Christopher Aruffo, MFA, MBA, MSc, PhD
Acting Process 2: Table Work
During the first rehearsal today, as we were getting ready to begin the first read-through, the director announced the cuts he was making to the script. He said that he was mainly trying to save himself transitions and technical cues, and we saw that put into action as various ensemble pieces were truncated or removed altogether. I saw how these cut scenes could have enhanced the story, but at the same time he didn't seem to be cutting anything which wasn't at least referred to elsewhere-- that is, the idea remained, even if the embellishment was lost. A few lines were stricken from one of my monologues; I wondered if their absence would make it more difficult for me to get the laugh line at the end of the speech, and I was idly wondering whether I should bother protesting... but those thoughts fled my mind completely when he announced that he was excising my entire final scene. "It doesn't do anything for me," he said.
I've mentioned how the play is structured in five parts. Because of this, as soon as he announced this cut, I had only one thought: Gary has just been kicked out of the show. During the read-through, feeling how the pieces wove together and informed each other, I understood that I had been mistaken to speculate that Gary was a supporting character. Although the other stories may be "flashier", Gary's story is no less significant nor any less prominent. At least... it hadn't been. With that cut, I disappear before the story's done. I don't finish with the rest of them. I present my perspective on the first four parts and then the others step in-- "okay, Gary, we'll take it from here."
I'm not sure why I care about this. The proper, professional way to deal with a cut of any kind is to say okay, that's what the director wants, how can I make this work? During last year's You Never Can Tell, I was amazed when, in the director's zeal to reduce the play's length, I found my part had been reduced to perhaps a fifth of what it had been, appearing only briefly in the final scene of the final act. Nonetheless, I analyzed what remained and made from it the best I could-- with the result that the adjudicator (an invited guest who identifies their two favorite performances) chose my tiny role instead of the leads. It really doesn't matter what gets cut; you just re-interpret what you've got and proceed according to the new understanding.
If I were to argue the point, I would argue the arc. If Gary is a principal, he belongs in the fifth "block". I believe that that scene may be the only one which shows the prejudice and scorn shown even to a white guy on the outside (although "that's understood; we don't need to show that," says the director). In the full script, the conclusion of Gary's story is that he has found a certain way of coping with what happened to him. In the excised script, his conclusion is that he doesn't want the real murderers to be killed. I believe that the former statement is the more relevant to the general story, and yet I must acknowledge-- there's no way around it-- that telling the story of the play is up to the director. Not to me. If the director does not care about that statement, that statement will not be made.
I did protest the excision of Gary's final scene. I handled it poorly. Rather than express my concern and ask the director for help, I insisted that the cut caused structural damage and demanded a solution. I was so certain of my analysis, I didn't realize that I was insisting and demanding until I'd already annoyed a few people; once I realized what I was doing, I immediately halted my campaign. But, as a result of my approach, not only was I unable to get the scene restored, but my alternative solution-- to replace the scene with the text of an interview which conveyed a similar point-- was also rejected. My concern about the structural issue was heeded, so that the final few sentences of the fourth monologue have been relocated into the fifth block of the show, but this still leaves the same problem for which I argued the scene's restoration, which is that Gary's story may be significantly changed.
However, Gary's structural contribution to the story may be the same. Especially with the removal of that final scene, Gary's story is the only one that is told entirely as monologues. In my speeches, there are brief insertions by other characters, but these merely supplement the monologues; the insertions don't create scenes nor take the spotlight as they do with the other characters. Also, where the other characters appear and disappear variously within the five "blocks", Gary makes only one coherent appearance in each. If I add to this the fact that Gary's story is almost entirely factual, largely absent of personal detail, and that the director's impression of Gary (as a character) is "grounded", then it seems fairly certain that my function within this show is to help maintain the single narrative. I had originally interpreted Delbert, the poet, to be a narrator-type character; but he literally weaves in and out of the other stories while telling his own. Delbert opens the show with a poetic statement, but Gary is the first to tell a story. I can easily see how the audience will be able to use Gary as a touchpoint and a marker for moving through the overall story of the play; as such, I believe that the most important aspect of my role is, with each monologue, to reinforce which "block" we are now in.
I'm glad to be performing this role, because I have wanted to explore monologues more thoroughly. In the past three semesters, working with my students, I've found simple and drastically effective methods of working with dialogue, but my understanding of monologues is still imprecise. I'll explain some of my observations so far.
Regardless of its length, a "monologue" is driven by a single idea. If it were two ideas, it would be two monologues. I illustrated this with a student last week who had met with me to work on some audition monologues. First I asked him to give me directions from the acting studio to his apartment; then I asked him to give me directions from the studio to the library by way of his apartment. After he had done this, I pointed out how in his second set of directions he'd kept going to the library (mentally and verbally) even though his apartment was a legitimate destination. This is what you're doing in your monologue right now, I said-- you lead me to your apartment, sit me down and close the door, and then you run off to the library and leave me behind. If your monologue seems to be in sections, you've got to recognize how each section is merely a post along the way to your eventual destination, and communicate that to the audience. This fellow and I took a minute or two to discuss how the three sections of his speech were connected to each other, and his monologue became a single cohesive statement.
I observed this specifically with my students this semester. For each of the last four terms, I have asked my students to "tell us something that happened to you," which I encourage them to watch as though they were seeing monologues. Previously, I'd been amazed by specific things each of them would do-- such as using their body to illustrate the action, or maintaining focus through distractions and interruptions-- and this semester I also paid close attention to how their stories were structured. Whether long or short, the structure of each story was roughly the same. Without exception, there was some kind of inciting event, followed by an action (or series of actions), and then a conclusion which revealed why the story was being told. I was especially impressed by how frequently it happened that, after stating their conclusion, the speaker added some remark which caused everyone to laugh. Everyone is a natural storyteller, and we instinctively follow a strict dramatic structure. It's only when we have to deal with someone else's scripted words that we abandon our natural speaking skills.
This happens partly because of the way we read. When we read, we absorb the fragments of someone else's thought process as though each statement were a complete concept. I demonstrate this to all of my students by asking someone to read, and call attention to how they absorb an idea, then produce it; absorb another, produce it; absorb, produce; absorb, produce. There is no continuity of thought, nor a point being made-- we are receiving the author's idea, not communciating one of our own. Actors often reach final performance without fusing these fragments into a unified idea; monologues are memorized as a series of isolated statements, rather than a structural concept, and then that's how they get delivered. Our director has explicitly said we must avoid this: "Don't be floundering from sentence to sentence." Fortunately, at this point it doesn't seem that anyone in this cast is going to fall prey to that.
