The Sound of Music: Act II, Scenes 5 – 7

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm

There’s a no cell phone / no tablet / no computer rule in the rehearsal space.

I broke it last night.

The reason for the rule is that it distances the cast and crew from one another; people spend all of their time buried in their devices. It’s certainly true: the cast of Spelling Bee at Berkeley Playhouse were all so connected that we didn’t necessarily connect as much as we could have. Who’s to say if we needed more in-person connection? It was a great production, one I am proud to list on my resume. But there were times backstage when, owing to my unpopularity in certain quarters of the world (home), I had no messages to respond to (or, more accurately, nobody was responding to my messages). As a result, I would accidentally begin one-sided conversations with the gentlemen in the dressing room, not realizing that they were hooked into their phones and wouldn’t be responding. This is something of which I was just as guilty when I would have some form of communication to which I could respond.

So the rule at Sierra Rep is one I fully embrace. I love it. And when I broke the rule last night, I was instantly chastised.

Here’s what happened: when I arrived, a question of trivia was raised that I could not immediately verify or refute, so I went to check Google right away, forgetting that there is no T-Mobile reception in Columbia, CA. So there it was: my phone couldn’t connect to the internet. But while I had it out, I wanted to look at the rehearsal schedule. For The Sound of Music.

“Hey, Edward? Could you put your phone away? Thanks.”

This from Scott Viets, Artistic Director of SRT and director of The Sound of Music. Utterly polite and professional.

“Oh! Of course, I apologize,” quoth I, turning the phone off and putting it away.

Boy did I feel like an assnugget. Haven’t felt that way in a while, and I’ll be honest: it stuck with me for a little bit. So I had to ask myself: why are you so stung by this? You knew the rule, you forgot, Scott was totally nice about it. What’s so special about you that you shouldn’t be reminded of the rule when it happens?

I couldn’t find an answer of any use, so I chalked it up to residual asshole on my part: the asshole who forgot the rule was still smarting from having been caught forgetting the rule. Ridiculous. Time to focus on the work. So I took my lines outside and started working on them.

Well, I started to take my lines outside. But as only those with regional reception can check their phones, everyone else is free to chat. So somewhere between the top of the stairs backstage and the stage door at the bottom of the stairs, I was shanghai’d into about ten conversations. By the time I made it outside, I had to pee. Then I was called to stage my portion of Act II, Sc. 6.

Gotta say: Act II, Sc. 6 is delicious for me. That is all.

After that was staged, I went outside and recorded my lines and blocking into my phone verbally, writing down what I’d missed as we staged it. After that, I went in to look for something and Drew asked if I’d like to run lines. So we ran his lines for a while, until he was called to stage something.

Which is when I went downstairs to find that Gretl’s dad had heard me say something about backpacking and had brought a map of the Carson-Iceberg/Emigrant & Mokelumne Wilderness Areas to show me where the best trailheads are.

He also told me where to get the map (Forest Service Office / Ranger Station), and where to find the Forest Service Office / Ranger Station (Greenley Road, Sonora).

Thus has my quest attained direction.

He even told me where there’s an awesome little cache in the woods, near a pond near a lake. That’s all I’m saying for now.

Something else splendid happened last night when I was sitting downstairs in the green room, but in order to tell you about it, I need to give a little backstory:

At the first read-through, I was sort of sitting across from Gretl. I made a joke about crocodiles. She just looked at me. Drew said to her, “You know what, I’m gonna give you a piece of advice: just don’t listen to anything he says. He’s very silly, and just about everything that comes out of his mouth is ridiculous.”

Now, that’s funny. And it might be true. But I’ve had someone tell a child actor that before, and the result was atrocious: when I played Guido in Nine, an actress said roughly the same thing to the kid playing Young Guido. So when he wouldn’t make eye contact with me AT ALL during the emotional climax / revelation of the show, I was trapped: this kid’s eyes were everywhere; floor, ceiling, wall, shoes, audience. I was trying to connect with a tiny Mad-Eye Moody, it wasn’t working, so I went to the director and asked him to talk to the kid. He said he would.

Next performance, nothing.

So before the performance after that I went to the kid and said, “Hey — did Ken talk to you?”

“About what?”

“Eye contact.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, you know how in the last scene I’m singing to you about how I need to go off on my own?”

“Yeah …”

“You know what would really help me, would be if you would just look me in the eyes when I sing that.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you’re staring all over the place and you’re supposed to be my younger self, and since I’m talking to you it would really help me, as an actor, if you would just look me in the eyes — nowhere but my eyes — when I’m singing to you. Can you do that?”

“I guess so …”

“It would help a lot.”

He kind of sidled away and I crossed my fingers, but at that night’s performance he was tracking international moth competitions. I went to the director and asked if he could talk to the kid again. Turns out he’d forgotten.

Still nothing in the performance after that, so I went back to the actress who’d originally told the little shit not to listen to me. I explained the situation, and she called him over and said, “Okay, you know what? When I said that about not listening to him, I meant if he was being silly. But when he’s asking you about acting stuff, it’s important.”

Right about then, the director walked in, with his checklist. At the bottom of the list I saw, as he came over to the kid, was the kid’s name. He took him aside and reinforced everything we’d been saying, and for that performance (the final performance), the little shit looked me in the eyes. I got what I needed (emotional connection), the waterworks started, it was incredibly moving. It was the best performance, by far, of the run.

Would have been nice if he’d talked to the kid, oh, I don’t know … weeks ago.

Back to the first readthrough for SOM: Drew told Gretl to ignore me, and I said, “Wait a minute, though: if I say the building’s on fire, or watch out for that open trap door, I’m not kidding.”

“Umm, no, in those cases you should pay attention,” he said.

But it was too late. At the second rehearsal, Gretl told Marta, “Don’t listen to anything he says, Uncle Max says he’s silly.

But last night, Gretl’s dad told me she’d made a three-mile hike with him, easy. So after we staged Sc. 6 and we were all leaving the stage, I said to her, “Hey, Ruby. I hear you hiked three miles recently. That’s awesome.”

She stopped, turning, about to step off the stage onto the single-step cube that we’re using as a convenient (if unsafe) stair. “What?” she said.

“I hear you went on a three-mile hike. That’s awesome. Well done,” I said.

She just looked at me, silent, then stepped down and went to her seat. I wrote it off.

Later, however, when I was in the green room talking with her dad and the kids were on break, she walked by and whacked me on the shoulder: a single pat, almost a smack, but it was a silent greeting, a hello, an acknowledgement. It said, you’re people, I get you, I trust you, hi. No eye contact, not a word spoken. Just a whack on the shoulder as she passed, looking for her snack.

The simplest and most meaningful gesture I’ve ever experienced in my life. Probably nothing to her.

In these times it was a powerful, unexpected, reassuring moment. I’m still trying to work out why.

All I know is, I’m delighted that I wasn’t buried in my phone, cut off from the world around me. The asshole who was upset at being reminded of a rule would never have noticed that gesture.

Good rule, Scott. Thank you.

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