The show’s closing is sort of a mixed blessing for me. On stage, I was enjoying the playing of the role more than I thought I would, and I kind of wish I could carry on with that for a little while longer. But on the flip side of that, it was a somewhat draining experience on me emotionally, and I’m quite happy to be able to leave that part behind.
I’ve never considered myself a “method” actor, but I readily subscribe to the “mood” style (if such a thing exists; if not, I’ve just invented it). While I don’t think I need to spend the hours before a show slinking through the city streets in a focused form of brooding just to get “into character”, I did find I was only able to be “on” when I put myself into something resembling a foul mood in the hour or so before we went on. Strapping on my headphones and listening to Tool, then hunkering down into a dark corner of the theater and flipping through the pages of “Helter Skelter”, seemed to be the right recipe for my need. It worked, but it forced me into a form of distance from the rest of the cast (and even myself), that isn’t something I wish to do all the time. It became an especially difficult chore this past weekend due to the good feelings that the rest of my life was offering.
The plus-side of my little self-imposed emotional exile is that it would appear all the things that filmbrat and I had set out to accomplish with Mike actually worked. I may have bitched a little bit in my “likeable guy” post the other day, but the truth is that most people I’ve talked to have agreed that Mike was far more of the “jerk with a conscience” than the “nice guy doing bad things”. Considering all the stressing out I did during the weeks of rehearsal, it’s at least nice to know the end result achieved what we wanted.
I had doubts midway through the process that this was ever going to work. I had made a pretty specific character choice in the beginning, but once I started to struggle to make it work, I began to question whether it was the right choice. Was the text really supporting what I was trying to do? Should I have just caved in and made Mike the smooth-talker that I’ve often heard he is played as? It’s odd, during all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never once gone into a performance worrying that I was about to fall flat on my face. Until this show. Which isn’t to say I think I’m brilliant. I’ve made character choices that I knew went against what the script was asking for (Inspecting Carol comes to mind), but I always did so with the conviction that my choice, however “wrong” it may have seemed, was going to work. It may not have been the preferred way of doing it, but at least it fit into the production and was identifiable. Not with Mike. Until opening night, I had no clue if the nuance of what I was about to attempt would be seen, and even if it was, if it would be accepted.
One of the reasons I love live theater, both as a performer and an audience member, is that unlike film, everybody in the scene is always acting. When watching, I can choose who I want to focus on, rather than who the camera forces me to watch. As an actor, I enjoy those moments where I can simply stand aside and listen. Silent reactions are where I feel the greatest opportunity for adding dimension to a character lie. Most of what I was trying to do with Mike relied on these moments. His dialogue was saying one thing, but his motivations were completely different. Trying to get this across to an audience is obviously difficult, and my fear was that everything I did was going to be *too* subtle. That in the end, people would only hear the words, and as a result, find Mike to be the dreaded “likeable”. I’ve been relieved to hear from a couple of people whose opinions tend to mean the most to me, that my subtly was not lost on them.
Up until Dark, I had always considered my two best performances to be Butterflies Are Free and The Laramie Project. Butterflies, for the many physical challenges it presented to me (playing blind, learning to play guitar), as well as the emotional arc I got to travel. Laramie for the rather obvious challenge of playing multiple characters, all of which needed to be very different and very specific. While I remain quite proud of both of those shows, the truth I now see is that it’s rather easy to be good in a show where the challenges *are* so obvious. Which is not to say just anybody could do it, but the work you do for such roles is pretty clear. Mike will go down as the role where I felt like I finally became a true actor. Where I discovered the importance of subtly and nuance, of the absolute need to establish my intentions from moment-to-moment. Where I was made to rely on my own understanding of the character versus what was so clearly called for in the text. The fact that I struggled with it as mightily as I did, only to come out on the other side to find it realized, makes it one of the most special things I’ve ever accomplished.