The second most likely pitfall is failing to communicate. Especially in monologues like these-- image-laden reports of former events-- it is terribly easy to speak a monologue to yourself instead of to the audience, so that the point of the monologue becomes experiencing the story (internally) instead of using its words to connect with the audience (externally).
This is what I would describe as the "basic technique" of a monologue. I define basic technique as the natural communication upon which a performance can be built, and without which a realistic performance cannot be achieved. Natural reading is a critical component of either-- audiences can spot a fake, whether or not they realize it-- but dialogue and monologue have different demands. For dialogue, I see basic technique as using impulses. With monologue, I see basic technique as maintaining external communication. Basic technique is not itself a final performance, but it is the "unflavored" base upon which analysis and interpretation may be effectively layered.
At minimum, I believe a fully-realized monologue must have three layered elements: an idea, an objective, and a listener. These are the basis of genuine communication, which is comprised of three elements-- the speaker, the stream of communication, and the recipient. Respectively, these elements provide the what, why, and how for any monologue.
The "idea" is what generates the words. A monologue's idea can be any concept which can be carried from start to finish. Amusingly, the idea doesn't have to be directly related to the words, as long as it can be maintained throughout. When the idea interferes with the text (a student of mine presented his monologue with the idea that he was going into labor), the words naturally become more important because they must overcome an obstacle; when the idea supplements the text (another student described a childhood experience as though he were selling magazines door-to-door) the words gain layers of meaning which could not otherwise have been discovered. Although in dramatic performance it is unlikely that a performer will use a random idea-- in class, all of my random suggestions have so far generated comic results, no matter what the script-- there must be some kind of idea which provides a reason for the words to be spoken. An idea is necessary because a monologue must have a sense of destination, a clear and deliberate implication that "this is going somewhere."
This is not the same as the "objective", which is why the words are communicated. I could say that the idea is the generative force while the objective is the motive force. My first Exonerated monologue, for example, is how I found my parents' bodies after they were murdered. The idea could be that I found my parents' murdered bodies, or that I was wrongfully arrested-- but that idea exists apart from the communication between me and the audience. It's an easy mistake to think that the purpose of a monologue is merely to convey the idea. Avoiding the mistake is common sense, really, if you think about the stories you tell in real life. Take the simple example of a friend who asks you, what did you do this weekend? You might relay a series of events-- the "idea" being your weekend's experience-- but what is your purpose in telling him? It's never going to be "to tell him what happened this weekend." You create the communication to maintain the friendship, or create excitement, or look for sympathy, or to hint that you love him, or any of an unlimited number of choices. Communication is purposeful; communication is manipulative; it is never a mere transmission of information.
There must also be an audience. Communication has to be received, and the recipient is the strongest determinant of how a speech is delivered. As Gary, I could be speaking the monologue about finding my parents' bodies (idea) because I want to incite outrage about an unfair legal system (objective)-- but I could deliver the same words for the same reasons and sound totally different, depending on whether I was talking to a meeting of rookie policemen or a group of preschoolers at the local library. You must be speaking to a specific audience or you are not communicating. Your listener doesn't have to be an actual specific person, as long as you have a clear sense of how they will receive and respond to what you're saying.
A fourth component which is not necessary, but which should be maximized, is energy. As I currently understand it, energy is created from impulses and objectives. With dialogue it's easy to tap into your scene partner's impulses and use that to build (or maintain) your own energy, and this is often enough. In monologue, you can draw from the natural impulses of your own ideas to generate energy, and you can use your breath as energetic impulses, but it seems to me that the bulk of your energy in a monologue should come from the objective. There's an example that I've started using with my students: I hold out a phone, and I suggest that they answer it for no reason, which they do somewhat lazily. Then I tell them to answer it because it's their mother, who gets peeved when it goes to voicemail-- naturally, they pick up the phone with greater enthusiasm. Finally, I explain that they've just heard their name announced as the big winner of a radio contest, and if they answer within two rings they'll win ten thousand dollars; of course, they leap at this with tremendous energy. Similarly, the energy of a monologue is dependent on the importance of the objective. Many actors will recognize that their monologue requires high energy (such as a strong emotional expression) and will force their body into a state of generalized agitation to reach that high level-- which comes across as forced (at best) or false (at worst). It's more difficult to clarify and maintain objectives in a monologue, especially when your audience is invisible and imaginary, but this is where I believe its energy is most effectively found.
The rehearsals have been proceeding, but without too much "work". With the director, so far, all we've done is to establish the blocking for the show (which is minimal, since most of the transitions are accomplished with light and sound cues) and run through it a few times from front to back. This is clearly because the director recognizes that we can't really begin serious work until the lines are learned; he has given everyone until a week from today to be completely off book, even though most of us have our lines learned anyway. I have my lines learned well enough not to have a script in my hand, but not well enough to have complete confidence. Now that they're in my head, though, I can run them anywhere and at any time I want.
The director made a surprising announcement at the second rehearsal: there will be understudies for four of the roles. All three of the thesis roles, plus one other, would be understudied. Although the director paid us the courtesy of asking for our assent (school policy allows the director to make dictatorial decisions), my classmates and I were perplexed at this move, especially when he seemingly began to give more attention to the understudies. I've never been understudied before. I can understand the need for an understudy in a professional environment, both to protect commercial interests and to shield principal actors from fatigue, but why would understudies be necessary here? The director told us that he wanted to give the first-year students an opportunity to try substantial roles under his guidance-- but then, we wondered, why not assign the understudies to the non-thesis roles? Why take away rehearsal time from us when this role would be our final project? At one of the rehearsals, the director specifically announced the next few rehearsals, which would be "understudies... and principals," with "principals" added almost as an afterthought. At this I saw my two classmates roll their eyes at each other in mutual confusion and exasperation-- which I recognized because I shared it. It didn't make sense; had he lost his confidence in our abilities, that he would be abandoning us and nurturing these understudies as a safety net? I caught up with the director after this rehearsal and asked him to help me understand what was going on.
First of all, I was relieved to understand the director had not abandoned us. His current focus on the understudies was to get them "primed" for the roles... and get them out of the way. It wouldn't make sense, he said, to string the understudies along until the end of the process and only then give them a chance to start exploring; by giving them strong exposure at the start, they could get a foothold in their roles and have a more meaningful participation through the entire process.
Secondly, the director confirmed what I had already begun to experience. In this environment, the function of an understudy is not to replace, but to enrich and enhance. On the one hand, provided that we "regulars" release our competitive desire to be superior to the understudy, we can share their discoveries and ideas and bring those to our own role; on the other hand, if one assumes that we third-year students have actually learned something over the course of our time here, then it's obvious that we can show the understudies more effective ways to present their ensemble roles (we will be playing their parts when they play ours) which will enhance the overall quality of the show.
