November 1, 2011
by Mahira Kakkar
What do you do when the vicissitudes of life hit you in the face? How do you handle it? Do you just gird your loins and carry on regardless? Actors, theater folk, are some of the bravest, smartest and most flexible people I know. If there’s a problem, or an obstacle, we welcome it as a challenge – like Sisyphus, our rock is also pushed up in joy.
One of our cast members, Darius DeHaas (who plays the fool, “Feste”), severed his Achilles tendon the day before opening. Heroically, he wished to carry on. We canceled a preview, he got comfortable in a wheelchair, and the show went on. It was by no means a fortunate accident – the actor was probably in considerable discomfort. He had surgery shortly after the show opened and he was playing a large, demanding role. However, and there is a however, his being hampered physically, served to illuminate the relationship between him and the young fool, “Fabian” (played by Justin Kruger) who was looking to learn from the master.
Both Dairus and Justin have been thorough professionals throughout this process. They’ve adjusted to huge changes in spacing the play and in their characters and done it all without complaining. The next time I hear someone say that actors are lazy (a common misconception) I will point them in the direction of these two fine folk, who along with the rest of the cast, worked hard to make sure the show was ready to open on schedule.
Recently however, there was an obstacle that we couldn’t overcome. Our hearts were willing, but the weather gods were not. The freak snow storm that hit us this past Saturday delayed the train that several cast members were on en route from New York. By the time they got in, it was late (an hour past the scheduled matinee show time) and many audience members had already exchanged their tickets. It was still snowing so heavily out that we didn’t know if we would have to cancel the evening’s performance as well. We were all set to do a variety show for those people who had come out to see the afternoon performance, but figured they might need to go home in order to avoid the traffic and worsening weather conditions. We did indeed have an evening performance after all and we knew that those people who had turned out really, really, really wanted to be there. So we gave it our all. (Sidebar: In her memoir, Colleen Dewhurst tells this story about playing Lady M. in Central Park and how there was a downpour. The cast wanted to go on but the show was canceled. She looked out and saw one lone figure in the bleachers – it was Tyrone Guthrie who had come out specifically to see her play the part.
I think about this story a lot.
I also think about all the things that actors go through to act, especially in the theater. If you’re in the theater, if you’re largely a theater actor, chances are you are not doing it for the money. If you are, you’re probably wondering what made you think this was a financially rewarding career in the first place. We are often broke, depressed, unemployed, without health insurance and sacrifice health and sleep for our art. In the end, we don’t get to actually tread the boards that often, the competition is intense and sometimes we don’t know whether we will have the creative freedom we so yearn for, in the plays we actually get to do. Yet we do this thing. And we can’t really do anything else with as much passion. David Schramm who plays “Sir Toby Belch” put it really well; he said to me “Darling- either you’re in this or you’re not.” And I have to say that if you are in it for the long haul, it’s because there is some fire that is driving you. I don’t know what word to use for it – if it’s love, it’s an exhausting love. But there is also great, great joy in it. Incomparable joy.
When you’re in a show that’s going well – and by this I mean you believe in it – the writer is terrific, the director is a GOD, the cast gets on and creates magic together, metaphorical sparks are zinging across stage, you’re in the zone – there is a sense of flow and ease and just the right amount of tension on stage – phew! It’s like sex. It’s like really, really good sex. And before you know it time has flown, the curtain’s come down, you’re taking your bow and the show is over. We all strive for moments and shows like this. And some of us crazy few would rather die on stage doing what we exult in, than anywhere else.
So even though we’re injured and achy and getting snowed on, we still want to do our show.
Because really, who would pass up the chance of terrific sex?