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Actor’s Diary: Final Days Backstage Leave Lasting Mental Images

Final Installment Actors Diary Unique energy surrounding play is fleeting yet memorable for the cast of ‘Macbeth’

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T February 16, 2014

(Final installment)

Closing weekend, much like opening weekend, arrives with its own set of rituals. Backstage, there is an air of finality. Cast members are getting antsy for their next projects. Directors are scheduling rehearsals for future shows. The life of the play, while it continues with gusto onstage, wanes in the wings.

It is about this time when I frantically begin looking around me, desperate to capture fleeting moments of this creative camaraderie. Unfortunately, trying to maintain the unique energy of a play after its final curtain is like trying to prevent an apparition-possessed witch from disappearing into the night. It just doesn’t work very well.

Some things will be easy to let go of. For instance, it has been over three weeks since I’ve worn nail polish, earrings, or my favorite perfume. I will be happy to not have to pick prosthetic glue boogers out of my pillow in the morning or wash glow-in-the-dark goop out of my hair each night. Scratching my nose without the aid of a Q-tip poked up my prosthetic face nostril will also be a relief (and I realize that might have been too much information).

Other things, however, won’t be so easy to release.

Tonight, Erin Petersen, Savvy Scopelleti and I sit at our dressing tables to begin our 45-minute makeup routine. While we have tried a variety of background makeup-applying soundtracks, the only one that ever seems to be right is the *NSync Pandora station. Rin Ehlers Sheldon, who plays Lady Macduff, laughs when she hears it, dubbing it “typical girl dressing room music.” I stretch my prosthetic nose over my face while we all harmonize to “Bye Bye Bye.”

I take a mental snapshot. While we cannot hold onto the moments, I think to myself, we can retain the memories. I eagerly begin to search for more.

Sandy Campbell, who plays Lady Macbeth, glides into the dressing room. “Hello, my witchy witches!” she says. Later, we will help her through multiple quick-changes as she entertains/kills the king. We decide we make a pretty dark trio of ladies-in-waiting.

Snapshot.

Before the show, I give Andrew Moore, our San Dieguito Academy intern who plays Young Seward, a high-five and tell him again that geometry is not the devil incarnate. Eric Parmer, who plays Angus, offers that geometry might, in fact, be the devil incarnate, but that it’s still important to do well in it. Dylan Nalbandian, who plays Macduff’s Son, doesn’t seem convinced. I talk quinoa recipes with Christian Payne, who plays Fleance, because he is a vegan who hates quinoa and I take that as a challenge.

Snapshot.

The show begins, and the witches and I move in perfect sync with our first heartbeat to our own relief. I mentally give our stage manager, Monica Perfetto, a thumbs-up. This opening sound/movement coordination is the result of our carefully cultivated psychic prowess.

I exit the stage in blackness and almost crash into Rob Biter, who plays Ross and is waiting in the wings for his scene. Even though this happens every night, I never stop to apologize because I have an epic run to the other side of the theater for my next entrance. Plus, on the way, I have to stop at the prop table to grab my pig intestines. Rob understands.

Snapshot.

I am doing ballet turns in the hallway, because that is how a witch spends her downtime, and Jim Chovick, who plays Seyton, begins chatting with me extensively about dance. Weeks ago, in the darkness of our tech rehearsals, I inadvertently gave him a minor heart attack when I stepped out of the wings in full witchy makeup and whispered, “hello.”

During intermission, Brian Rickel, who plays Malcolm, and I chat about narrative archetypes. I tell Tyler Jones, who has just finished murdering Banquo, that the blood on his cheek looks like a poinsettia. Fran Gercke emerges from the dressing room, and I wonder how much chocolate syrup is in the blood that drenches his face tonight. Patrick Duffy, who plays Macduff, holds a backstage door open for me and smiles. I immediately blush because why is he so handsome?!?

Snapshot.

During Act Two, Danny Campbell shakes his head at Erin and me as we do a small tap routine backstage while waiting for the final scene of the play.

During curtain call, I meet Sean Yael-Cox, co-artistic director and lead actor, center stage for our bows. He is understandably exhausted, having spent his last 15 minutes of stage time in a marathon brawl. And yet, once offstage, I can already see him making mental notes of what needs to happen in the next few days.