It was easy for me to accept this explanation because I had already formed a partnership with my understudy. This is a fellow whom I understudied, briefly, during last semester's Hello Dolly, when it seemed that back problems might prevent him from performing. Although we are somewhat different physical types (he's older, taller, and stronger), we are similar enough in appearance and attitude that we can capably present the same roles as each other. Additionally, we each have the same kind of relaxed and cooperative approach to the acting process, and we both play low status to each other, so we quickly established our ability to work together instead of enviously competing against each other. That is, if we help each other, we can look at the other's accomplishment and be proud of our own contribution to their success.
This arrangement allows me to play two additional roles. One of the first discussions I had with my understudy (whom I will henceforth refer to as my "partner") was the function of these ensemble characters. These were not secondary characters, I explained, because they had no direct effect on the main characters. Therefore, they are tertiary, and must have a specific and unique function within the story. We examined each of them in turn: one is a sheriff and the other a prosecuting attorney. There are other law enforcement officials in the story, and there are other lawyers; what made these two different? After a short discussion we had figured them out.
This sheriff is the only officer at trial who does not lie or manipulate. He merely tells the story of what happened to him. However, he is completely bigoted. Consequently, we decided that his monologue demonstrates how racist attitudes may influence a trial even when there is no hidden agenda or axe to grind. A black man may be convicted of an unrelated crime simply because, to a certain proportion of the population, all black men are literally the same. An immediate consequence of our interpretation is that the sheriff's words-- loaded with racist vocabulary-- are delivered without malice or deliberate condescension. The assumption of black people as inferior savages is chillingly normal to this man.
The prosecuting attorney is the only lawyer who makes a direct appeal to the audience as though they were the jury. The other lawyers who address the audience-jury make logical points, not direct appeals. As my partner and I discussed the overt message of the appeal (you have a duty to convict this perverted murderer!) and the response by Kerry, the character of whom we're speaking (I'm no different from any of you, he says), we realized that this is our opportunity to show the audience how they too can be taken in. The audience may be sitting there, feeling certain that they aren't part of the problem; but we as this lawyer can show them that they're just as culpable. Rather than fill the air with self-evident bluster and bombast, we are making a sincere appeal-- that is, instead of saying "You should convict this guy because I think he's a vicious murderer," we're saying "You should convict this guy because otherwise, you're responsible for his crimes."
I had one opportunity to deliver this attorney's monologue in a rehearsal. Thanks to our analysis, I had an idea (the defendant is a murderous pervert), an objective (make them feel responsible), and a listener (the "jury" who were watching). I threw myself into the piece and, I'm pleased to say, it made the compelling impression I had hoped for. Because my delivery arose from these elements, and not from random chance or undirected energy, I am confident that I will be able to duplicate the performance.
I am somewhat nonplussed that my partner is more physically suited to two of the three roles. The attorney is the one that doesn't matter at all; he is non-descript, so his effectiveness is entirely in the delivery. A frustrating aspect of playing Gary, though, is that the real man has a great quantity of long, bushy facial hair, and I can't grow any. I only need to shave every two weeks or so (I often forget) and I have found from experimentation that even after six full months, what will grow on my face does not resemble a "beard" or a "moustache" but remains scraggly and patchy and scrubby with inexplicable irregular bald spots. And because we want to avoid obvious levels of artifice in these characters, it doesn't make sense to attach fake facial hair. After one week my partner is already getting appropriately fuzzy, and his face and body even resemble the real Gary. That doesn't bother me so much, because it's unlikely the audience will have preconcieved notions of Gary's appearance-- after all, Gary was also portrayed by Brian Dennehy, who has a completely different body type-- but for the sheriff my partner, who has been a Marine, is clearly the better physical match. In my single presentation of the sheriff, I found people watching with amusement because my strong vocal attitude was a strange contrast to the yielding flexibility of my body. This means either that I'll have to find a way to create an effectively powerful physical presence or I'll have to adjust the delivery so that my vocal quality does not contrast with my physicality.
Even so, that is a very minor point in comparison with the benefit of having a partner with whom I can develop the role of Gary. The greatest benefit of this partnership, so far, is his willingness to participate with me in what I have come to know as the "mind excursion". To explain the mind excursion, let me quote Keith Johnstone's Impro, which is the book from which I got the exercise (although "Mind Excursion" is the title of a minor 1966 hit by the Tradewinds).
One afternoon I was lying on my bed... I had recalled an eye operation I'd had under local anaesthetic, when suddenly I thought of attending to my mental images... The effect was astounding. They had all sorts of detail that I hadn't known about, and that I certainly hadn't chosen to be there. The surgeons' faces were distorted; their masks were thrusting out as if there were snouts beneath them! The effect was so interesting that I persisted. I thought of a house, and attended to the image and saw the doors and windows bricked in, but the chimney still smoking... I thought of another house and saw a terrifying figure in the doorway. I looked in the windows and saw strange rooms in amazing detail.
...When I read a novel I have no sense of effort. Yet if I pay close attention to my mental processes I find an amazing amount of activity. "She walked into the room," I read, and I have a picture in my mind, very detailed, of a large Victorian room empty of furniture, with the bare boards painted white around what used to be the edge of the carpet. I also see some windows with the shutters open and sunlight streaming through them. "She noticed some charred papers in the grate," I read, and my mind inserts a fireplace which I've seen in a friend's house, very ornate. "A board creaked behind her..." I read, and for a split second I see a Frankenstein's monster holding a wet teddy bear. "She turned to see a little wizened old man..." instantly, the monster shrivels to Picasso with a beret, and the room darkens and fills with furniture. My imagination is working as hard as the writer's, but I have no sense of doing anything, or "being creative".
A friend has just read the last paragraph and found it impossible to imagine that she's being creative when she reads. I tell her I'll invent a story especially for her. "Imagine a man walking along the street," I say. "Suddenly he hears a sound and turns to see something moving in a doorway..." I stop and ask her what the man is wearing.
"What sort of suit?"
"Any other people in the street?"
"A white dog."
"What is the street like?"
"It is a London street. Working-class. Some of the buildings have been demolished."
"Any windows boarded up?"
"Yes. Rusty corrugated iron."
"So they've been boarded up a long time?"
She's obviously created much more than I have. She doesn't pause to think up the answers to my questions, she "knows" them. They flashed automatically into her consciousness.
The capacity of the mind to create these realities is beyond incredible. It's utterly astonishing. I enjoy tremendously using Johnstone's street scene to introduce people to the exercise; without exception, they create a richly detailed place. After suggesting that they are on a street with a man walking toward them, and adding the action of his turning to see a noise in a doorway, I generally ask the following questions:
What color is the man's shirt? (1)
Is he wearing a hat?
