Ty Boice Wears The Pink Suit – Playing An Icon

ty_boiceScott asked if I would write about the unique experience of playing an icon in literature. I have been fortunate to have played a few of them: Tom Joad, Romeo, Macbeth, and Boo Radley.  In a few weeks, I’ll find out if I am playing arguably the greatest of them all, Hamlet. They are each vastly different,  uniquely challenging, yet they all have something in common.

Audience members’ preconceived notions.

I learned about these predeterminations very early in my acting career. I was playing Tom Joad in southern Oregon’s well regarded and rapid growing Camelot Theatre. A patron spotted me in a bar after the show and said something to the effect of “nice job, well done.” Then informed me with palpable certainty that he was surprised because he “didn’t think a tall Tom Joad would work.” Until that moment I had never considered my height to be a detriment in the casting of the role.  I think I tried to shrink down a few inches for the rest of the run.

Whether it’s Romeo’s “What light through yonder window breaks”  or Tom Joad’s “I’ll be there” or Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” someone has most likely heard these famous lines before, and maybe heard them in a way that resonated more deeply than with my delivery.

In his book Year of the King , Antony Sher grapples with playing Richard III in the shadow of Sir Laurence Olivier’s iconic film performance.  Sher describes  his journey (or rather what probably felt  more like trailblazing) after Sir Laurence had “paved the way”:

“Unable to get back to sleep, I find my copy of the play and have a proper look at the the speech.  “Now is the winter of our discontent…”.  God.  It seems terribly unfair of Shakespeare to begin his play with such a famous speech.  You don’t like to put your mouth to it, so many other mouths have been there.  Or to be more honest, one particularly distinctive mouth.  His poised, staccato delivery is imprinted on those words like teeth marks.

2013-08-19 BNB Great Gatsby Promo_0224I can completely relate with Sir Antony Sher; I have my own hurdles – “old sport” the words feel awkward and like putting my hands on someone else’s property. However more than ever, I feel more comfortable this time around, it feels a little less scary this time. Why? I have what only a similar experience like this can give you; a little clearer perspective, maybe even a better idea of the outcome. It’s fair to assume most people who attend Bag & Baggage’s production of The Great Gatsby will know this story.  They have likely experienced Fitzgerald’s words in one form or another. And I look at that as a good thing, a bonus.

Leonardo Dicaprio starred as Gatsby in this summer’s opulent Baz Lurman film.  I’m not one to shy away from seeing what others have done with the role.  I’m not a very good mimic and even if I wanted to ,when on stage, “stealing” from film isn’t really a realistic option.  So, I might as well see what I am up against.

Whether you loved the film or hated it, Baz and Leo’s adaptation is currently the freshest Gatsby in our culture.  When I watched the film, I left thinking, oh, great. I really enjoyed the Gatsby that Baz Lurman and Leonardo Dicaprio created. I was not intimidated but rather, excited. I knew as soon as the end credits were rolling that my Gatsby would be different, and different without laboring to make it so. I had a peace about it.

Comparing myself to Leonardo Dicaprio or Robert Redford is not something I intend to do. It’s foolish.  Maybe others will compare our Gatsby’s; I’m sure it’s inevitable.  Good.   Hey, if juxtaposition is what will get you to come to the show, by all means, have a good compare and contrast.

2013-08-19 BNB Great Gatsby Promo_0163-2Many hold these iconic characters up. They are holy and sacred to some of us. Why? Because no film nor play can ever compete with our “mind’s eye.” We have taken these iconic characters like Jay Gatsby and shaped them from our own experiences, imaginations and interpretations.  Whether you realize it or not, when you picture one of these famous characters in one of these famous stories , there is an image that pops into your mind. The image represents either your latest or your fondest memory of the character. My job isn’t to be better or different than  “your Gatsby” or even those that have gone before me. My job is to go tell you this story.

I am a new actor, and I have very little figured out. However, I believe the reason why I feel a little more at peace than I have in the past with such iconic undertakings is simply because I know what it feels like to try and push one of these roles around. I don’t want to try and push this one around. In the past have approached these roles with the intent to make it fresh, clever and different.  It never felt quite right, and it never will. Folks might love your work, and they might not. They might have another performance on the brain, and knowing and accepting that makes it easier to let go and just go listen.

With B&B’s Gatsby I have the benefit of working with a great cast and a fantastic director,  all of whom I believe and hope have faith in me.  During the rehearsal process my Gatsby will be shaped by listening to them and to Fitzgerald’s words, not by my own predetermination or audience expectation.

I think of these kinds of roles as a canvas, and the audience as sort of a projector.  My canvas can be any shape that the production requires, but the performance will no doubt to some extent be in a custom technicolor, provided by you the audience. It’s really fun actually.  I don’t have to lacquer the character down with a new choice like give Gatsby a limp because he has been through a war, or necessarily make some new and bold choice that’s never been done before.   Hell, who am I fooling; if I’m playing a pirate, give me a parrot!

I don’t have to worry about all that, that’s for the director.  I have to go be honest on stage, listen to this terrific cast/crew and  pay special attention to the specific moments. I hope that you see parts of this great story anew, and maybe if we’re lucky, I’ll be your Gatsby.

See you at the show “Old Sport.”

Ty Boice
“Jay Gatsby”