How appropriate that our Understudy Run-Through happened to fall on the day we moved our clocks forward. There’s an optimism there. A sense of energy and excitement. We’re moving out of the darkness and into light; and it is the season of growth and re-awakening.
For those who may not know, each of of the principal roles has not only a key actor, but also an understudy actor. It is the job of the understudy to learn all the blocking, choreography and music for the role; and to be prepared to perform the role if the need should arise. And most of the understudies are also playing other roles in the production. So their individual work is two-fold, their plate is more than doubly full… and my admiration for them is unbounded.
About this time every year, we set aside one rehearsal for the understudies to perform the principal roles. I love this day! It feels like Opening Night — because the energy is high and the adrenaline is flowing in abundance. The understudies have this one performance to show what they know and to offer their own unique spin on the principal role they are interpreting. Without fail, they attack this opportunity with great gusto and with a fierce determination which demands to be admired.
Bear in mind that they have been charged to learn this material almost entirely on their own. Rehearsals are devoted to work with the key actors in the principal roles. So understudies are present, but must learn merely by observation. This is no mean feat. I’m talking lines, blocking, choreography — everything the principal actor has learned. And interpretation of character on top of all that. Okay, I’m nigh on to gushing here. They work hard, they care, they give it their all, and I appreciate all they offer and all they do.
And I’m proud to say they gave a kick-ass performance today! It was full of life, and reminded us all that performance is about joy. Yes, we get bogged down in the minutiae and the exactitude. We rehearse and obsess. We fret and we sweat. And well we should. But it all boils down to the joy in the moment. You’ve got to do the work in order to find the joy, but when you get there… Bam! “Bam” for everyone concerned. “Bam” for you. “Bam” for your audience. “Bam” for your cast mates. And “Bam-and-a-half” for me. Nothing makes a director happier than seeing an actor in a “Bam” moment. And to see an entire cast “Bamming” is gobsmackingly good!
Okay. This is turning into a rather long post. And I’ve just gone all Emeril on you. But it was a magnificent day. The understudies brought great joy to our process, and had a rare opportunity to bask in the spotlight. Their enthusiasm and dedication spilled over to the rest of the cast and infused the entire production with a new-f0und vigor — sorely needed in these last hammering days of the homestretch.
And the principal actors had one brief day off the treadmill. They enjoyed the luxury of sitting back and watching the production unfold; of watching someone else interpret their character and execute their staging. Its a rare thing for a performer to be able to relax for a moment from the process of learning and creating, and to simply observe and comprehend. To see, to hear, to learn with the heart rather than with the head.
Today’s performance was generously given; and it was generously received. And I wish we all had such opportunities on a regular basis in all aspects of our lives. The chance to step into or out-of the limelight; onto or off-of the treadmill. The chance to see our situation through a fresh pair of eyes. To see ourselves, or to present ourselves, in a different light. The chance to invent or to be reinvented. The chance to breathe in a new way…. whether with a sharp, adrenaline-fueled inhalation or with a gentle sigh of relief.
It’s good to shake things up from time to time. And the shaking has commenced.