Sunday, September 19, 2010

...and my poor foole is hanged...

Last night was the closing of King Lear, and the closing of Shakespeare Orange County's 19th Season. The end of a theatre company's season is always quite emotional - though I find this one, in particular, more so. I am really, really fond of this Fool - that is to say, I'm really really fond of the parts of me that this fool lives in. I was in the right place at the right time with the right company of actors - the clarity of this perfection is going to resonate with me for a long time.

Theatre companies are families, without the obligation or responsibility. There's the fun uncles, the caring aunts, the awesome big sister, the cool big brothers, the squirmy younger cousins that make you laugh. And for 6-8 weeks, you live with them in this intense, pervasive, inescapable bubble. You learn things about these people that sometimes even their spouses don't know. You laugh and cry together, you fuck up together, you make fun of each other - and then, suddenly, it ends. But there's no obligation to write, no obligation to keep in touch, or call, or visit. We always say we will, but we usually don't. It's not out of callousness, it's just ... the unspoken understanding that artists are vagabonds are rolling stones. We move on, we move out, we move up or down. If we're lucky, we'll see each other again. If we're even luckier, we'll act with each other again. But it'll almost NEVER be the exact same group of people. The ties are as slight and invisible as single strands of silk. They will always be there, but it's almost always impossible to see them.

The perfection (or imperfection) of a cast is known instantaneously. There's not much doubt about it - it's either going to be an amazing adventure, or long, hard slog up the Mountain of Hardship; usually a mixture of both. You say the same words each night, but they're different each time - a change of inflection, the raise of an eyebrow, the tapping of a different register; breath coming from a different place, or a new impulse revelation that only happened that one night (the attempt at duplication fails too easily). The happening of a good theatrical performance changes minute to minute, second to second. You will never see the same show twice. Therein lies its genius and its agony. Once it's gone, it's gone, and nothing in the world will ever replicate it again. It's impossible. It's magic.

I went to the theatre today to clean up the massive amounts of food that we all brought last night. On my way out, I called my dad to ask if I could keep my Fool's coxcombe and puppets. I don't often get sentimental in that way - I'm almost always okay with the completion of show. I tend to play lots of clowns - though don't be mistaken - a clown is NOT a fool. Clowns are for laugh breaks - they don't typically add anything to the plot, they're not essential in carrying the action forward. They're support for a leading character, or usage in a quirky little subplot, or a stumbling, drunken little soliloquy before something really terrible happens. In the biz, we call them "One-and-dones." You go out for a big scene, you make 'em laugh, you come off stage, and you're done. I can do those in my sleep.

But Fools ... fools are different. Fools, though witty, aren't just there for laughs. Their commentary cuts to the quick of the tragic problem, flaw, or circumstance of the play, serving for a mirror or foil of the lead character. Fools tell the truth - though often vaguely or metaphorically. Fools are multi-dimensionally, and simultaneously sad, angry, bawdy, and joyous. Fools love more than any other character on stage, for there is no moderation in a fool.

I can't say that my fool was iconic. I can't say that it was the fool to end all fools - though even if I could, I wouldn't. I can't say that it moved people to tears, or taught them anything about their humanity. I mean, hope it did, but I can't say for sure - the audience gets to have their own emotional and intellectual reaction without my imposing knowledge one way or another. But what I can say is that I was present in every moment and that I didn't hold back anything. In my dad's beginning Acting Shakespeare class, he constantly reminds his students that when they leave everything on the stage, and give it all to the audience, they won't need to worry about whether or not they were any good - because at that point, it doesn't matter. If you've given everything you can give, the "good" or "bad" of a performance ceases to have any meaning - it just is.

That's what I can say for myself. I held nothing back.

The reality of "the great and powerful biz," being what it is, chances are pretty favorable for me not ever getting to play that part again, anywhere else. I'm not the small, slender male that many people think of when Lear's Fool comes to mind. In fact, I'm the exact opposite - in every instance. But in this company, with this family - I am the Fool. And the amount of gratitude and joy I have as a result - is something so special, so unique - it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I don't know how much more I can say about it, without becoming redundant. But I'll leave you with this poem - it's a childhood favorite of mine, recited by one of the founding members of SOC when we used to do Christmas shows. He was our Kent. He's a superb Kent.

The Shakespearean Christmas Tree
by Vachel Lindsay

In Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,
Shakespeare's voice seemed in the air,
And something in the prairie line,
Something in the wheat field fair,
Something in the British hearts
That gave me welcome in my need
Made my soul a splendid flower,
Out of a dry and frozen weed.
And something in the stubbly fields
And their young snow to end the year,
Brought a sob and a great wind,
Each snowflake was a frozen tear.
The sky rained thoughts, and a great song
In the Elizabethan tongue
Swept from the Canadian fields!
New broken sod, too sad, too young,
Yet brother fields to Kansas fields,
Where once I worked in sweat and fire
To give the farmer his ripe wheat,And slake my patriarch desire,
For wheat sheaves for my eyes and arms
A satisfaction vast and strange.
And now I reaped dim fields of snow
And heard the song from the wide range.
All prairies in the world are mine,
For I was born upon the plain.
And I can plant the wheat I choose,
In alien lands, in snow or rain.
I heard a song from Arden's wood,
A song from the edge of Arcady.
Rosalind was in the snow.
Singing her arch melody,
Although the only tree there found,
In alien, cold Saskatoon,
Was heaven's Christmas Tree of stars,
Swaying with a Shakespearean croon.
The skies were Juliet that night,
And I was Romeo below.
The skies Cordelia and Lear
And I the fool that loved them so.
I shook my silly bells and sang
And told young Saskatoon good-by.
And still I own those level fields
And hear that great wind's noble cry


QueenFee said...

A lovely post, with plenty of things for this ex-theatre gal to think about. Thanks, babe! ANd I'm plenty sorry that I didn't get to see this production. I'll bet you were all wonderful. Congratulations! xoxo

Broadway Girl said...

that was beautiful. :) and you were amazing as the fool. you made me cry :)

Phoenix said...

Your fool most definitely made me cry as well. You were wonderful. I miss stage acting - I really do. I got into acting to find my family and up here in LA it has nothing to do with that anymore - just how white your teeth are, how tan your skin is, how much you look like Gorgeous Hot Girl # 3 in the casting director's mind.