Of all the lovely adventures this theatre business has to offer, it is the reading of new plays, written by neophytes, which yields the most instantaneous gratification for me as a performer.
I think this has something to do with how immediate and genuine the work tends to be. Usually, I'm handed a script, of perhaps a scene or so, written by a teenager or a cancer- or PTSD-survivor or what-have-you, and, with maybe a weeks' worth of time to review the scribblings, in we go to stage a reading with as much pluck as we can muster, with the usual rag-tag thrown-together cast of exceptionally talented and brave actors, amongst which I stick out like a dandelion in a field of chrysanthemii.
This week, I've been working on not one but three batches of these things, each batch averaging about 5 or 6 scenes' worth of material, each with different casts, split from two different theatres, on top of the Othello rehearsals in the evenings. (And I've been having lots of inexplicable nosebleeds lately, so in between my cousins visiting from Canada and poring through these great drifts of scripts in my Portable Airborne Oceangoing Office-Pack, I've been sleeping a lot and consulting physicians.) (I think I'm going anemic again.)
But the great privilege of these things is how much of a workout they can be. I try things and learn things that months of dedicated work would not let me remotely consider, within the structure of these one-off, staged-reading events, performing in a variety of spaces with playwrights as well as random types in the audiences. It's more than just dialects and physicalities; it's about living and being in a vibrant space, voicing something out of nothing, stitching breathing images out of the faintest webs of someone else's imagination, made possible by the judicious application of a little bit of my soul. I think of film developers in their crimson darkrooms, mixing precious drops of corrosive chemicals to suddenly coax the most complicated ghosts from their empty sheets of photostock.
The experience is heightened, I think, by virtue of the limited and daring nature of the staged-reading format. It is generally understood that we have permission to limit our performances; I'm not afraid to suck, since I've got these pages in my hand to hide behind. And these things only live, by and large, for a single night. The trick of it is, that having the Permission to Suck Ass also comes with a Secret Mandate to Rock the Fucking Casbah, and, in the hands of compassionate, insightful and energetic directors, such Mandates are hard not to carry through.
In the last several days, I've played Othello, a noble and jealous Moor; Angel, a Latino gangster; Patrick, a nervous fiancee; Jack, a dead body; Toe Fu, (too much to explain); Alberto, an Antarctic explorer; Sven Circleson, a scheming corporate geomancer; Jake, a caring brother; John Jr, a slain high-school basketball star; John, his coach and father; Marcus, John Jr.'s drug-addled friend (those last three all in the same scene, I might add)... The schizo-frenzy of it all makes it very easy to build up a simmering head of steam with which to carry it all along.
The weather has been breathtaking here. My Desdemona is utterly, smashingly lovely. I spent far too much money in the bookstore again. I saw an old friend again for the first time in many months last night. 55 days to the next Harry Potter book.