A little less than a year ago I found myself returning to the stage for the first time in around six years. Throughout the rehearsal period for the show, I found myself questioning the idea that I could do the whole ‘acting thing’ any more, now that I was an older, much more self-aware man. Fast forward not quite a year later and here I am finding myself reflecting on my third show in 10 months, a little murder mystery dinner theater dealie that happened the past two weekends at the Eau Claire Children’s Theater’s Oxford Theater.
First, I find it amusing that after each show, people ask me what the next one will be, and I always respond with…well, I don’t know, it’ll probably be a while…and then find myself back in the rehearsal room in only a matter of months. Like an addiction, this habit has some interesting ways of finding itself back into your system, even if you’re not actually trying.
However, what’s really odd about this whole thing is that although I never actually swore off the stage, I did basically swear off doing these murder mysteries. Although I enjoy the incredibly crazy atmosphere that is this improvisation-heavy artform, I’ve found that the amount of work that goes into these shows (during the actual performances, as rehearsal periods are generally minimal) barely ever pays off in audience response. And even if it does, it’s hard to feel as though you’ve really put on a great performance when all the audience is really laughing at is the fact that what you just said serves as a pretty cheesy sexual innuendo (I’m not sure, is it possible to have non-cheesy innuendo?).
Yet, when the casting call came out, and it appeared that they may be low on testosterone for the show, I found myself raising my hand as someone who would be willing to fill in, if needed…which, of course, was needed.
So, suddenly, without actually discussing it with my wife, I found myself cast in yet another show. Like HONK!, the show that brought me back to the stage, this was a show I had performed in before, which helped. Going into the first practice, I found myself feeling quite anxious. These murder mystery shows really rely on an amazing chemistry among the cast (which was one of the reasons I had stopped doing them in the past) and I knew only one other person on the cast list…and really, I only barely knew her.
Not only that, but I was given one of the few roles in the show that I felt I knew how to connect with the least…the detective. This character seemed to have so much randomness going on that it was really difficult to latch onto some form of caricature to build him off of, as these murder mysteries tend to work well when you have very over the top caricatures, as opposed to believable characters.
I spent many a long hour just looking through the lines in order to figure out what to do with this character that would really make him stand out as someone that people might actually come away from this event as remembering. I put a lot of attention into what he might talk about whilst mingling at the tables before the show began, as well as during the clue hunt. I meddled a bit with different affectations that this character might have in order to better showcase the craziness that was this photo-cop/clown/wedding photographer.
In the end, what managed to develop this character more than anything else was a penis joke that finally got focused on in the opening night performance. A simple statement made by one of the other cast members about the size of my character’s member turned into a show-long effort by my character to overcompensate through how he would adjust his pants to how he would stand while interacting with the crowds.
All the time I spent trying to find a way into this character that would allow the audience to enjoy him really disappeared as soon as the main joke of this character was that he had a small penis. Well…there was still a bit that I was particularly proud of that involved him trying to get instagram on his disposable camera…but really, people just loved Denny’s penis.
I’m not going to say that I didn’t work that joke for all I could get out of it, because I did. I found something found funny and beat that joke to death like any good improv actor would…… but still…the breadth of my performance really came down to odd lunges and tight pants. Funny, yeah, but not exactly exploding with artistic integrity. Of course…I’m not entirely certain when improv was known for its artistic integrity anyways.
All the same, the short rehearsal period did its fair share for helping us learn our lines and where we should stand throughout the whole scripted bit, but what it really did was help the cast get to know each other a bit better so that when it actually came down to having an audience, all of us could work together to milk those silly things like that for all it was worth. Because, honestly, when you’re an actor, all you’re really looking for is a laugh or applause, right?
Quick side note…I have already been recognized out on the street for my performance in this show…I’m still not quite sure how I feel about that…
Have fun out there!