Friday, April 25, 2014

There but for the GRACE of...or whatever...

I'm currently on the bus.  Of course by the time you read this I'll be somewhere else, doing something else, but as I'm writing this, I'm sitting in my usual back seat staring into my phone.

I'm on my way to our final dress rehearsal for Grace.  A play by Craig Wright.  I'm writing this while reviewing lines in my head.  Always with the lines.

Theres a neat feeling about final dress.  Wanting the show to be perfect.  Simultaneously wishing you had an audience, and glad that you don't.  Reliving in your mind all the moments leading up to this one.  Knowing that in just over 24 hours, complete strangers will have paid money to watch you not fuck up.  So you'd better not fuck up.

JC Carter is a director I've worked with a number of times in the past.  Every time has been an enjoyable experience.  We've built a good working relationship, and an even better friendship. He cast me in my first show upon arriving in SLC, and we've worked well together and often since.

A little over a year ago, JC approached me with a pitch.  He asked me if I would be interested in doing this show with him.  Grace.  I hadn't heard of the show but I was familiar with the playwrite.  Sometime around 2004 or 2005, I read a play called Orange Flower Water, written by Mr. Wright.  It was the kind of play that just grabbed me.  I want to be the person who gets to say those lines on a stage someday.  

Quick unrelated pitch.  Someone in Northern Utah PLEASE do Orange Flower Water someday.  Someday soon.

Moving on.

So JC asked me if I would do Grace, and being familiar with the playwrite agreed.  At the time he asked everything was tentative.  There was no set location.  No time, or place.  Just the play, JC directing, myself, and one other actor committed to the project.  Beyond that was simply the unknown. Occasionally, I would ask JC where we were at, what progress was being made.  The answer was typically the same.  No word yet.  Sometimes it looked like the show might not happen at all.  During all that waiting, it does...continued.  Other shows.  New job.  For a very brief moment it even looked like I'd be moving out of SLC, and wouldn't be able to do the show after all.  But I stayed.  Here I am.

Sometime in early January I was working out the logistics of two auditions in one day.  Noises Off, and Hedda Gabbler were both auditioning, and I had a keen interest in both projects.  However two in a day is difficult, especially when they are happening at near the same time, because being on opposite sides of town, and myself a subject to public was a planning nightmare.  However, I really love both shows, and thought, even if I don't get cast in least the idea of being in one or the other is just so...delicious.

I got home late one night, and was preparing the email I would send to both companies, setting up an audition time.  I was in the process of writing the first email, when my phone buzzed.  Text alert.  JC was finally, after months of uncertainty, letting me know that Grace had the greenlight, the location locked in, and the rehearsal and performance dates set.  The first thing I noticed was the direct conflict with both of the shows I was preparing to audition for.  I closed my email, turned off my laptop, and responded to JC that I was ready, and could not be more excited.  That wasn't a lie.

Any gambler knows that you don't turn down a sure thing, for just a chance at something else.  Besides, this was a sure thing that I'd had my head wrapped around for months.  I was thrilled that everything was in motion.  I had also recently made a decision that there would be no more talk, or action toward moving.  I had for all intents and purposes decided to call SLC my home.  The wishy washy back and forth of do I stay or do I go was finally settled.  Stay I would do.  Stay I will do.  And my first show, post that kind of personal  moment of discovery and acceptence...would be Grace.

This production, like many others I've been in, and in all liklihood like many others that I hope to be in the future, has not been entirely without complications.  Our very first read through presented the first. We had with us, an older gentleman, whose name I can no longer recall to read for one of the roles.  The character is a man in his eighties who shares a memory of an experience just prior to WWII.  The actor reading this character was not fond of some of the language the character uses, and was already discussing script changes, before we had even finished reading the entire script. actually unnacceptable.  This is a HUGE no no in the theatre world, but for some reason, has become a little talked about, but widely accepted practice among theatres and theatre groups here in Utah.  I'd love to personally love to stamp out the entire tradition.  I have pretty strong feelings about the act of script shining, and those who practice it.  That however is another discussion for another time.

Needless to say, this gentleman would not work for us, and we very amicable parted ways.  I wish him no ill will, and hope that he does find the work as an actor, that is more suited to his tastes and abilities.  Ours however were not for him, nor he for us.  Which left us with a blank spot.

Enter Jeffrey Owen.  I have worked with Jeff previously on a couple of other shows.  I've gotten to know him, and like him.  He comes with unique insights and always new and interesting ideas.  More importantly he comes prepared.  He does his work.  He is always...ALWAYS a joy to share the stage with.

He also turns in one hell of a performance.  

Although he joined the cast after everyone else, although he was not there for our intial read through or table discussion.  It has always felt like Jeff was one step ahead in the game.  Although unfortunately not the first choice for this production, he is far and away the best choice.  I can't imagine enjoying this experience more, with anyone else in that role.

