Editor’s note: We’ll be having other artists write for the blog also throughout the year, so look for more candid insights from our artists as they put together and star in the upcoming season. Christine M. Rose is one of the 7 actors that are creating and starring in 44 PLAYS FOR 44 PRESIDENTS – SD
We’ve only just begun rehearsals at Geva for 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, but already I am really enjoying working on this project. It’s obviously not a traditional show, since it’s actually forty four (forty five after the audience chooses either a Romney or another Obama play!) shows, but changing plays every couple of minutes has its advantages. As we’ve been discussing in rehearsal, whether the audience likes it or not, the play’s over in 120 seconds. The same goes for the actors, though. Don’t like your role? Calm down; it’ll be over in a matter of seconds. Then you can go play Reagan. Or the washboard in a jug band. (You’ll just have to come see the show.)
I think that this type of production also has the potential to devolve into kitschiness if we’re not careful, though. As with any play, if you get caught up in how funny you are and start playing for the laugh rather than committing to the moment, the joke won’t actually land. So the challenge is to find the reality in each moment of each play, even when we’re playing over-the-top characters or ridiculous situations.
It seems to me this follows not only the basic principles of good acting, but also to some extent those of the Neo-Futurists, who came up with this play. Sean Daniels, our director, was filling us in a bit on their approach. I believe he characterized it as telling, “hardcore theatrical truth.” The Neo-Futurists only draw on their own lives for material for plays, and never ignore the fact that they are performing a play. This doesn’t entirely apply in the case of Plays for Presidents, since obviously I am not President James A. Garfield when I go home at night, but the general principles stand. As those of us not in a play sit or stand around the stage, we know we’re performers waiting to go on, and we don’t ignore that or try to downplay it to the audience.
Last night as I read a narration about Harrison I thought of a perhaps deeper application of this concept. Sean told me that it wasn’t exactly a reported monologue, as I was sort of playing it, but rather that I had to find some emotion. So I tried to think about how my character would feel about the things she/he was saying. However, since my character popped into existence fifteen seconds before, there wasn’t a hell of a lot of context. Then it occurred to me that perhaps the only thing that makes sense here is simply to play myself. If after all we are being open about the fact that we’re in a play, and there is no character specified for me, and all I am doing is telling a story, why wouldn’t I tell that story as myself? I certainly don’t fully understand Neo-Futurism or where our play is going to go yet, but we’ll see if this is a useful approach as we move forward.
It is certain that this work involves drawing on the individual personalities of the actors to craft the show even more than more traditional ensemble pieces do. I think one of the things I like most about this process so far is the fact that it is putting me in situations where I need to learn new skills, and there are people around to teach them to me. Double dutch jump roping, Bollywood barrel turns, musical theater dance steps, and puppetry have already come up, and I’m sure there is more on the way. I am enjoying all of the challenges. It’s a good environment for experimentation, I think because there are simply so many different things to learn. Everyone is out of their comfort zone at a lot of different points, but also as Sean said people get to bring to the table their own skill sets here and there. You’ll be happy to know that I’m even getting to crack out a couple of those West African dance moves. (Thank you, Oh! Nii Sowah!)
So it’s going well. The show is essentially blocked, minus a few of the plays that prominently feature the one cast member who is still out of town. This week Sean is in Estonia, enjoying the sometimes international benefits of a theatre career at the Baltic-American Playwrights Conference, so we’re doing review and memorization of lines and the chronology of our presidents. And waiting to see what in the world Estonian swag is, since we’ve been promised goodies. I’ll be using the break to read over the dramaturgical tome I’ve been given, hit an audition in Victor, and of course run around in the woods. Can’t neglect that, even if the presidents do need their attention! Teddy Roosevelt never did.
Christine M. Rose
An earlier version of this post appeared in two parts on Incommunication.