these issues through my writing, specifically in a "Here's What I Know" exercise common in many recovery and therapeutic programs as well as in many writing workshops.

So, without further ado, Here's What I Know...

I know that I've been fortunate enough to perform two of the roles on my Dream List: Inspector Javert from Les Miserables and Sweeney Todd from Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  I also know that I worked my butt off both preparing for the auditions for each role and then in the subsequent rehearsals to prepare for the shows.  And, despite any whisperings of pre-casting, I know I am proud of the work I did on those productions.

I know the only things I have control over in the audition and production processes are how well I prepare myself for the audition and how much work I put into fulfilling my responsibilities to the production, like learning my lines and music.  I know I have no control over the director's vision, or lack thereof.  I know I have no control over who gets cast in what roles, and, perhaps more to the point, I know I don't want that control.

I know one of the greatest satisfactions I received in the years I've been doing community theater was when I helped and hopefully encouraged three friends in preparing their auditions for a production I had no intention of being involved in.

I know that I have been blessed to be part of some truly wonderful theatrical productions and have gotten to play some very cool parts.  Therefore, I know I have no reason to be upset when I don't get cast in a particular part.  I lost out on the chance to play one of my dream roles, Orin Scrivello (the Dentist) in Little Shop of Horrors when I first auditioned for Clear Space.  The gentleman they cast was great in the role, and I could see why they cast him.  I know I've had my fair share of great opportunities, and I have no right to begrudge anyone having theirs.

Another thing I know is that it being a dream role doesn't mean I am at all suited to play the part.  I admire the character of Sister Aloycious from Doubt very much, and I feel as though I have a very deep understanding of who she is and why she does what she does.  Everything about her makes sense to me from an educator's perspective.  In almost every way imaginable, I feel like I'm a perfect fit for the role with the obvious exception being that the part has to be played by a woman.  And, it isn't just because the character is female.  The tone and major themes of the play rely on sexual politics as much as on religious and moral issues to really resonate with an audience.  That in itself is the biggest reason Sister Aloycious needs to be played by a woman.

Almost by default, Father Flynn has become a bucket list role for me because I love the play itself so much.  So, if I can't play Sister Aloycious, I'll settle for playing her nemesis: a creepy priest accused of being a pedophile.  Ha!

Finally, I know that I love words, and I love language.  I know a real love of language means appreciating even the parts of it I don't like, particularly words that might make me cringe a little.  Every word, every phrase has its purpose and its strange and sometimes unsettling beauty.  And, words without context become unfair boosters for some people to get up on their soap boxes of assumed victimhood, particularly those looking for the next "cause" to blather on about, in an attempt to feel superior or to have a moment of bigness in their diminished lives.

This brings to mind Ricky Roma from Glengarry Glen Ross, my final dream role.  I know I may not be suited for this role either because Roma is supposed to be slick and charismatic and is often cast with a handsome actor.  I don't readily fit any of those descriptions.  But, I know that Ricky wields words like a surgeon and can lacerate a person with that level of precision.  I get that.  I can understand that probably better than most people realize.  The sheer pleasure of being able to say exactly what you mean at the moment you mean to say it.  I know firsthand that that's as addicting as any narcotic and can carry with it the same shame and regret, the type of shame and regret that Roma seems impervious to.

I know playing him would be as dangerous for what it could inspire in me as it would be freeing to the inner demons of my soul.  It might be cathartic in some ways, providing an acceptable outlet for my tendency to think and say brutally honest things.  But, I also know the likelihood of a community theater in this area doing it is minuscule namely because of the pervasive language in the play.  It goes to show that the power of a play's language can work both to its benefit and its detriment.

And now I know that I have said all I need to say in this particular blog.  I have that familiar feeling of completion that I get whenever I have communicated what is inside me.  And, I've done so without being venomous (or at least not overly so).  My inner Ricky Roma is stifled...for now.

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