Just like athletes and musicians, actors often need to do a warm-up routine in order to perform their best. Depending on the actor and the demands of the show, that may involve physical stretches, vocal exercises, and/or some quiet time to focus. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the chance to observe Kyle Hatley warming up for his performance as the Poet in An Iliad, and I have to say, I’ve never seen a warm-up like it.
There’s one particular section of the show that’s tough to get right. It’s a (roughly) chronological list of (almost) every war in human history. Just a list – the names of 140 wars, one after another. Kyle says it was the hardest part of the show to memorize, and it’s also not that easy to keep it memorized. So, before every performance, to make sure he’s still got it, Kyle speeds through the list as fast as he can.
That’s not the unusual part – reciting tricky sections of the script is a pretty standard actor warm-up. What makes Kyle’s warm-up unique is that it’s a competition. Stage Manager Stephie Kesselring times his list of wars each evening, and Kyle is always trying to beat his best time. He says he can get a pretty good idea of how the show’s going to go based on how he does in the wars race.
Kyle played the Poet in a production in Kansas City last year, and his best war time from that run was 1:35. (That’s just 2/3 of a second per war, for those keeping track.) The months off between productions took their toll, and for the first few shows at Geva his times were slower as he worked to remember all the wars – 1:44 on opening night, then 1:57 the next day, followed by a few more runs clocking in the 1:40s and 1:50s.
Then last weekend, Kyle really hit his stride. As of Saturday 2/13, 1:34 became the time to beat. Last night, he managed to tie it, and this afternoon he came close with 1:35. With just two shows left, Kyle is determined to hit 1:33. Can he do it?