Posts Tagged ‘soul fart’

Burlington, Vermont, October 9:

Our performance of Merchant of Venice was an interesting one (at least for us, the actors on stage—it would be unfair to make assumptions for the audience), because we actually hadn’t done the show in a couple of weeks, though it had been approaching stability at that time. My personal experience of the show was a war (or at least a tug-of-war) between my head and my body: because the last time we performed the show, it had reached a point where I could truly drop into my body and turn off my mind, the substantial part of me felt that was a possibility, and kept striving for it. On the other hand, it had been two weeks since we’d done the show, and it really wasn’t in my body anymore. Hijinks ensue!

The worst of these were the kinds of flubs of which I never would have believed myself capable, when once I lived in the cloistered state of Running the Same Show Five (or Six) Nights a Week. I had always joked that I was going to get the ‘Come, Nerissa,’ lines mixed up—I have three lines that begin with ‘Come, Nerissa’—and now my fondest hope is only that it will never happen again. The first time I said, “Come, sirrah,” instead, and had to correct myself; not the End of the World, but as I sat down, my mind was berating my body, “Come, Nerissa, sirrah go before” over and over again. The upshot of this was that when I got to the second Come Nerissa in a later scene, all I could think of was “Come-Nerissa-sirrah-go-before.” Nor was the correct line on the tip of my tongue; it rather felt that it was loitering somewhere in the neighbourhood of my toes. So I simply picked up the casket and moved it, which is the action that usually accompanies aforesaid absent text. All the angels and saints bless Ginna Hoben, who completely saved me by coming in with her next line. I was thoroughly ashamed as I sat down, but was thankful that it wasn’t an actual Elizabethan audience, who would have been expecting a couplet at the end of the scene, and would have recognised well that “Come, come Nerissa…!” and “Bassanio, Lord Love, if thy will it be” do not a closing couplet make. Then they would have thrown potatoes at me, or eggs, or maybe live chickens. Of course, this would have to have been when I came back on stage for the next entrance, since if I were performing for an Elizabethan audience, I would not be sitting on the side of the stage during the other scenes.

What I would like to say in my defense is this: I went over all of my lines that morning. I even paced around my hotel rooms in rough blocking patterns. And yet, more times than I could count on my two hands, I really had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth next. Fortunately, my body does know the show well enough, that on all of these occasions save one, I actually said the next thing. And, granted, that next line that issued from my mouth was often very spontaneous, very new, and one naturally feels more fully the immediacy of what one says when not quite sure what this Theoretical One will say next.

And so, the best part was that the show was certainly fresh. Both Ginna and I agreed that the stakes seemed much higher that evening than, perhaps, they ever had been previously. It was certainly the best Morocco Casket Scene I’d ever had (I was terrified out of my mind), and I was significantly more wound up whilst Arragon, and, especially, Bassanio, chose caskets. It also may have been the best Courtroom Scene yet, which did a great deal to change the opinion that I had about a third of the way into the show (namely: This is my worst Merchant ever). I thought a great number of the company had exceptional shows by the end; one of the really beautiful things about being on stage the whole time is the way in which electricity can run from one scene into the next, and it may be that my sense of heightened stakes came from someone else’s energy, or that it fed the energy of the next scene. Evan brought a real spark into the show by jumping off stage and hitting on a girl in the front row on the line, “Nay, but I bar tonight: you shall not judge me by what we do tonight,” rather than going for Josh’s belt buckle. It’s brilliant either way, but it was new, fresh, and full of joy, and furthermore, we as actors get to witness the invention of our colleagues. I remarked to Ginna after the show that I’m sorry I don’t get to sit on stage during Shrew and Henry, so that I can see the work that everyone else does. Nerdy? Why yes. But that’s in the title, my friends. You knew what you were getting in for when you started to read. If the general paragraph size didn’t already speak for itself.

The audience was large in number but quieter in response, yet seemed to be listening and engaged. We had a total of three Merchant workshops in two days, and the third class, particularly, was especially astute (though they probably benefited slightly from having seen the show the night before). The workshops are about racism in The Merchant of Venice, but at the end of the classes, some of the students asked really excellent questions about interpretation and acting; I most easily recall those that were asked of me, such as “What were you thinking at the end of the courtroom scene?” and “How do you justify the ring business in the last act?” (short answer: “I’m still working on that”). Furthermore, the illustrious Josh Carpenter, in the phrase-creating tradition of Shakespeare himself, coined a term in the third workshop: the soul fart. As in, when Gratiano says “Here comes Lorenzo and his infidel!” we might become uncomfortable, thinking, “Whose soul farted in here?”


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