Most actors spend so much time and energy simply trying to get work, that when they finally do “book” a job, they often experience a surprising amount of panic. As the reality sinks in that they’re responsible for creating a character, and then translating that character honestly to an audience, an inevitable amount of self doubt usually begins to creep into the process. I had the privilege, when I was in college, to study with Philip Seymour Hoffman. He told our class that when he books a part, he spends at least one day worried, wondering why he was cast, sure that a mistake has been made. So, when I find myself in this position, I’m assured that even the best actors feel this way, that it’s not just me, and then, I go to the text. I really, truly feel, that the text can save you as an actor. The text is your safety net.
Before the first rehearsal I always read the play three times. Once for the story, once to achieve a better understanding of the relationships at work in the play, and once for my character. I try to have a sense for the play on multiple levels so that when I begin the rehearsal process I can make choices that are helpful not just for my character but for the play in its entirety. As rehearsals progress, I keep the script close. I’m constantly going back to the play, looking at each moment, discovering how my character moves forward. Why does my character say that next line? Is it inevitable? The rehearsal process always seems to fly by, so I try to take advantage of every available second. While I’m in the process of going through the script, and discovering things, I don’t try to memorize my lines. I try to learn them emotionally. It’s necessary to do this, I think, because it helps me find the important moments for my character, and justify the emotional beats.
Since, I’m an actor who works from the text, I feel privileged to be working on a Donald Margulies play. Collected Stories is an exceptional, complicated and thoughtful piece, and I was excited to tackle Lisa. My boyfriend is a writer at the Writer’s Workshop, so I had an immediate familiarity with the life of a writer. Still, I found the role fascinating and challenging, not simply for the moral questions in the piece, but because she is an interesting character who grows substantially during the play.
I’m thankful to the Riverside Theatre for allowing me the opportunity to play such a complicated woman in such a wonderful piece. I have had a fantastic time and I hope our audiences do too!
- Shamis Beckley