Costumes will be stored. Thrones will be relocated. Chandeliers will be disconnected. Rehearsal schedules for “All My Sons,” Intrepid’s Season Five opener, will be emailed out to a new cast working on a new play with a new life all its own.

Snapshot … end scene.

***

The U-T San Diego invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the newspaper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She documented a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 16, 2014.

Actor’s Diary: Coping With the Opening

Actor's Diary 2 Tiffany‘Freak out moment’ a rite of passage for Tang and her ‘Macbeth’ cast mates

By Tiffany Tang, Special to the U-T

(Second in a series)

From offstage, I watch as the Act Two banquet scene of “Macbeth” unfolds. Of all the unnatural things in this play, Fran Gercke’s Ghost of Banquo might be the most alarming, which is saying a lot coming from a witch. I clutch my cauldron to my chest as I watch.

It is our last run-through before we have an audience, and I am trying not to think about what comes next.

Opening. Night.

Actors have many personal traditions when it comes to opening a show. Some like to arrive at the theater early and walk through all of their movements on stage. Some like to write special notes to cast members and crew. Some keep to themselves, meditating on their character’s motivations so that they are fully present when the lights go up.

For me, I typically find that vomiting is the main constituent of my opening-night routine.

Welcome to what I like to call the “Freak Out Moment,” which is a very technical term for that moment of recognition in the rehearsal process when actors realize that they are actually about to perform a play. On stage. In front of people.

Of course, if you ask us, it is that moment when we suddenly become nervous about baring our open hearts and impassioned souls to the world to shed light on the nature of humanity.

To-may-to. To-mah-to.

This may seem odd. After all, it would make sense that an actor would be fully aware of the circumstances that he or she was getting into. Yet, there is always that one moment when it all seems to be just a little too much and — bam! — nonsensical arguments about where to exit or how impossible that costume quick-change is seem to manifest out of nowhere during the last moments of rehearsal. Simple things, under pressure, become intricately complex.

If memory serves, during grad school, I had a 15-minute argument with my director about how to properly cover my face onstage during the transition into a Shakespearean death scene:

“I am going to whisk the shroud over my head and then bring it down over my face.”

“I don’t think you should whisk the shroud.”

“I want to whisk it. It will look cleaner and more choreographed.”

“You’re dead. There is no expectation of choreography.”

It seemed very important at the time.

But now I see it for what it really was: my night-before-opening, I’m-gonna-die, Freak Out Moment. It was not about the shroud. It was about the misconception that if I could just get the details of the scene planned perfectly, then that whole vulnerable acting thing would just magically fall into place.

I often wonder what level of OCD I would qualify for if I input these symptoms into WebMD.

Sean Yael-Cox, who plays the title role in our production, confided in me that his Freak Out Moment typically happens about three weeks before each show. Like clockwork, at this time, he earnestly asks his wife, director Christy Yael-Cox, to consider recasting him. Christy smiles when she hears this, offering that her own Freak Out Moment typically happens a week before the show opens, specifically, the night before technical rehearsals begin.

Offstage, I take a deep breath and stare down at my cauldron. Fran exits, and I step into the vom, a term for an entrance to the stage, to prepare for my scene. The fact that “vom” is short for “vomitorium” is not lost on me. Rumor has it that ancient Romans used these passageways to purge their full bellies during great feasts so they could continue dining. Although sources have since dispelled this theory, it still feels quite appropriate to me as I watch the onstage banquet scene come to a close and feel my belly do a somersault.

I look up and see Savvy Scopelleti and Erin Petersen across from me in the wings, holding their own cauldrons. We make eye contact.

Just like the march of Great Birnam Wood, I think to myself, opening night will come, no matter how freaked out about it I am. But at least I’m not alone.

Erin cries out, Savvy nods to me and we enter the stage together.

***

The U-T San Diego has invited our blog writer, Tiffany Tang, to contribute her Macbeth ”Actor’s Diary” installments in the Sunday Arts Section of the paper, starting January 26 and continuing through February 16. She will be documenting a behind-the-scenes perspective on Intrepid’s 13th production and Season Four finale. This blog was originally published in the U-T San Diego on February 2, 2014. Tickets for Macbeth can be purchased here.

 

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