By Anne Stichter
We’re so glad to welcome back theatre guest blogger Anne Stichter from IU’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA). Anne returns to celebrate our 2016 production of Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF and to share her love of theatre and her own experiences treading the boards!
The cast dynamic is my favorite thing about being in a play.
After all the anxiety of auditions and the agony of awaiting the cast list, you’re in. You check the noticeboard or get the email, and there’s your name! You’re playing…
…Woman 2. -_-
You go home, cry a bit, whine to your friends about how you thought you’d finally get a decent part, then pull yourself together and remember the following:
There are few things better than being part of a play.
I’ve summed up what I love most about the whole process in 3 simple categories:
The way that a cast bonds instantly
The whole other play that happens every night that no one ever sees. The unique, bittersweet, almost holy isolation of this play from the rest of life and all other plays, and its inevitable end (I’ll elaborate!)
Whether or not actors consider it at the time, when they join a cast they are committing to spending (on average) 3 hours a day for the next 3-8 weeks with the same people. Each day, they will live through a story together. They will fight, fall in love, kill each other, make each other laugh, and break each other’s hearts. And then their characters will do the same!
Ordinarily, the increasing intimacy of a relationship happens through continued interaction. If it happens rapidly, it is usually the result of a time of intense bonding; a conversation that went deep, work done side-by-side, or something of the kind. I have therefore been surprised, when part of a cast, to find myself suddenly greeted and interacted with by my castmates as though we are the best of friends. I find myself thinking, “I must have missed the time when everyone went out together and became best friends, and they all think I was there…”
But (unless I am drastically wrong), that is not what has happened. What has happened is that we were in a cast together, and the relationships formed will be intense, deep, supportive, and – sometimes – brief.
My theory as to why this happens gets into the very psychology of acting. I think most would agree that, day to day, we all choose to present ourselves in a particular way. We wear, at best, versions of ourselves, responding to social and situational pressures. I believe that when one acts, in order to put on the character of another and to play with it, one must drop this outer façade, and in the process the heart of the self is revealed.
You may have heard it said that “No two Lady Macbeths are alike”, meaning that each person that plays Lady Macbeth will do it slightly differently because of who the actress herself is. I believe this is because some part of the actress will show through and color the Lady Macbeth onstage…and this is a good thing! It’s what makes the same play worth watching every time it is performed.
I think the reason a cast bonds is that in the context of rehearsal and performance, we must bare ourselves. The intimacy that would be gained through deep conversation or sustained interaction is gained instantly by bypassing all of that through acting.
If that all is a little too highly theoretical, please pardon it: it’s an issue of particular passion for me.
Instead, think of the way children bond when they play pretend. Children can become best friends in 5 minutes. I think actors can, too, and I love it.
The backstage play
Have you ever seen one of those clocks where a whole array of characters in lederhosen emerge at the hour, dance around, interact, and then head back behind the clock face? Ever wondered what it looks like ‘backstage’ while they’re waiting to come out?
What with all the entrances, exits, costume changes, props, and scene changes, each member of a cast and crew has her own path or dance to get herself through the play. Over the course of her journey, each person runs into (hopefully not literally) her fellow cast and crew members on their journeys, and patterns of interaction form. These become a part of the experience of the play, creating a whole story that the audience never sees (P.S. IU Theatre’s production of Noises Off is what this is about!)
To illustrate what this can look like, here are some examples of some elements that have been involved in my own ‘backstage plays’:
Costume changes: One of my castmates played both a man and a woman in the play, both of whom were semi-major characters. This meant she had to change back and forth 6 or 7 times in a 2 hour play in very short amounts of time. There are some things you can’t experience together without becoming friends and one of those is hastily removing a castmate’s pants so she can run back onstage wearing a dress.
Lipsyncing along: As a member of the crew during a production of Children of Eden, it became tradition for the crew backstage (the Assistant Stage Manager plus 3 crew members) to sing ‘Lost in the Wilderness’ to each other across the stage from the wings. It was a song we loved and a point in the musical when we had nothing else to be doing, and we took great joy in performing it as enthusiastically as the actor playing Cain (if much more silently).
Continuing the scene: During a production of The Penelopiad, my character walked away with a friend from what could have been a bitter argument. Full of anger, I would walk offstage with my friend and whisper to her “I’m gonna finish him…like a cheesecake!!” Yes, Pitch Perfect had come out earlier that year…
The unique, bittersweet, almost holy isolation of this play from the rest of life and all other plays, and its inevitable end.
Being in a play is a suspension of reality.
The time commitment tends to completely absorb everyone’s free time so that we become kind of detached from the rest of the world. It’s like a retreat, except that it’s exhausting, stressful, amazing, and emotional, and you aren’t actually relieved from any of your responsibilities outside of the world of the play.
Being in a play is an incubated experience. Like a crockpot, you throw in a bunch of raw ingredients and after a long waiting period a play emerges.
Each one is unique. Each one is glorious (whether the process is enjoyable or miserable). And each one must end.
The beautiful set will come down. The costumes will be stored or disposed of, and reused in other pieces. The last curtain will rise and fall. This unique cast will never perform that play again. The members of the cast will stop feeling like family…at least until the next play they’re in together. The whole cast senses this, to varying degrees of consciousness. And as we look at each other on closing night, we feel the weight of the moment as we wish time would slow.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – and in all its breathtaking and everyday glory, it will never happen again. And that is terrible, just as it is beautiful.