Saturday, February 22, 2014
So...I feel like I start every post this way...with so. Anyway, so when I was figuring out what I should initially write about and what actors generally used this platform for and I found that it could in a sense attempt to reveal the "process" of the "actor". Well I haven't done that (insert dramatic music) until now. I know that I haven't written about this so called "process" because I don't have one...at least not yet. I've realized I'm in the process of getting a..process. I guess I should be a good teacher and define "process". For me an actor's process is the steps that actors take to create a fully developed character, a wholly imagined human being (or thing or creature...equality for all, right?). This includes research to discover everything possible about the character being portrayed, how the character would walk, talk, think, move smile even laugh. Collins does NOT have my laugh by the way. He absolutely does not have my giggle either(heh heh).
I was talking to one of my kiddos' parents last week about same sex marriage and she told me a story about a friend of the family that died of HIV/AIDS. So we got to talking and of course RENT came up (this is going somewhere I promise). So long story short she has a friend at the health department that she snatched some HIV/AIDS info from to give me. So! ...here's the point of this all. One of my co-workers said (after hearing about what that parent had given me) "is that a part of your lines? you're going to read that too"? ...I'm sure I looked a little confused at first, but then I answered "yep". And she looked pretty shocked. After that I realized the existence of the actor's "process" is not common knowledge. There are some that just assume a stellar performance is that actor delivering lines or singing lyrics ultra well. And that perception is completely understandable. When I was on the other side of the stage, I remember thinking damn...these people are so incredibly talented, but I never thought about how they got there either. But when you think about it it's actually a great thing, the audience forgetting to consider an actor's preparation. It should seems like what's on stage is just happening. It should look effortless. And I think this is more important with RENT than any other show I've done. Because we're creating a brief glimpse into the lives of real people, with real relationships, real addictions, real empty wallets and real tragedy and joy.
Honestly, I generally refer to myself the performer as a singer who acts as opposed to the opposite. I know that my gift of music far out weighs my gift of acting. With that said, this show really marks the first time that I've attempted to make a living, breathing character that actually exists in "his world".
Even though I feel like I've been preparing for this role since high school, Tom Collins is proving to be one of the most challenging characters I've ever played. (deep, reluctant breath) Truth be told, Collins is becoming increasingly difficult to play because of our similarities. (SPOILER ALERT, kind of) When we meet Tom he is at his rock bottom: no job, no money, no love, perhaps no family either. I really think at Tom's introduction he pretty much just has the clothes on his back. This is why he gets so pissed about his coat. It's kind or a metaphor for his present situation. We really meet Collins at what is probably the lowest point of his life. He feels utterly hopeless and then to rub pepper in those wounds he gets the hell beat out of him AND they take his coat... in the dead of winter, on CHRISTMAS EVE, pre global warming. Not to mention the fact that he lies on the ground for at least an hour. He had truly given up.
At the end of last year I, like Tom, had arrived at my rock bottom. I started to think about all the time I had wasted beginning at high school graduation spanning all the way to the present. Most of us realize how youth is an asset in this industry, almost a resume builder. So I was dealing with that, working at a job that paid with smiles and sunshine, living in my mama's house, accepting myself, being single, not having the courage to chase my purpose, in addition to having an over $90,000 degree that I would never use. I thought about all of that everyday almost all day. So needless to say I fell into a spirally depression. I felt hopeless, empty, worthless. Ironically enough, I accepted a couple of years prior that my purpose was to change people's lives, make them feel something, think, react, then move them into action. For me this meant performance. But how would I do that if I didn't do it. This is an aspiration I've felt since I was ten, but never had a glimmer of courage nor the confidence to pursue it.
These likenesses are why I've been finding it so hard to commit to Tom. I know how it feels to give up and to remain in that dark space. So I've really been fighting my connection with Tom. I'm just so afraid of visiting that mind set even for a moment even though I think it's necessary in order to present a real person. (sigh of relief) Ok...so last rehearsal I started to make a shift in my approach to Tom. I think I'm really starting to be open to his struggle, to his humanity. (SPOILER ALERT) For the first time I really started to connect with the I'll Cover You (Reprise). I was able to quite literally step into Collins shoes. And the content and context of that piece was really turbulent inside me. I had to work for the song not to emotionally destroy me. I've been labeling that night's rehearsal as my "break through". It was what I had been waiting for. All I had to do was surrender to Collins and his experience. Which I've found is of course easier said than done.
