I bill myself as an actor/playwright, but I’m usually only one of the two at any given time. The one time I was both simultaneously was when I played a supporting role in my Fringe play Dragon’s Breath, and while that was demanding, I was at least focusing all of my energies on the success of one project. This past week, however, I’ve been splitting my time between acting and playwriting, and between two entirely different projects. My short play Morningside Heath was read (wonderfully) by Core Artist Ensemble on Sunday, and when I wasn’t rehearsing that, I was rehearsing a play by Marcina Zaccaria called Village, My Home, which debuts next week at Theatre for the New City’s Dream Up Festival.
The two pieces couldn’t be more different (thus adding to the overtaxation of my already burdened brain). I told the story of my play here, and it’s heavy on story and backstory. The Dream Up Festival specializes in non-linear work, and so Village is far more rooted stream of consciousness technique rather than narrative. Even so, rehearsing the two projects back-to-back revealed something interesting about just how us writer/performer types work.
I was very fortunate with Morningside Heath – I wound up working with a terrific director and three gifted actors, all of whom I already knew from readings at Naked Angels. Even so, in its initial read-thru, it still felt a bit sluggish. We all recognized the issue right away, and it was corrected in rehearsal – the actors were all used to working (and working very well) in a naturalistic mode, and Morningside Heights isn’t naturalistic. It’s a mélange of Shakespearean references and post-apocalyptic science fiction – both of which I've been devouring since I was a teenager, and which have shpaaed aesthetic for my entire life – and needed to be played in a more heightened mode.
The way I myself would be inclined to do.
With Village, My Home, trying to find the right tone to deliver non-naturalistic monologues has been a constant challenge for everybody. During Saturday’s run-thrus, one of our actors was absent, so our writer-director read the lines from her perch at the director’s table. And lo-and-behold, what had been thorny and disjointed syntax to all of the rest of us suddenly rang out, clear as a bell. All of a sudden this difficult piece made total sense.
My take away from all of this? We naturally write in our own voices, as if we were the ones performing.
Obviously we try (when appropriate) to create characters as unlike ourselves as possible, and as different from each other as possible. The three characters in Morningside Heights have wildly different backgrounds, and I took pains to give them distinctive speech patterns to reflect this. They still sound like me.
Which is, of course, the point. We're supposed to arrive at our own distinctive voices as writers. And it's a lot easier for somebody else to understand that voice when they've heard it performing alongside you.
Posted on August 21, 2017
by Michael C. O'Day