What kind of shoes does he have on?
Where is the nearest lamp-post? (2)
Are there any animals nearby?
How many windows are boarded up? (3)
Are there any cars nearby?
What color is the nearest car?
What kind of car is it?
Go over to it. (4)
How many doors does it have?
Is there anything in the back seat?
Look in the front; is it automatic or stick shift?
Is there a license plate in the back?
What color is it?
Are there any letters on it? Can you read them? (5)
(1) So far, each listener has given a tiny start of surprise upon discovering they know the answer.
(2) They often raise their arm and point to it.
(3) Whether or not they find any is immaterial; this question forces them to create the buildings that line the street.
(4) This action creates a pavement and curb for them to travel across.
(5) Each time I've done this, the listener has read the letters with a puzzled smile, delighted but dumbfounded to see letters appearing there to be read.
These experiences are real. People often recognize that these things did not exist until their attention was called to it by my suggestion ("well, now that you mention it, it's over there"), but that does not make them any less real. One fellow was horrified to find a dead body in the back seat, the windows of the car smeared with blood; his shock and revulsion showed throughout his entire body. The level of detail waiting to be found is apparently infinite and inexhaustible, and furthermore, our imagination is not confined to the laws of reality. I've taken friends flying into the sky where they pried off the face of the sun with a pocketknife, or crushed a spinning square star into silver powder, or tore open a purple cloud to find a lake of black ice. In my first excursion with my partner, he shrank me to tiny size and I floated in a thimble down an underground stream, paddling with a discarded toothpick.
More than one person can participate. It generally works with one person suggesting and one person imaging, as in these examples I've given, but I also found that I could suggest two people into the same reality and then leave them alone to create together; it was extraordinary to hear them describing their actions and discoveries while I could see them sitting without moving. ("Okay, I've climbed up, and I'm stretching out my arm for you... do you have it? Great, then, on three... 1... 2... 3... hup! All right, we made it!") It is also possible to have one person suggesting and more than one person imaging, but the person suggesting must recognize that each listener will undoubtedly create a completely different image from the same suggestion.
This doesn't work for everyone. Before I attempt the exercise I ask the person to close their eyes and picture a red wagon. Some people can't do this at all. My father sees nothing when he closes his eyes, but he can imagine sounds; he could hear the squeak of wagon wheels but not see a wagon. One of our ensemble seems to have no sense imagery at all; from our preliminary attempts it appears that his memory of objects and people is purely logical and deductive. For myself, I find that my sense of smell fails. I can hold an imaginary lemon, see it, feel its texture and heft and temperature, taste its rind, and hear the tap of my fingers against it-- but I can't smell it.
My partner is much more aggressive at suggesting than I am. Where I will coax, "do you see an X?" and "can you find a Y?", he instructs "there is a Z." Although I have learned that you can't compel someone to see something that isn't there, I was quite surprised in my first excursion with my partner to discover how frequently I responded positively to his absolute directives; I think through the entire scenario I failed to discover only two of his creations. Even so, when I'm responding to him, I know that I need to tell him when he's wrong, so he can stay with me-- but, working with a different cast member who wasn't yet familiar with the exercise, my partner told her to look at some things that she didn't actually see, and rather than correct him she stayed silent and examined what was actually in front of her. She merely waited for him to return to the reality that matched hers.
He was working with another cast member because our director asked us to. We had planned merely to use this exercise for ourselves, outside of the regular rehearsal time; but once the director caught wind of our effort and had us describe its results to him, he dedicated two full rehearsal sessions to using it. The first session was me and my partner introducing the cast to the exercise-- first by use of the street scene, and then with individual coaching-- and the second session was partnering off to do the exercise privately. The exercise must be done in isolation; any unexpected sensory input (a door opening, or voices in the hallway) must be incorporated into the scene or they interfere with the process. When I was leading my partner, the stage manger carelessly burst in and announced that we would begin a run at 3:05; I silently waved him away with a violent nod and returned to my partner who was suddenly very tense, as he was trying very hard to stay in his imagined reality. Fortunately, a few moments before he had looked at an imaginary clock which had read 2:30, so I was able to incorporate the intrusion by saying "we've got half an hour, let's keep looking around," at which he visibly relaxed and easily returned to the exercise.
I initially suggested this exercise because The Exonerated is one hundred percent memory. Although the play is peppered with dramatizations, they are clearly flashbacks, and the authors are insistent that actors should not attempt to re-live the events but report them through the lens of recollection, letting the stories speak for themselves. As our cast began its read-throughs, it occurred to me that much of our effort was spent attempting to re-create the images as we were speaking them. At worst, this made us "re-live" the events as the authors had explicitly warned us not to do; but at best, we were still disconnecting ourselves from the audience as we looked inward to create the images. I figured it would make sense to create real memories, via the mind excursion, so that we could work to communicate existing images instead of having to repeatedly re-invent new ones. My partner agreed that it seemed like the right idea, and that he'd give it a try. But even after an entertaining test run where we led each other through fantastic adventures, neither of us anticipated how extraordinarily effective this strategy would be for our work in The Exonerated.
At my recommendation, my partner and I first took a couple mind excursions unrelated to the show-- first me leading him, then he leading me. I began by showing him the city street, of course, and then led him along a more fantastic journey to show him how it's possible to break free of conventional reality. Specifically, I asked him to discover a warm, comfortable place, and when he found himself on a pond bank with two mallards in the water, I asked him to shrink himself down and leap onto one of the duck's bills (first assuring him that it would not try to eat him). He told me it was two steps to the end of the bill, and I asked him to back up one step, because with three steps he'd find himself able to spring off the end of the duck's bill and fly into the air. He did; and then 1, 2, 3-- he could. We flew into the clouds and breathed in the cool mist.
I hadn't previously realized how important trust is to this exercise. Although the entire trip was curious (we traveled to an atrium inside the sun, where he fed star mushrooms to an evil fish creature), the first thing he commented on was this leap from the duck's bill. At the time I asked him to do it, he was wary of falling and fearful of my suggestion; yet, he said, because he trusted that I was telling him the truth, he tried it and found himself able. As he continued to talk about his experience-- especially knowing that we could be asked to demonstrate this to the rest of the cast-- I understood that I hadn't even considered the possibility of not cooperating to create the images, or hesitating to share the images, or rejecting the suggestions, or simply refusing to look. My partner compared the acceptance and trust of the exercise to his experience teaching the improv class (which made sense, considering that the exercise came from Impro to begin with); if you refuse or reject your scene partner's suggestions, the scene grinds to a dead halt. Now that I think about it, I wonder if this is why his suggestions are more directive; perhaps because I'm so cooperative he hasn't yet discovered how it is impossible to get someone to see or find something that simply isn't there.