Through college I didn't do any shows. Then in 2011 I did my first show in like three years, the start of my one show a year routine. I just hadn't committed to my purpose or the possibility of reaching it. Once a year was just enough for me to say that I wasn't good enough to do it professionally in my then very dark mind. I really only recently jumped back into theater last year. A friend told me I should audition for, Parade, a show I had never heard of, just to see what happens. I was certain that I wouldn't audition. I had really subconsciously accepted that my then reality was how it was going to be...always wondering what if. But for some reason I went to the audition...and got the role. This is how I know there is an all knowing force at work in our world with our greatest interest in mind. Because if I was just in control, I would have never made it to that audition or here.
I opened up my restaurant in Santa Fe
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
So lately I've been battling with MY idea of RENT Vs what we are actually creating. I've discovered that it is quite dangerous to have a completely formed, preconceived construct of a show before you even begin the communal journey. Like I've said before, RENT has been on my theater bucket list since high school so of course I've cast voices, staged it and even hear the music in a certain way...my way. This can be ultra destructive to the way I interact with/approach our group. I thought I was over this when I gave myself a "call to Jesus" during the very first rehearsal. I guess I fooled me...RENT just means so much to me on a personal level and I wanted everyone to connect with the text and the story and the message just as I have. But that is not even a little bit realistic. Everyone has to have their own process inside of a show.
RENT is really the quintessential cherry on the sundae of my life experience. In a word, it's the icing on my cake of self acceptance... "warts and all". But they're not actually warts at all...they're kind of the salt of my life. Bringin' da flavuh! They are what make me who I am. So...with all THAT said, I'm really starting to see how fortunate I am to be a part of this very unique ride. Last night's rehearsal showed me the potential that I saw at the very first rehearsal. I think most would agree that last night showed us our potential to create something really poignant and profound. Look! ...your potential's showing. The talent in our group is really sick and ridiculous. We have the ability to take our audience on a crazy roller coaster ride that will leave them crying "more", "more", "more", "more" (<<sorry for that). All and all, I realized I had to leave my preconceptions at the door in order to create something original. Last night was when I accepted that more than ever. Now, as they say, onward and upward.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
(sigh of hesitation) ...so, I was suppose to start writing this maybe...mmm...three weeks ago. Don't judge me: procrastinator code. Journey with me back to the end of October 2013. I had finished my audition and was waiting for the decree. It actually only took a week for New Line to contact me. Then I got the call, "we want to offer you the role of TOM COLLINS". Don't cry on the phone Marshall be "professional", whatever that means. So...what? In all seriousness, I was so at peace with the very real possibility of not being offered any part in the show. My audition was really like an American Idol blooper...ok maybe not that bad, but it was nowhere near a great audition. So needless to say I accepted the role. At the risk of sounding like a corny Ms. Universe pageant winner, I'm going to say it anyway, I've been dreaming of this moment since I was a little boy...well since I was in high school. RENT was like the second musical I had ever listened to (Once on This Island being the first) and it instantly "Lit My Candle". So that little (actually rather plump) high school sophomore in me was freaking the hell out. After I accepted the role, I had the typical Marshall Jennings reaction I've coined as IAD (Inadequate Actor Disorder). After I called mi hermana favorita (Anna) and the joy wave had settled on shore, I FUH-REAKED! What had I done? I would have to fill the leather coat originated by Jesse L. Martin and curtained called by Michael McElroy. AH! Oh, sorry...didn't mean to scare you. How could I play such an iconic musical theater role?
Honestly, with help from a friend (not Anna...it's Anna), I JUST accepted that I could play this role, that I was capable, that I was worthy, that I was enough about a week ago. Before, I would say things like "I don't believe I've been given this opportunity"...why me?... This is like a dream I'm waiting to wake up from. But through a lot of self searching and conversation, I soon started to hear what I was really saying: "I don't think I'm good enough so how on Earth could I be playing this role"? This kind of thought is SO toxic. You know during the first rehearsal I was STILL unsure if I was even playing Collins, if all of that had happened at all...no joke when I started singing, I was kind of waiting for Scott (the director) to say "why do you keep singing Collin's part? ...Stop it"! CRAZY?!? (Like Monica) I KNOW! When I became aware of what I was actually internalizing, I really worked to throw all those thoughts away. And of course I'm not perfect; bad habits are hard to break. But now when they creep in, I go Power Ranger on that ass. White Ranger ALL DAY! So now it's onward and upward as "they" say. I'm more confident in my ability than ever before. This is the power of RENT and what I want to transmit to our audience.
Rest in peace