Monday, December 9, 2013

How To Be Remembered On and Off Stage

I was sitting at Second City today and couldn't help but to eavesdrop on this group of young guys talking about their upcoming show today (It wasn't too hard to catch the conversation - they were speaking pretty fawkin' loudly).  One was pretty miffed about the way he got cast in the show (number of lines, type of roles he got, stage time, etc.) and wouldn't let it go.  His friend was doing his best to console him but in my opinion almost making the situation worse.  I spent 10 minutes fighting myself on making a comment on their conversation because I didn't want to come off as a know-it-all or as unsympathetic.  Finally, I mustered up the courage to put his situation in perspective.

I walked over to them and said softly, "Guys..."

Their faces froze like they just got in trouble.  Great.  Now I REALLY feel like a old man.

I said, "I couldn't help but overhear your situation and wondered if you would like to get some perspective from an 'old man' in this game."  Surprisingly, the perked up and invited me to have a seat.  I grabbed a seat and immediately went into a lecturing posture.  Cot damn I feel old.

"Dude, I've been in this game for close to 11 years and I have been put into your situation countless times," I assured him. "I know how you feel because I have felt that way many times before.  You're an actor.  You've been put in bit parts before. "  I stopped and looked at him closely.  "How old are you?"

"22," he responded.

I had to catch myself from scoffing at him when he responded.  22?!  C'mon.  It only reaffirmed what I was about to say to him.

"Alright, 22.  You're young, " I said.  "This won't be the last show you're ever going to do, right?  You're gonna keep doing shows and being involved with other people and at some point, you're going to forget that this ever happened.  You won't give two shits about it.  You'll look back when you're on the main stage in three years thinking 'Why was I trippin' over that?  Fuck those guys."  They both laughed out loud.  That was comforting. I wasn't sure if I was being condescending in my approach or not.   I felt like Edward James Olmos - "I'm getting through to deez keedz!"

"The thing to remember, " I continued, "is that people are not going to remember much of anything from this show.  They're not going to remember the dialog.  they are necessarily going to remember each member of the cast.  The thing they are going to remember is how supportive you were in delivering those parts in the best way possible.  Your friend here is right.  You could not have much of anything as far as lines are but you can get the biggest laugh in a scene by delivering that one line in such a way that the audience feels it.  You can rock an entire scene by just committing your heart and soul to that bit part.  People won't remember the tons of dialogue by those other cats, but instead they'll say 'Hey - remember that one guy who came out did that one funny line or thing?  I hope he does that again' and they'll continue to look for you as the show goes on.

Let me tell you a story from my own experience.  I was in a Level 3 show where we did a set of improv.  At the very end of the show, we did a set of musical improv - singprov.  So, I'm in this scene with this guy and the suggestion was 'gingerbread' man.  So, I come out looking like gingerbread man.  I started singing and then my castmate decided to rip my arm off.  I then continue singing as he rips off my other arm.  He then proceeds to rip off my head.  As he did that, I started falling to the floor and right as that happened, the lights went out.  The crowd loved it.  After the show, I never got so many compliments - about how well I fell to the floor at that moment.  Nevermind the 20 minutes of good improv I just did.  My entire acting ability was encapsulated in that 1 second fall I took.  My point is, you can't decide what an audience is going to remember or think about you.  You have to rock every moment you're on stage and hope that some of it sticks when they leave. 

You don't want to be that guy that is always asking for lines and parts.  Don't get me wrong.  You do have the right to question the casting but take it up with your director.  If after your director has made a decision you still get cast in the manner you were before, accept it.  Rock the parts you were given.  The thing people will remember always is how professional you were in accepting your role for a given production.   Take it with grace.  Support your team even if they necessarily reciprocate it at the same level you feel is warranted, because you after that production is done, you'll move onto bigger and better things. 

Now you can decide whether or not to be like me about the situation.  I sometimes tend to be vindictive about these situations and rock those parts to get back at those guys 'Fine. Don't cast me in the parts I feel I deserve?  Well, I'll show you all!'  Or, you can be much more mature about it and take it with grace and realize that this will pass.  I recommend the latter.  You'll be fine.  You look like you know what you want to do.  I know you'll rawk this shit.  Ignore them fools and do the best you can with what you got.  Just know, you're not the only one this type of stuff happens to."

After that diatribe, he let out a big sigh and asked me my name.  I gave it to him and while extending his hand for a handshake said, "Thanks Nelson. I really needed to hear that, man.  I feel a lot better knowing that and gave me a lot to think about."  I shook his hand and felt so good about helping him.

His group finally gathered to go into a classroom so I just iterated some of the key phrases above for him to take with him.  He had a huge smile on his face as he headed off downstairs to the dungeon of institutionalized learning.

Now, this type of sharing I can do all day.

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