In either case, our first real trip was to discover Gary's house. We began on the porch and explored everything we could find. There is so much detail in my mind that I can't express it without risking tedium. In short, we found the attributes of the front and back yards, all the house's entrances and windows, the kitchen and dining room, the study and breakfast nook, the upstairs bathroom and bedrooms, my father's workshed, my own gardening workshop, the "hotbeds", and the trailer in front of the house. I'll try to describe the trailer to give you a sense of how detailed this became.
The trailer is across the road (State Route 25) and set back about fifteen feet from the road. The area around it has sparse patches of grass but is mostly dirt. The trailer is colored silver; it is one of those older trailers that's sort of lozenge-shaped and only about thirty feet long. There are two windows on this side, facing the house, and a doorway in between them. The doorway has a screen door that opens outward (my father added that on) and the built-in door which opens inward; the knob is a small round metal handle and turns loosely, and the door is lightweight and moves as quickly as you can push it. It does not swing shut by itself. There are light pink curtains, with white dots, on each of the windows-- my mother made them because the trailer faces east and the morning sun shines directly into the windows-- and a red-and-white striped awning which we installed over the door. My father also built a wooden stair (with two steps) to place in front of the door, since the trailer was designed simply to have someone step high into it. Inside the trailer, there's a small metal sink on the right which no one uses (and possibly never used); the fixtures are not rusty but they aren't clean either, because they've mainly just been ignored for many years. On either side of the sink, attached above it, are cupboards which my mother uses to store her sewing equipment-- there are threads and needles on the right and fabric swatches on the left. Her sewing machine is in a cabinet underneath the sink-- it's not electric, but runs by a pedal, and she doesn't like to use it because of the effort it takes to set it up each time (she can't leave it set up in the trailer because it takes too much floor space); she'll let work back up and then run it all at once. There is another window in the center of the wall ahead, which is maybe eight feet across; I could lay down, but not stretch out my arms. There are some rugs and pillows on the floor-- two here in the center, and the pile of them steadily increases as you reach the left wall, because this is where my mother works making and repairing rugs and pillows for people who come to her for them. There is a standing closet on the opposite wall, to the left, which is as tall as the trailer and painted a light orange with brown trim; inside there are three bolts of cloth-- one red, one black, one yellow-- which are as wide as the closet is tall. I can't open the left door of the closet because there is a heavy rolled rug (green shag, meant for a small living room) propped up against it.
And this is just a small ten-by-twenty trailer. Imagine this level of detail for the entire house, inside and out. The imaginary dust in the imaginary cellar even made me sneeze! Some of the layout had to be pre-planned, because there are certain fixtures and structures that Gary explicitly mentions (the workshop out back, for example), but even so, all we had to do was walk through the rooms and see what was there. It was totally effortless.
Knowing the house made sense of some of my speeches. I had not understood why the script says that I would wake up and see my mother in the trailer out front before I got dressed. Why wouldn't I get dressed before going to an open window? Now I know that this is because my bed is in the middle of my bedroom, on the second floor, and I get out on the right side; so as soon as I stand up I'm already looking out the window down onto the front yard and the trailer. I have to walk around the bed back toward the door to grab some jeans and a T-shirt off of a rack that I have standing there (the room has no closet). So looking out the window automatically comes first.
I also discovered from this layout how I'd known my parents were missing. My workshop is actually very near to the house, and my father's workshed sits between it and the house, so even though I "go out" to the workshop and stay there all day working on my plants I am easily able to tell where my parents are at any given time. Between the bedroom window and the workshed's position, I see each of them in their respective workplaces by the time I begin my day, and I occasionally spot them as I'm working. On the day they go missing, I'm surprised to wake up and find that they're not where they should be, and I am aware of their absence the entire day, so that (in the first place) by suppertime I would have become very worried indeed, and (in the second place) I acknowledge their absence in the early morning, which accounts for why the following morning represents a 24-hour span since their initial disappearance.
My two biggest surprises in this adventure, however, were not the sense memories. Because I'd done this before, I expected every object to be invented the moment I thought to look at it; so even though I was seeing everything for the first time, I wasn't very surprised by any of it (especially since nothing ventured into the fantastic or absurd). Rather, I was truly surprised to discover that exploring through my imaginary senses also created a deeper understanding of the space and a personal relationship to it. My partner sensed this as we explored-- sensed it so strongly that he explicitly asked about it, and I was amazed to discover that the answers were already there in my mind.
I could explain the history of the objects. I knew how they came to be there and why. In the script, I say that my workshop is "about ninety-two percent recycled." When we reached the workshop in our excursion, I easily and confidently described how the shingles had been cannibalized from the re-roofing of the main house three years ago, and that the broken wooden fence in front had supplied the wood for the workshop's frame. The rest of the wood had come from the forest to the south which the road runs through; I'd driven my truck there and collected fallen wood over the course of a few weeks and brought it back here to cobble together into the workshop's walls. The only part of the workshop that isn't recycled, I explained, were the plexiglass panels in the roof; I had originally tried some wire sheeting, but that didn't provide enough protection from the weather, so I had to buy some plexiglass and install it.
I could explain how I felt about the house. My partner noticed that I had allowed the house to get old. The exterior paint was chipped and worn and the wood was visibly aged; the floorboards of the house were somewhat warped, the carpet completely worn, and the plaster on the bathroom wall had been chipped and broken for some time. Why was this, he asked, and I immediately answered. The building is old, but not rotten; it is sturdy and reliable. It's not going to fall down, so why should it matter that the house looks old? It is old. It's who you are in your center that matters, it's having that solid core from which you support your friends and family and anyone who depends on you. As long as you have this, then nothing is unsightly, nothing is ugly; you are who you are and it doesn't matter what you look like.
I also learned how I felt about each room of the house, and this in turn showed me how I felt about my parents. The dining room was where I saw my mother the most; she prepared our supper which she'd serve to us in the dining room each evening. The living room was where I spent most of my time, when I was inside; I would sit in the easy chair with its back to the front hallway, reading my books, and my dad would relax in his chair (green, with large comfortable armrests) smoking his pipe and reading his newspaper. Neither of us had to talk much; we would just sit and read together. This was my life; this was my comfort; these were my parents; this was my home.
My imagined parents looked nothing like my real-life parents. This "father" was somewhat stout, round-faced, and quite bald; this "mother" looked like a granny stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. However, I knew they were my parents, with that same kind of certainty you experience in dreams. You just know that this person is your brother or father or teacher or spouse, even though you are also perfectly aware that he doesn't resemble the "real" person in the slightest way.
