On the Sunday rehearsal before the Christmas break, I dropped everything I had been doing with Betty, my second act character. I sensed that my vocal placement had become a mask, in a bad way – more of a barrier to who she is, than a portal. I also know – or think I know – where all the laughs are, and while that is very important ultimately, it had become a liability for me. I felt like I was doing funny-voice acting. All I needed was a funny hat to go with it.
So I dropped it all…and went denuded into a run of the second act. I felt awful. I wasn’t doing anything. I had nothing to hang on to. I sucked. After the run, Alisa, the director, congratulated me on my giant step forward. She said she had never seen me be so brave. “Brave,” I thought, “yeah, a euphemism for, ‘you sucked, but with dignity this time.’” I didn’t know how I’d get through the week’s festivities with the shadow of my total failure hanging over me. At the same time, I recognized that self-loathing conviction as a spasm of strategic self-preservation. But which “self” was it preserving? The skeptical one, the guarded one, the one that doesn’t want to make a fool of itself.
So here I am back in rehearsal after the break, unsure of who will emerge tomorrow when we return to Act 2. Part of what’s weird is that Betty is much closer to me in many ways than is Edward, my character in Act 1. Edward is a nine-year-old boy who is struggling with his identity and sexuality, and going through some formative – and deforming – experiences. He feels like a much shorter walk from me than Betty. And yet Betty is only two or three years older than I am. Plus, she’s a woman. And yet, I had felt the need of an almost Are You Being Served?/Hiacynthe Bucket/Thames-side/Ealing Studios/Brit-comedy take on her to get any traction.
Here’s the thing: I know I’m going to tunnel my way back to her voice, her hat, her teetering poise, and my hope is that when I finally recover these holy grails, they’ll be invested with soul. But it’ll be like digging myself out of Stalag 13 with a spoon. Truth and self-exposure are like that. Makes me want to run silently-screaming to the privacy of my lair and start writing something. And of course, that’s when the snake starts devouring its own tail: beginnings are easy, exciting. First paragraphs are always brilliant. Funny voices work a treat for the first week of rehearsal. Then comes the art part. And as always, I say to myself, I says, “Self? This is too hard.”