Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Acting Lessons

On Monday, I had a small part in our campus production of "8", the play by Dustin Lance Black about the Proposition 8 trial for California marriage equality. I played Jeff Zarrillo, one of four plaintiffs, a role originated by Matt Bomer.

Matt Bomer and I, as I'm sure you are aware, are very similar. Go google him, then come back and compare.

The resemblance is uncanny, right?

This production marked my return to the stage after a long absence, my first work since playing "guy violating noise policy" and "rowdy drunk student who talks too much" in the Summer 1996 Orientation Skits at SUNY Cortland, so I was a little worried that my acting chops might be rusty. In order to combat that, I watched a lot of movies while rehearsing my lines, and spent the final weekend before the play watching movies in which someone put on a stage production. (I was going to watch movies about making movies, but decided that I should focus on the stage, which is a totally different animal.) It turns out that I only own eleven movies where a stage production is mounted (not counting movies where the production in question was a pageant, cookoff, fashion show, or cheerleading competition; doing so would have swollen the movie total to somewhere around twenty), but I learned something from each one of them.

Here are the valuable lessons that I gleaned from my viewing:

1) The Little Mermaid: The lesson here is that you should be sure to show up to your part and do your best. Your fellow performers, whether they are fish musicians, your father's crab, or your mersisters, have all worked really hard, and you will let them down and bring shame upon the kingdom if you miss your debut for any reason.

Especially if that reason is that you're off searching shipwrecks for a fork to comb your hair with.

2) Mean Girls: This quote sums up the lesson best:

"But I'm always on your left!"

Hitting your mark and following your blocking exactly as you rehearsed it is incredibly important. If you don't do it just like you did during rehearsal then someone is going to screw up and kick a radio into Jason's head, and Miss Norberry might not be there to jump onto the piano and haul your cookies out of the fire.

3) Moulin Rouge: Your production won't really come together unless everyone believes in the underlying message, whether it's "freedom, beauty, truth, and love" or it's the idea that all people should be equal under the law and that families with same-sex parents are just as valid as more traditional family models.

Also, you should make sure that none of your leads have consumption if you want to run for more than one night.

4) Valley of the Dolls: Again, I offer a quote:

"The only star that comes out of a Helen Lawson play is Helen Lawson, and that's me, baby!"

Every cast has a star, and if that's not you then you should be super nice to everybody, so that when the star demands that the director cut out all of your lines your agent will feel bad for you and get you onto a telethon singing a song that's just an endless bridge continuously building to nowhere, which you'll then parlay into a nightclub act and then stardom of your own.

Barring that, you should just be the star. Look out at the world defiantly while you stand inside a giant plastic mobile and loudly sing, "I'll plant my own tree, and I'll make it grow!" and let everyone know that you'll get to the top even if you have to do it all yourself.

5) All About Eve: Make sure you have no understudy. That way she can't manipulate your friend into draining the gas from the car, making you miss your train and giving her the chance to call all of the press to watch while she steps into your role and usurps your spotlight.

Also, Butler can be both someone's name and someone's job. It's a valid point; an inane one, but still a point.

6) Black Swan: Be perfect, even if that means stabbing Winona Ryder in the face with a nail file or slowly going insane and losing touch with reality to the point that you can't be sure if you stabbed Winona Ryder in the face with a nail file, if your evil double stabbed Winona Ryder in the face with a nail file, if Winona Ryder stabbed herself in the face with a nail file, or if Winona Ryder never got stabbed in the face with a nail file at all.

7) Scream 2: If you have personal pain, draw on it to bring realism to your role, whether your pain is the discrimination and casual oppression that you have faced as a gay man in America, or the pain of having a copycat serial killer stalk you while murdering all of your friends in college just like a serial killer stalked you and murdered all of your friends in high school.

8) Stage Fright: One of your costars may or may not be a murderer, but you shouldn't let that hinder your craft. If anything, it should drive you to take on a second role so that you're playing a character playing another character, but you should also try not to become the murderer's next victim.

9) Torch Song: Don't try to sing if you're not really that good a singer. Especially don't try to sing in blackface.

10) The Big Cube: Once an actor, always an actor. The theater will always call you back, no matter how long you've been away or if you've been given LSD by your stepdaughter's boyfriend.

11) A Mighty Wind: If your show is going to be for one night only, make sure it's the best one night only that it could possibly be, even if it means you have to kiss your now-insane ex-boyfriend.

I think that on Monday night we definitely made the best of our one night, and I didn't have to kiss anybody or stab Winona Ryder in the face with a nail file to do it.


strong cookie. said...

bravo! I wish I could've been there.

Marcheline said...

In junior high school, one of my classes was putting on a mock trial involving a case where a motor vehicle hit a pedestrian. I was cast as the driver of the vehicle. The prosecution was trying to prove I was drunk on the night of the incident, and the defense was claiming my vehicle hydroplaned on rainwater.

The prosecutor was supposed to ask me how many drinks I had that night, and I was supposed to tell them that I didn't drink because of a physical ailment for which I was taking medication.

What I actually said was this: "I can't drink because I have a mental problem."

The entire class had to be brought back to order by the teacher. It took a while.