A three hour, forty-five minute play can tax anyone’s patience. Including the cast.
Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Days Journey Into Night” is an American classic. But it’s long. Doing the playwright justice you’ve got to give it three acts, two intermissions and over three hours to perform. O’Neill’s autobiography, in his fictional family the Tyrones, includes a drug-saturated mother, alcoholic father and brother, and a representation of O’Neill himself in the character I played, Edmund, who is suffering from tuberculosis. Happy stuff.
Run it for six weeks, eight performances a week and you’ve got some challenged Actors. Fortunately I got to work with probably the finest talent I’ve ever encountered, disciplined, totally committed to their art and craft, and to delivering excellent performances every time.
What happens though, when talent isn’t enough? What happens when it escapes you?
You know the feeling. This day you’re energized and inspired, reflected in all body-cylinders firing perfectly. You’re where you’re supposed to be, in rhythm, in sync and even have time to be grateful for it all.
The next day you do your same routine, interact with others as planned, even drink your favorite morning beverage. But the mojo ain’t there. You’re uninspired, no matter what you do.
When Charles Dean, one of the great, largely unrecognized stage actors in our country felt sluggishness in one of our “Long Days” matinee audiences, he huddled the five of us backstage prior to our second act entrance.
“They’re slow,” he coached. “Let’s move this thing out.” We all agreed.
It wasn’t that our talent escaped us. We drew on that continually to keep the performance fresh. Our talent—instinct, innate sensibility about things dramatic—prompted subtle shifts in performance nuance to give audiences something new each time.
In this case our Talent told us to apply Technique. We simply used speed to address the situation. Every note still had to be played, just faster.
Everyone is talented. Like everyone is smart. About something. Talent is the appropriateness of a person’s initial response to a given situation. You may have been called talented yourself, or maybe you’ve said to someone, “Wow, that person is really talented.” You know it when you see it.
But even those blessed with amazing talent have their well run dry sometimes. And if it happens to you, that’s the time to reach into your bag and find the best technique-tool to help. If your kit is lacking selection there’s a whole lot of resources out there to help.
Often the best source of new techniques are the people around you. They probably have fresh perspective and can help you approach your talent-challenged episode with reinvigorated energy. Tapping into their talent and borrowing a tool from their bag may do the trick! The best will really listen to you as you describe what you’re working on. And they’ll be there as a trusted source for feedback.
It may be just one new thought, one slight adjustment that sends you back on stage with renewed trust in your talent. And you’ll probably find the answer was in you all along!
The one key thought in performing comedy may be the old, “LOUDER, FASTER, FUNNIER” direction! And it the case of our Long Days cast, perhaps it’s “WHEN IN DOUBT, MOVE IT OUT!”
Your stage. Your performance. And with strong Technique backing your Talent, you’re on!