THE DEEP END
September 10, 2005.
Every summer I make it a point to see Shakespeare in the Park; it’s a tradition. Often the shows aren’t great but there’s something about lying on the grass and listening to those incredible words that just does something for me. This year it was Romeo and Juliet. My husband and I were bored and broke one weekend so we decided to walk down the street to a free performance of this play. We had zero expectations going in and were actually a little put off by the pushy crowd of senior citizens trying to get the best seats. But approximately thirty seconds into the play, we knew we were in for something astonishing. The director was working in the same style I had attempted with one of my own recent productions except that he was light years beyond me in terms of technique. He used physical movement and music to illuminate the text and I had never seen Shakespeare performed so well in my life. Every word was clear, every emotion in place. I found myself in tears throughout the play and practically sobbing by the end. The production contained large, bawdy doses of joy and humor which made the tragedy that much more effective. We walked home in a daze and once in bed I started crying again and couldn’t stop. The play unearthed something in me that had been buried or forgotten.
I wanted to be an actor; I wanted it more than anything in the world but years of rejection and insecurity wrecked havoc on my desire. In college I discovered an equal, if not greater, passion for directing and it came much easier than acting. So that’s what I’ve pursued and I’m not at all sorry. Directing seems to use all of me- the best and most complete aspects of myself- and that’s why it’s fulfilling. But there are times when I ache to switch places with my casts. I want to be the one exploring, questioning and asking more of myself than I might be capable of. Acting scares me because it makes me use the parts of myself I’m not comfortable with- the parts I keep hidden from everyone else. For some reason, I need to take that risk and I don’t think I’ve been completely happy without it. After some long discussions and another viewing of Romeo and Juliet, my husband and I decided to develop our next project together- a production of Hamlet, our favorite play. Except this time, I won’t be directing; I’ll be playing Ophelia, a role I’ve wanted to play since I was a little girl. My one stipulation was that I wanted to work with the director of Romeo and Juliet. Not only was he talented and not only did he work in the style that I love, but he was a good person. I watched the way he interacted with the audience and his friends before the show- helping people find seats, giving his coat to a woman who was cold, embracing a former student who had come to see the play. After all of my experience with tyrannical directors, I wanted someone who would coax the best out of me without destroying me in the process.
It seemed like a long shot at the time, but we met with that director and he immediately agreed that we were kindred spirits and that he wanted to work with us. The past two weeks have been some of the most exhilarating I’ve ever known. We have three-hour intensive coaching sessions on text, the rhythm of iambic pentameter, the rising iambic line, breathing, playing actions, developing energy and awareness on stage, listening and responding, developing characters who mean what they say, learning how the text will guide and support our performances, and so much more. In October we’ll cast the rest of the show and do a month-long physical movement class with the entire ensemble. We’ll continue our coaching through November and December, go into intensive rehearsals for seven weeks and open in February or March. Considering that this director does most of his teaching at NYU and Julliard, I feel like I’m getting a graduate conservatory experience in just a few months. My husband says that he’s never seen me so happy or excited over anything. We’re learning to create characters who want the impossible, who possess none of the skills to get what they want, but who have infinite hope. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This process uses every part of me- my spirit, my mind, my emotions, my body and my personality. The director told us that he’s not going to demand what’s already comfortable for us. He’s throwing us into the deep end and letting us flail around until we learn how to swim.
I’ve had to leave my house at sunrise for my current film job. I hate being up that early and the other day I was especially weary. I was griping to myself and getting into my car when I saw something streak out from someone’s backyard. I live in a beautifully maintained neighborhood where the most wildlife you’ll see is a fancy poodle. But there beside me was a thin, pointed coyote. I stared in shock and then drove slowly beside him while he trotted down the sidewalk and looked over at me with shy, gentle eyes. Where had he come from, this wild creature running through a manicured landscape? He seemed so out of place and yet he was there all along, just down the beach and up in the mountains, emerging when instinct and desire forced him into the open where I could see him. I’m grateful for the wilderness- for those things that refuse to be tamed or subdued. I’m starting to wonder about that part of myself. What’s trying to come out and who will I become if I let it?