Last week, before we even started rehearsals, Michael Pocaro and I did an educational event for Milwaukee Shakespeare with an honors class at UWM. We talked about the play with the students, who had just finished reading it. We also answered any questions they had, and many questions went beyond the scope of the play into the life of actors.

One question we were asked was, “how do you get out of character?”

Paco related a story about an actor he knew who, when playing two different characters in rep, both mad, found it helpful to take a bath between performances and literally watch one character go down the drain.

I said a lot of actors drink.

So, true to form, after our second day of rehearsal yesterday, a few of us got together and went to a favorite watering hole, the County Clare. I always love the first day of going to a pub with a new cast. Now, actors are not a terribly conservative lot – we’re as likely to bust out laughing in rehearsal as anywhere else – but with just that tiny bit of liquid courage, everyone lets their guard down a little bit, and we start to get a chance to truly know one another.

We cozeyed into the warm wooden banquettes of the Clare, raised a pint (or two), ate some french fries, and let go. All kinds of stories about past plays and mutual colleagues flew back and forth, as well as stories about where we’re all from, and where we see ourselves going. These first few days are always so heady, drinking in as much as we can about one another… in order to make new friends, but also to strengthen and deepen our onstage relationships as well. The better we know each other off stage, the more fun we can have playing on stage. It’s not really tangible, but you can always tell when a cast is tight — it just comes through in the performance. Plus, this play has the added benefit of having a lot of scenes take place in a tavern. We can call it research!

Bushmill’s in hand, I learned that Richard Ziman, our Falstaff, is a graduate of my alma mater, Juilliard. He was a member of Group X, I was a member of group XXV.* We shared stories about our teachers, some of whom we both learned from (Moni Yakim, John Stix, Robert Neff Williams, Elizabeth Smith), others were legends to me (John Houseman, Alan Schneider, Edith Skinner (!!)). I’m sure it’s true of any intense experience, but when you put a few Juilliard grads in a room together, there’s a shorthand, even if you’re years apart. We know, in a way no one else can, what the other went through.

I learned that Jen Moeller, our costume designer, is quoted in Wikipedia, without her consent.

I learned that Steve Fried, our director, really likes Grape Nuts.

Plus hours of other stuff. I really recommend drinking theater people. It is a Good. Time.

* The Juilliard Drama Division doesn’t go by Class of ’96, or whatever. Instead, each group of actors that enters the program every year is assigned the next group number in the sequence. So Group I was the first group of actors to graduate from the program. Members of Group I included Kevin Kline and Patti LuPone. Richard came along ten years later, and I came along fifteen years after that.


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