A Guy Who Learned To Love His Baggage

A Note From Benjamin Farmer

 

‘Rough Crossing,’ my 5th go-round with Bag&Baggage Theatre Company, opens on May 9th (my 29th birthday!), which is 2 weeks from tomorrow!

Please feel free to ask Megan Carver what I’d like for this special day. Anything ‘Batman’ related is acceptable and appreciated. Because I AM Batman.

I’ve said too much.

Forget me, now….
But in all seriousness, as I continue through the rehearsal process with this incredible group of actors, It’s also given me some pause to reflect on the 3 years I have been performing with B&B, and how this company has dramatically changed my life and my process as an actor.
In 2010, I auditioned for ‘Twelfth Night,’ which was an outdoor summer Shakespeare production, and my 1st attempt at outdoor Shakespeare, as well as my 1st audition with B&B. I loved studying Shakespeare at school in NYC, and I was anxious to be in a professional production in the park.
So, I audition. And I get offered the role of Duke Orsino! Aaaaand I turn it down.

“I’m too young to play Orsino,” I says. “I feel more comfortable playing Sebastian,” I says. “This guy Steve Palmer (I think I called him Steve for the first week or so) is cray cray if he thinks I’m right to play Orsino!”
After a few days of serious pondering, I accepted the role and my journey / addiction with B&B began.

Not only was playing Orsino some of the most fun I’ve ever had, it was also some of the most challenging work I’d ever done. It helped me develop my outdoor voice (HUGE thanks to Maggie Chapin and B&B 
Company Member Dallas Meyers), and also taught me a fundamental rule that I think a lot of actors overlook: Trust your director.

 

In school, especially in my Heroic and Shakespeare classes, my teacher would cast me as a character, we’d run through the scenes, I’d receive notes and pointers from my teacher, go home and ponder them, and then pick and choose what notes I thought were relevant and which ones I felt ‘didn’t serve my character, they didn’t FEEL right, blah blah blah,’ thinking of these excuses before even trying them.

She finally called me on it. It was a serious control issue that I just needed to let go of, and I firmly believe the B&B has helped me do so.

Actors have great instincts, but we also don’t see ourselves from the outside like a director can. By creating those kinds of limitations on our work and being afraid to try something outside of our comfort zone, we shortchange ourselves. Trusting that the director has the best in mind not only for us as the actor, but for the entire production as a whole is fundamental in our work. We actors are but a small piece to a very large puzzle. Serving ones character in a play is perfectly fine, but it also has to be serving the vision that the director has for the production. If you can’t or won’t do that, they’ll pay somebody else to do it instead.

In the productions since ‘Twelfth Night,’ I have had the opportunity to play some amazing roles while serving Steve’s (Scott’s!) vision of these productions, which include ‘The Tempest, or The Enchanted Isle,’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and most recently ‘Kabuki Titus.’ Even in ‘Titus’ I had an initial hesitation in playing Marcus (thinking again of age, type, etc., based on the productions of ‘Titus’ that I had seen before). But looking back, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Scott knew where I would best serve the production, and even though I couldn’t quite see it, it turned out to be a milestone in my career, and some of the proudest work I’ve ever done. Trust your directors. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourselves. Release your control. And if you do have an element of fear when approaching a role, that’s a good thing! It means a critical part of you has already taken the first fearful step towards creating something honest and unforgettable with your fellow actors, while serving the directors vision of the play. Your process cannot be a self-serving process. You have an entire cast of actors to take-in, Find a way to make it work,
which usually means GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY. If you release your control and open yourself to learning new things, you’ll never be bored, and the quality of your work will only go up.

 

Plus, directors like it when you do what they tell you to do.

Because Bag&Baggage strives to bring you visions of classical plays and American literature like you’ve never seen them, each experience has had its challenges, but the rewards and benefits, KNOWING you’re doing good work as a group far outweighs the hard road taken to get there.

The juice has been worth the squeeze, and I can’t wait to get back to rehearsal tonight and find new things that serve Scott’s vision for the play and for this company, a vision that every person on that stage shares and believes in.

 
 
 

ROUGH CROSSING

by Tom Stoppard
May 9 – 26, 2013
The Venetian Theatre
253 E Main Street
Hillsboro, OR 97123
Tickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590