My partner and I took advantage of these discoveries when he (as Gary) explored his house the following day. (Because the suggesting person also has a strong experience, we've decided to have a day's buffer before switching roles, to avoid confusing ourselves.) I was able to ask him not merely what he saw, but why; for example, his recycled workshop materials came from a construction site where he knew the foreman, and when I asked him "who uses the living room?" he immediately knew who, and why, and how, and when.
However, there was one other discovery I wasn't able to use. I introduced another cast member to the exercise the previous day, and he had found himself in his high school cafeteria. I asked him if he saw anyone he knew; he did. What do you see? I wondered; he answered that it was his friend, Ben, who looked kind of down. I was seized by curiosity. Ask him why he feels so badly, I suggested. After a moment's silence, my castmate returned the answer. Clearly, in his mind, he had been able to talk with an imaginary person and have an actual conversation. We didn't have any opportunity to use this in my partner's exploration of the house, because there were no other people around, but I was excited to find out that even imaginary people could have their own indpendent actions and thoughts in these scenarios. [This discovery came as no surprise to our director, who once partnered with Marcel Marceau; when our director had asked Marceau, "Do you actually see the people you interact with on stage?" Marceau answered "I see them right down to their balls."] I knew that this would come in handy for our next session, in which I would discover my parents' bodies.
But nothing prepared me to expect what would happen in this scenario.
I thought I had it all covered. Before we started, I had looked at the script and made note of what things would have to happen to cover the entire monologue. Here is the speech:
In the morning, I got up to call the police, and a customer came walking up the driveway looking for motorcycle parts. And in the back room, where we thought the part might be, is where we found my father's body. At first I thought he had just suffered a stroke, because he was lying face down in a pool of blood, and he obviously was dead. I felt his pulse. So all of a sudden, here's my father's body, my mom's been missing. So I called the paramedics, who called the police, who told me they suspected foul play. An hour and a half later, they find my mother's body in a trailer out in front of the house. She had been killed and covered with rugs and pillows. They had been hidden, and their throats were slashed. Two and a half hours after I found my parents, they had me arrested.
I decided that the scenario would start with the arrival of the customer. If his car woke me up, that would explain why I took care of his need before calling the police. We weren't sure exactly when the scenario would end, because we weren't exactly sure what had happened in those two and a half hours, but it seemed likely that the last moment would be the actual arrest. As we got ready to begin, I informed my partner of these decisions. He was already aware of the story elements from the monologue, which meant that he could suggest the next part if it didn't happen automatically (for example, if I forgot to call the paramedics, he could suggest it).
I also told my partner that the presence of other people in this scenario meant that he would be able to role-play any of those people. From my previous experience, I knew that he'd be able to instantly switch between the detached suggesting voice and any of the imagined figures and I would incorporate and respond to each without any confusion. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that this option existed; he decided that he wouldn't plan anything, but wait and find out if the opportunity presented itself.
And so I thought I was fully prepared. My partner and I both knew how the scene would start and end, and what events would be included in the middle-- we had a general sense of how and where everything was going to happen, and we'd had the prior experience of observing the house. I figured this session would be a simple matter of walking through the scenario, observing the events around me, and adding layers of visual detail to various elements that happened to catch our interest. I thought I knew what we were about to experience. I was very, very wrong.
We began the scenario as I anticipated, and my partner began adding his own ideas. He described the customer as impatient and insistent, knocking demandingly on the front door. I struggled into my clothes and hurried downstairs to greet him. When it was evident that I didn't know my father's business, my partner slyly suggested that I should go get my father to come help the customer. I thought yes! Maybe my parents got home while I was asleep, and I'll go find them in their bedroom right now! I bounded up the stairs to find... a perfectly made bed in an empty room. This reminded me quite forcefully of why I was feeling anxious and disoriented, and I returned to the front door so I could get the customer (a cowboy wanna-be, with brown vest, plaid shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots) out of there so I could call the police. We went out to his robin's-egg-blue vintage Ford pickup, and looked at the vintage motorcycle (a thin racing bike, with a number 5 printed in a circle on a teardrop side panel that had deep blue flames painted on it). I couldn't see anything wrong with it-- I don't know motorbikes-- but it was pointed out to me that one of the parts at the center of the rear tire, a gear-looking thing, seemed to have broken off some teeth. Although I had no idea whether my father had a collection of such parts, and even if he did I wouldn't know where he'd keep them, I knew that we had some complete refurbished bikes in the back, in my father's workshed, and by this time I was willing to tear apart one of the bikes down to its final bolt just to give this guy his part and get him out of here. So I led him at a fast trot to the shed with the bikes in it, and I unlatched the door. Now, as the omniscient actor consciously manipulating the scenario, I knew that this is where I would pull open the door to find a dead body. I knew it was coming. I knew what was coming. I knew exactly what I was going to see when I opened that door.
And then I saw it.
Over the winter holiday, I had tried to picture what it would be like to find my dead father, and it didn't work very well. I could easily conjure up a mental image of a murdered body (not television-sanitized, but the kind of horrible image you can find on the Internet) and I would add my real-life parents' faces to these images and try to let myself react to them as though these were really my dead parents in front of me. As you can guess, this was fairly clumsy and mostly ineffective, but I figured it would be the best I could do. I kept trying. Maybe with repetition, I hoped, I'd somehow stumble across something that I would be able to use. I didn't have great expectations of the mind excursion, because I didn't think it would significantly affect me; after all, any people I imagined would be... well... imaginary. I expected I would gain a specific visual memory-- perhaps a highly detailed one, but not much more. I shrugged, well, at least that's something. However, I had not reckoned on that dreamlike certainty, that certainty I've already mentioned, in which you know a strange person is in fact some close relation. I opened this shed door and honestly, truly, found myself looking at the very real dead body of a person who was most definitely my one and only actual father.
I was shocked and stunned and I literally could not speak. I could barely breathe. I could hear my partner asking me persistently, what do you see, what do you see, what do you see, but it was as though his voice were filtered to me from miles away as my mind struggled to reject this image in front of me. I'd hear my partner ask-- but I could only answer if I accepted this image as real, and this couldn't possibly be my father dead in front of me. This isn't real. This can't be real. My mind was screaming at me, "this can't be happening." Finally, desperately suppressing tears, I admitted that I was looking at my father's body. He must have pitched forward and struck his forehead heavily on the bench. The pool of blood around his head was thick and completely dried into a dark crust. He was entirely face-down; his head was turned neither to the right nor left, but smashed directly into the floor. He was wearing a brown jacket-- possibly cordouroy-- and jeans, with white socks and for some reason nice black dress shoes. If I had any hope that he was alive, that hope shriveled when I saw his right hand (his left was underneath his body). His hand was bled white. I knelt to check for his pulse and I felt that hand-- limp, unresponsive, and cold. So cold.
