There comes a point in the rehearsal process of nearly every show I’ve ever done where some thought, some confluence of circumstance, will suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ll find myself exclaiming “Oh my god, I AM _______ (insert name of character I’m playing)!” This moment is always simultaneously terrifying and a huge relief – the pain of admitting some usually not-so-savory personal truths, and the framework for finally trusting that I’ll be able to truthfully embody and breathe life into this other person on stage.
I had my “Oh my god, I AM Duckling” moment last week.
Let me quickly contextualize by giving you three little quotes about Duckling Smith that have served as the underpinning for our take on her in this particular production of Our Country’s Good (the first two of which are spoken by her love-interest, Harry Brewer, and the third which she herself speaks):
“Duckling says she never feels anything.”
“…if only she would look at me once, react.”
“I wish I was dead. At least when you’re dead you’re free.”
In a word, we have focused on Duckling being Empty. Broken to the point of vacancy. And amid the living, breathing organism that is this play – and the piece of theatre that is being created around her on stage – Duckling remains empty, resisting the Transformation that you’ve been hearing all of us talk about for this entire rehearsal process. No good thesis is true without its antithesis, I suppose.
As an actor who thrives on connection and relationship, and the give-and-take of energy on stage, I’ve really struggled with this idea of Duckling’s vacancy that Scott and I have agreed upon. I’ve resisted my instincts. I’ve shut down. I’ve gotten super angry. I tried to let technique do the work for me. I forgot that the actor and the character both need to be present on stage at the same time, sharing the experience. I stopped fully giving of myself. I stopped telling the truth.
Until I had my moment.
We human beings are generally quick to forget the more uncomfortable and painful experiences of our lives – the intensity of those lived realities is always much duller in hindsight – and I have always been especially eager to move on, to fix things, to get myself back to a “good” place. But something last week made me remember, and begin to re-invest in my own more uncomfortable memories. In short, I recalled my own personal struggle with apathy. I remembered the all-too-familiar process of closing down and putting up walls as a way of dealing with pain and disappointment. And while my journey has been one of gently coaxing myself back into sensation, and of to learning to address painful moments in my life head-on instead of systematically shutting down, I remembered the point where that all started.
Vacating myself is not such a foreign thing as I would sometimes like to admit.
…oh my god, I AM Duckling…
While Duckling lives on the extreme of this apathy spectrum, and I very happily do not, the truth is that it’s a spectrum I know all too well, and if I have to, I can pretty easily imagine what it’s like to be at her end. Scary, yes, but also comforting to the actor who’s been desperately trying to figure all of this out for the past couple of weeks.
So what now?
Now I try to put all these pieces back together in some coherent, truthful, present way. I’ve got my framework, I’ve got my text, I’ve got my colleagues, and now after this weekend, I’ve got some gorgeous technical elements supporting me. All that’s really left to do is to trust, and to let Duckling be. And I think that, hopefully, I just might finally be able to do that.
Resident Acting Company Member
Our Country’s Good