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Yesterday I was lucky enough to be asked to rehearse and perform a staged reading of Christina Gorman’s new play FAR FROM THE TREES as part of the Next Act New Play Summit sponsored by Capital Repertory Theatre. One of the best things about this play are the individual voices of all five main characters – it’s a play that demands strong actors all around to fully flesh out the very specific writing. And, as you may or may not know, staged readings are focused on the rhythm of the words. Just as one poorly tuned instrument can ruin the entire performance of a band of orchestra, just one actor who can’t hear the music of a script can frustrate the entire performance. . . for not only the cast and playwright, but for the audience as well. It’s jarring when there is no harmony!
Unfortunately, that was the position we found ourselves in yesterday. Just an hour into a very short rehearsal process, we found that one of the actors was ill suited for their role, and was having trouble keeping up with the rest of us at the table. What an awkward situation for everyone involved. What to do? Protect the actor and very likely sacrifice the entire reading that evening, or serve the play by replacing them as soon as possible and risk shattering the confidence of the actor involved? It was clear that working with this actor was monopolizing all of our time to prepare this play for a read in front of an audience, yet we had so little time left to rehearse someone new.
As an actor, my primary goal – always – is to serve the text. Another very important component is to serve the director’s vision of the play. This actor could clearly do neither, and so the producer’s swooped in and quickly and smoothly replaced them with another actor who luckily happened to be in the building. Yes, it was awkward, but it put us back on track to achieving our most important objective for the day. . . to give the playwright a reading that would help her hear the strengths and weaknesses of her story and dialogue.
All of us involved were reminded of situations in our own history as actors where we felt “out of the loop” somehow, and in danger of being replaced. Perhaps it even happened. I’ve been on both sides – both the replaced and the replacer. It’s awkward either way. And it’s not always something we can control. However, accepting this aspect of our business (that no one ever likes to talk about) is an important step toward the maturity of an actor. Once we accept that we are always “replaceable” we can step outside our own ego and just concentrate on the business at hand: always, and to the best of our personal ability, serve the text and the director’s vision for it.
In that rehearsal room yesterday? Yes, there was relief after that actor was replaced with someone more appropriate and capable. Palpable relief. But there was also EMPATHY.