Grace is a tough sell for Utah.  Not particularly I think for the religious themes, but mostly because it isn't light, fluffy, or musical.  Oh sure there are some laughs, but this show goes to some pretty dark places.  Which I'm thrilled about.  I mean I enjoy light, mindless entertainment as much as anyone, but its the darkness that really appeals to me.  The explorations.  The questions.  I want this show to be successful, because I want more shows like this.  Always.  All the time.  I want the shows that don't promise a happily ever after.  I want the shows that grab my emotional nuts, and twist.

Grace played on Broadway with a kind of all star cast.  Paul Rudd played Steve.  Michael Shannon was Sam. Kate Arrington was Sara, and Ed Asner as Karl.  When it was on Broadway, I didn't even know the show existed.  Johnny Hebda did though.  He watched it, and brought it back with him.

It was Johnny that presented the idea to JC Carter.  Proposals were made.  Ideas exchanged.  Hands shook, or proverbialy anyway.  I don't know all the discussions.  I wasn't there for any of the pre production part of it.  I like to think that at some point, food was involved, but probably not.  I know that Johnny saw Grace on Broadway, liked it. came home with it, made it possible, and is now playing our Steve.

He carries the line load.  He pushes the action.  And he does it with seeming ease.  He has a wonderful, natural stage presence.  It is always so much fun working with him on the stage.  Okay I say that like I've done it before.  I haven't.  This is our first, (and hopefully far from last) show together.  So by always so much fun, I mean throughout the rehearsal process...always so much fun.  In any given moment, my character may not believe for one second, what his character is saying, but working with Johnny, you have no doubt that HE believes.  His sincerity...his dedication to the ideas he proposes are so real.  

And that's the crux of it really.  I think.  The power of belief.  People on this planet do the CRAZIEST shit, because they believe.  Believe it's in their best interest.  Believe its in the best interest of others.  Belief.  Flying in the face of all evidence.  Flying in the face of all rationality, lies belief.  That ability to convince ourselves that looking out for us.

I don't know if any of you reading this are believers.  I don't know if you're non believers.  Quite honestly I don't care either way.  The beauty of Grace is that, as a doesn't care either.  Someone asked me if this was a "message" play.  All I can say is, no.  No it isn't.  This play does not take sides.  It does not condemn.  It does not present a case of right or wrong.  It simply tells a story.  It presents ideas.  Ideas that hopefully causes a viewer to examine their own.  It is not meant as an indictment against belief...or non belief.  It is simply a story about people on either side of that fence, and how their lives collide.  And collide they do.

And stuck in the middle of it all is Sara.  There seems to be a stereotype in American culture of "the good Christian housewife".  I love how Mr. Wright plays off this stereotype.  He sets it up.  It does it so well, that we may think we know Sara, after just a few lines of dialogue.  It seems it would be so easy to write her off.  But the playwrite doesn't allow that.    He lets us see that there is more underneath than we would otherwise give credit for.  We are not let off the hook so easily.  And let me tell you something folks.  The incredible work of Emilie Starr in the role of Sara won't let you off the hook either.  Do not underestimate Sara.  Do not underestimate Emilie.  It's not often, as an actor, you get to work with someone who is so giving.  Who shares energy so fully.  Emilie commits every part of herself, to every stage moment.  

So here we are.  Now just mere hours from our opening.  After weeks of rehearsal, we now have only nine performances in front of us, and we will put Grace to sleep.  It will be fleeting memories, and words on a resume.  But now, right now, it is very much alive in all of us involved.  

I know many people who read my little dillies and dallies here, won't be able to make it.  If you can though...please do.  If you're not sure of times and places, look it up.  If you're too lazy to look it up...ask me.  
If you say you want to come, but can't afford's the fuck you.
May 4th at six p.m., the producers in their ability to predict such excuses, have created the Pay as you May performance.  That's right...if all you have in your pocket is one lousy penny, then bring that lousy penny to the front door, and they'll give you a ticket to watch the show.  Of course more than a penny would be appreciated, but it eliminates your "I can't afford it" excuse.

If you live in some other city, and can't make it, then do me this favor.  Go to a show in your city.  Just...fucking...go.
I'm not saying this out of some arrogant pretentious actors "go support the arts" bullshit line you hear now and then.  I'm not saying give money to starving actors, or new theatre groups know...whatever.
I'm saying this because, do yourself a fucking favor...turn off netflix...and go get some live entertainment.  Go.
Go out to the theatre.
Go to a museum.
Co to a symphony.
Go to a concert.
Go enrich your soul, or spirit, or intellect, or conscious, or whatever you choose to call that part of yourself, that is inside of yourself, that is aware of something greater than yourself.  
Even if its not a deity.
Even if its nothing sacred.
Even if it's simply awareness of knowing you don't know.


These are the things that make up for 

I say go get these things, because believe it or not
you need these things.
Allow these things to connect you once again to humanity, when all the fucking humans have caused you to disconnect.

If you can come see me be other people...well...I'd love if you did.  If you can't, at something that feeds that part of you that is always hungry, but you forget because it's easy to forget.  Because TV makes you forget.  Becasue internet makes you forget.  Because other things/people/diversions make you forget.

There but for the Grace of...
You get it.