Fear of God

Sorry this post is a little late. There was some amount of unwinding/carousing last night.  Because…

It was our first (and only) preview. We had an audience for the first time, which was great. The audience is a huge part of the theatrical equation, and there’s so much to learn about the show when the audience is present: what jokes are funny, what moments are true, what parts of the battle are coolest. So it was lovely to have people out there to help us figure things out.

And then, sometimes to look out in the audience and see someone you weren’t expecting, Richard Ziman and I both had that experience last night. Because the house is so small, it’s pretty easy to make out all the faces in the first couple of rows, and there in the second row was a very recognizable face (and posture!) to the two of us — our acting teacher from Juilliard. He also happens to be the Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C., where Stephen is the Resident Assistant Director, so in fact, it was a lovely gesture for him to be there last night. An unexpected one for Ziman and I though. I can’t really explain the feeling any better than this: he is a man who can put the fear of God into an actor. Shivers down your spine, cold sweat fear. I am so happy to have seen him during a scene where I didn’t have to speak, so I had a bit of recovery time. Early on in the process, you may remember a post where I talked about finding out Ziman and I were fellow Juilliard alums, and that there was a special brotherhood there. That brotherhood was forged by the sometimes killing gaze of this man. As Ziman said, when talking about the fear, “It’s incredible how long and deep and dark those old pathways are.”

Another thing that can put the fear of God into an actor is losing a line onstage. Brian Gill had that experience last night, and had to start scrambling to get things back. At one point, after we left the stage, I turned to him and said, “Wow, that was sort of big cut.”

“No, that was supposed to be there.”

“It was? That’s news to me.”

“Yeah…Wait, did I skip something else?”

“Um. Yeah, you just jumped to the end of the scene and exited, so we all followed. There was more to say, though.”

“Agh! Sorry, I was in panic mode…”

It can be pretty scary when you find yourself in panic mode, but he recovered quite well, and to be honest, it was a pretty seamless cut.

Fear can also happen when you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The curtain call is traditionally the last thing staged. So we staged it yesterday afternoon, just a couple of hours before we’d be doing it for the audience. We rehearsed it a few times, and seemed pretty solid on the order of who comes out to take a bow when. We thought. After the final blackout, the audience started to applaud and we began the (somewhat complicated) curtain call. Mr. Withers, our Hal, who has been given the honor of the final bow, came out a bit too early. And realized it. And stood off to one side, watching, somewhat bemusedly, while Hotspur came out to bow before him. Then bemusement changed to embarrassment as the King came out to bow. And then, to absurd resignation as Falstaff came out to bow. Finally, it was his turn, and Hotspur and the Douglas, who were standing at the side of the space, ready to take places for the full company bow, helpfully stepped in to usher Mr. Withers to his rightful place at center stage. And the audience, heretofore applauding, exploded.

Because it was a preview, we will have notes this afternoon, and it’s possible we’ll try to fix a moment or two.** But tonight, we open, and the show is ours. Steve will leave for DC on Sunday to move on to his next project***




**Like Jeff Withers’ curtain call cue.

*** I’ll be there for the project after that, which is Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. I’ll play Boyet.


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