I staggered blindly out of the shed and remembered that the customer was there. His name, I now learned, was John Adams. He put his arm around my shoulder and asked me if I shouldn't call 911. I gasped. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe something could still be done. I dashed into the kitchen, through the wire trellises I had set up as a leafy tunnel to the back door. I picked up the receiver and howled in frustration when I discovered that our telephone was rotary dial. Nine... one... one... and connect. My dad's dead, I whined. My dad's dead. At this point my partner began role-playing the 911 operator (although I didn't realize it at the time!). Calm down, sir. What is your name? (Gary Gauger... that's G-A-U-G-E-R.) Where are you? (I laughed tersely-- of course they need to know that, don't they. 623 State Route 25.) All right, sir. Calm down. Take it easy. We'll send an ambulance right away.
Fast forward a few minutes, and the ambulance arrives. The paramedics rush out of the vehicle and I direct them to the shed. They hustle as fast as possible over to the shed, but then, suddenly, strangely, all their urgency vanishes. I immediately know why-- but I tell myself that I don't. Maybe they just don't want to move him quickly, I think. Maybe they need to be super careful if they're going to save him. At this point, I can hear my partner telling me that one of the paramedics is giving me a funny look; I recognize, of course, that he's trying to add some artificial "drama" to the scenario, but what he says is clearly not true. I look at both paramedics-- young men, both of them in their mid-20s, clean-shaven, each with short black hair-- and they are both looking intently, with grave concern, at what they see inside the shed. I report this to my partner. In a moment one of the paramedics walks up to me of his own accord, places his left hand on my right shoulder, and tells me in a soft, calm voice that he's going to call the police now. I am in a daze; all I can do is nod dumbly while he walks away from me. He wants to help me. He must be doing what he thinks will help me. Maybe by calling the police he is helping to save my father. For a moment, I wonder why he's going toward the front of the house, when my phone is through the back door, but then I realize that he probably has a direct connection through his ambulance's CB system.
Fast forward a few more minutes (and by each "fast forward", I mean that my partner tells me we are skipping forward in time, which my imagination easily accepts). Two police cars arrive-- a standard police car from the north (from the direction of the city), and another without a light-bar on top arrives from the south (my partner tries to tell me that it is an unmarked car, but I see POLICE painted quite clearly on its side). Two uniformed officers leap out of the standard car and run around the house to where my father is. A plainclothes detective emerges from the other car and guides me to the porch of the house. He asks me what's going on, and I tell him, including the fact that my mother is missing. At this point my partner is role-playing the part of the detective, and his relentless questioning is simply brilliant. Why hadn't I called before? he said. I told him that I knew I had to wait 24 hours. Wait 24 hours? Where did you hear that? I don't know, I replied. Why did you think you had to wait 24 hours, he insisted. I said I thought I heard it on a TV program once-- and immediately felt stupid, because we don't have a TV and haven't ever owned one. What program? When did you see it? he insisted. I stuttered and spluttered helplessly and finally had to drop my head into my hands, weeping I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.
Fast forward an hour. The police have investigated the house, the shed, and the workshop, and have just started looking into the trailer. I am still sitting on the front steps, where I have been sitting for the entire hour; the detective has discouraged me from moving from this spot while the investigation is conducted. A uniformed officer steps from inside the trailer into the doorway, swings back the screen door, and calls over to the plainclothes detective who is standing next to me, "We've found another body." My first thought is simple-- how could he be so insensitive?-- and then suddenly I understand what he's just said. Involuntarily I scream, "OH MY GOD!!" and double over in a renewed fit of crying. Somehow-- I don't know how-- I can't see through the tears-- the plainclothes detective brings me over to the trailer to identify the body. They bring a stretcher out through the trailer door (an aluminum frame stretcher, with wheels) and I see a white sheet drawn over the body it carries. A hand reaches forward to pull back the sheet, and for a fleeting moment I hope that it won't be her. The sheet is removed, and my hope is destroyed when I see that it is her. And I would not have thought it possible for me to begin crying any harder than I already was, but that's exactly what happens. I can't see. I can't think. I can't function. I can barely hear and I am almost incoherent.
I know that the detective asked me a few more questions, but I don't remember what the questions were, and I don't remember if I even tried to answer them. The next thing I remember is his asking me to please put my right hand behind my back. I balked and he repeated his request. I still hesitated-- the only reason I could imagine for my putting my hand behind my back was to handcuff me, and why would he do that? I complied and asked, weakly, what is going on? He asked me to please put my left hand behind my back. I complied with this as well, asking again, what is going on? I felt the handcuffs snap onto my wrists and the detective began reading me my rights. What are you doing? I kept asking. What are you doing? What are you doing? I had no idea where I was or what was happening. Please lower your head as you get into the car, sir. I repeated, mechanically, numbly-- what are you doing? What are you doing? I never received an answer. I continued to softly cry, over and over-- what are you doing? what are you doing? what are you doing?-- as the police car drove off to the station with me handcuffed in the back seat.
At this point I took a deep breath, a very deep breath, and drew my arms in front of me to indicate to my partner that I was concluding the session.
With great excitement, we discussed what had just happened. Neither of us had any idea it would go so far. My partner had some misgivings when he first saw the tears spring to my eyes at the moment I had found my father, but he decided that I would be able to monitor myself and withdraw if it became truly unbearable. That was the right decision. Although I've heard stories about actors who somehow lose themselves in their characters, I've always felt that those actors must have had psychological problems to begin with. There are those who would argue that the entire purpose of theater is to impel an audience to identify with the characters and thus vicariously share the characters' experience; as an actor, I am permitted the further indulgence of having the experience directly. I can feel, think, do, or be anything and anyone I want; I can release my deepest, strongest, and most perverse feelings and fantasies, fully secure in the knowledge that none of them will ever escape the confines of the stage. The stage is the only place where one may love unconditionally without fear of rejection or loss; it is the only place where one may safely sink to the depths of complete despair knowing that total recovery is merely one deep breath away. Although this particular session underscored the issue of trust, the trust I had in my partner was not simply that I felt comfortable becoming so totally vulnerable before him, but that I knew he would not suddenly destroy the scene by, say, having the detective throw a cream pie in my face and shout "April Fool!"
At this point, now that you've read this entire story, go back and re-read the monologue I will actually be speaking to the audience to describe these events. Go on. Check it out. Right now. Can you imagine trying to explain what happened, using the words of that monologue, without actually having had the experience? I credit my partner with being very clever and smart in his guidance of the situation-- although he was mistaken about the "funny look" from the paramedic and about the supposedly unmarked police car, his role-playing and suggestions were so effective that I couldn't tell you how much of what I've just related to you came solely from my imagination and how much of it came from his prompting.
