not for everybody
September 2, 2007
…directing, that is.
i was so excited the week leading up to it- playing one of shakespeare’s greatest villains, the night before my birthday…
i was iago (othello‘s bad guy) in the world premiere of a mashup of 2 of shakespeare’s most famous plays: 1st, he’s never cast female; 2nd, he’s never cast black (he hates the moor partly for race-based reasons). i got it because in a staged reading you can get away with experimenting and i wanted it enough to nail it during our 1st readthrough so our director would look no further. i got the role. been excited for weeks. but yesterday, with an 8pm curtain, @ 7.30pm i was scared- our director was still giving blocking+staging notes. nobody gives notes the last minute before a 1st performance- it’s like cramming for a test half-an-hour before- it makes actors nervous, unsure of how much they actually know, plus nobody’ll remember the last minute stuff anyway, or if they do, trying to remember makes them forget important things.
when we were @ places and still changing major things like whether we all stay onstage the whole time and should we be standing or seated if we stay, moments after discovering that the backstage crossover wasn’t backstage but out the theatre and down the hall and to the left and down another hall and to the 2nd left and takes a full 45seconds pelting fullspeed, i knew we were screwed, and we were.
pacing was off because everybody was busy trying to remember new direction+blocking, there was uncertainty about entrances+exits combined with the long crossover that made cue pickup virtually nonexistent, there were costume malfunctions, last-minute stage combat went on underrehearsed, and at least once, othello exited, thinking our scene was over, forcing me to go with him (he’s the king) until i could whisper to him in the wings that we both still had lines and he needed to get his ass back onstage…
ultimately, not everybody can direct because having vision is not enough- you need to be able to work with actors and you need to be realistic about what you’re aiming to accomplish. we were a staged reading, which means that it could’ve been as simple as us sitting onstage with scripts doing our characters with someone reading stage directions for the audience’s sense of time+place. but our director wanted more staging, which is fine except for his insistence on staging things that shouldn’t be attempted in a performance with actors on-book. i had to fight him to understand that when i faked out hamlet pretending to be his dead father’s ghost, i couldn’t hold the royal fur around my shoulders and the white cloth over my head while holding a script in one hand and pretending to stab hamlet in the back with the other, and that when he finally killed me i couldn’t pick up the discarded ghost kit plus hamlet’s script with mine while helping him carry my “dead” weight by pushing myself off the ground when he took my “dead” hand (that somehow had to grab scripts+costumes without dispelling the willing suspension of disbelief) in 1 motion smooth enough for me to jump slightly to help him throw me (holding scripts+costumes) over his shoulder to exit…thankfully, i won those 2 battles (mostly) but others were lost, to the detriment of the piece. and other actors didn’t necessarily choose their battles as well, either.
in the end, attempted overstaging of the reading left smaller roles overrehearsed and larger ones underrehearsed, and our director’s freaking out over something that should’ve been kept simple threw performances off and rendered the piece muddy+confusing, even for those who knew both the shakespearean plays it was sourced from.
but still, i was iago, supervillain. the role of a lifetime, never given to short, black, dreadlocked females. and if nothing else, i was damn good.