My partner described the mind excursion as a different kind of character analysis. It's one thing to write down on paper the biography of events in a character's fictional life; it's quite another to experience them for real. Analysis on paper is more abstract, and there is value in that abstraction; for example, learning that Gary deliberately requested to have a polygraph test has had a direct impact on my delivery and I didn't need to experience anything. If you want to draw from memory, though, there's nothing like the real thing. The other cast members who have tried this method (with a partner who isn't me) are intrigued because they say the experience automatically leads them to details and discoveries they would otherwise never have thought to consider. For example, the woman playing Sunny decided to explore her house, and in the process she learned that her husband was a smoker (she found ashtrays in each room) and that he was not a vegetarian (the script tells us that she is). "I can't wait to visit the interrogation room," she told me. "The script says there's a phone and I really want to find out why it's there." Considering that I still have at least five more sessions to conduct (four for Gary, one for the sheriff), I know how she feels.
Because these roles are based on real people, my castmates have been researching the available details of their actual lives. I'm not sure whether I will do this. Both of my classmates have uncovered information which, they tell me, they wish they hadn't. It seems that one of them might possibly be guilty after all (revealed after this play was written) and is back in prison for an unrelated crime; the other has discovered that Sunny's last name is an alias, and under her birth name Sunny has a history of vice crimes. The baby that Sunny protests about so pitifully was, it seems, addicted to drugs at 10 months old. Although what they're uncovering is fascinating character background, and will surely add many more layers of complexity to their characters, I'm not sure that that kind of research should be my starting point. I suspect that it will serve me best to develop the role as fully as possible and, at that point, see what Gary's actual interviews and biographies can contribute. I will definitely want to investigate the real Gary, because there will be facts and opinions that inform my understanding of what he tells us, but I think the mind excursion is demonstrating that I will find it more effective to create real memories than to try to internalize whatever he says happened to him in real life.
My partner and I are continuing the imagination work. I have now visited the jail, examining both my cell and the layout of the cell block. I found a few interesting things while I was there; in addition to a rec room with a checkers set, I discovered a memory in which I was threatened by a large inmate (with a shaved head and a lightning-bolt tattoo on the right side of his forehead) because I'd tripped and spilled some green peas on his arm. There are still five more sessions which I need to experience if I want to cover everything I talk about:
My interrogation by the police
Visiting the lawyer who got me out
Luke's grocery (for the sheriff role)
Watching the videotaped confession by the guy who killed my parents
The grocery robbery (sheriff again)
and my partner needs to experience these same things for himself, which means we have at least ten sessions left. Although it is possible for two people to participate in creating the same image, this means that the other person will also be a significant figure in that image, so we have decided to repeat each of these sessions for each other. Although last night we visited "my" prison, we may have to go there again for this reason; my partner decided that rather than make neutral suggestions, he would role-play a jovial visitor to the prison, and although I found visual images and unusual memories I don't think I gained a significant relationship to the prison. It felt more being in a cartoon than being in a movie (which is what Gary claims it to be).
I've now got the basic analysis done. For each of the five beats I have an event, an objective, and an idea, but not yet an obstacle. In the past few rehearsals I've seen the importance of having both an idea and an objective-- so that I not only know what point I have to make, but I also know why I'm saying it to this particular audience. In our last rehearsal, I noticed the difference between the performers who knew what they were saying versus the performers who also knew what they were doing, and the most visible difference was that the performers with objectives were sending their impulses out to the audience, while the other actors would expect the audience to come to them and work to get energy from them. We had a few "outside" people watching the rehearsal, and by the end of the session they were slumped dully in their chairs.
Beat 1: "finding the bodies"
Event: Gary gets set up
Objective: get them on board with me?
Idea: I must find the strength to talk about this
Beat 2: "the interrogation"
Event: Gary gets railroaded
Objective: make them shake their heads
Idea: I was betrayed
Beat 3: "imprisonment"
Event: Gary is "boxed in"
Objective: make them afraid for me
Idea: I don't belong here
Beat 4: "release"
Event: Gary has to fight to escape
Objective: make them outraged
Idea: the system tries to keep you in
Beat 5: "closure"
Event: Gary faces the future?
Obejctive: draw them into my decision?
Idea: killing is never justified
The question marks represent the fact that I used these objectives in last night's rehearsal, and they seemed to work, but I'm not sure whether they're telling the story that I have to tell. Although I can clearly see the components of the story, the superevent and superobjective are more elusive. What is the overall story?
I'm wondering if perhaps what I'm establishing here is merely the foundation for what will become a meta-story. Why is it important for Gary to tell his story? In asking this, I don't mean importance to the play's structure-- I need to understand that, but that's ultimately the director's issue. More pressingly, I must know: what is my need (as Gary) to tell the story? Although beat to beat I can use these specific objectives to make my point to the audience, why am I even bothering at all? Why don't I just go back to my farm and keep growing vegetables? Why do I think they need to know? Why do I need to tell them?
I think the answer is in the final few sentences:
The two men who killed my parents were just convicted last year. But I've been adamant that those guys not get the death penalty. Some people think that's stupid, but why should I want them to die? It's not going to bring my parents back. No good's going to come of it.
If the final scene had not been excised, I think the story would have been one of being crushed into isolation. I would have wanted to show that, despite the fact that Gary apparently has returned to his normal life, he is still confined by the experience. With the final scene gone, that isn't the story, but I still have that challenge: in one feature written about the real Gary, an author writes "...you just look at him and your heart breaks." Everyone who volunteers a report about him says that he is "calm" and "laid-back". My physical attitude-- to which I have not yet given more than a cursory thought-- will be critical to communicating this aspect of the character.
The problem-- or perhaps the point-- is that there seems to be a direct conflict between the "crushing" of Gary and the overt message. If he has made it out of prison relatively unscathed, and ready to forgive the murderers, well, isn't that a positive message? Doesn't that say that it's possible to get through it and still be okay? Gary himself says in an interview, "[y]ou can't put this out of your head. It will always be with me." I think I need to discuss this with the director. Are these stories of people who have succeeded despite the system, people who have been ruined by the system, or people who are deeply affected but are now all right? Or... what? Once I have that decision, I think it will tell me what I need to do in the first and fifth beats; the middle beats remain the same because I need the audience to understand what I experienced whether or not they're going to pity, support, or identify with me. In any case I don't think I want to portray a pathetic character; that would be unsatisfying for every reason.
A final bit... I'm interested to find that the director agrees with my observation about giving notes. What notes there are to give, he says, should be presented before a rehearsal, so they can be used, rather than after a rehearsal, when they will be forgotten.