Starlight - Reflection
Published January 26th, 2024
Last night was my last performance of Starlight at Mesa Encore Theatre. Being in the understudy cast (the "Omega Timeline" of the story) we only had two performances on Thursday nights. I played Dr. Moxie, an eccentric time-traveling scientist. I'm gonna write a little bit about what it was like to understudy (as I haven't done it before), a bit about the show process itself, and how I think I did. Overall it was a really smooth process and a fun production.
So first, understudying was fun. I feel like MET did it right, and I really appreciate that. I never felt like just an understudy - we were given adequate time to rehearse and we were always welcome. The fact we got two performances was excellent as well, as we got to show off what we've been working on as well. The collaboration in the rehearsal room was great, too, and we all worked together to bring the story to life for both casts. It wasn't a matter of "just do the understudy part, just do what they do" - we were allowed the creative freedom to bring our own approaches to the story and characters. I felt like part of the show, not a write-off, which I imagine is a common feeling for understudies, especially those that don't get guaranteed performances.
That being said, however, I think I need to carefully weigh if being an understudy is the right choice in a situation in the future. I got cast in Midsummer Night's Dream partway through this rehearsal process, and so I wound up in the actor's nightmare of balancing two shows at the same time. The difference is that MET didn't pay any of us (which is definitely a discussion we need to have) while Southwest Shakespeare does pay. Because of how the schedules for these shows panned out, had I played the main role of Dr. Moxie I wouldn't have been able to accept the role for Midsummer, as there probably would've been too many conflicts between show dates and rehearsal. I'm very fortunate and thankful that this worked out for me and that I get to do both, because rehearsals for Midsummer started right as tech week for Starlight ended. I need to be careful in these kinds of situations though, because I wouldn't want a prior commitment to preclude me from taking part in other productions, especially if the other one is paid. However, on the other hand, you never know what's gonna happen in the future and you can't ever count on being cast, so may as well take opportunities as they present themselves. Otherwise you could end up in another actor's nightmare, of turning down one show to remain available for another, just to not be cast in that one either. I don't know how to reconcile any of this... I'll just have to be prudent and make sure I make smart moves, and think through commitments carefully. I like it when theatre companies plan things out well in advance, but that can't be counted on either.
Anyway, this show process was incredibly smooth. Our director Bray and stage manager Rob brought in a very laid-back attitude that really helped us avoid the stress and the nerves that community theatre actors can be prone to. There wasn't any drama, at least that I was aware of, which was a huge relief. It felt like everyone that was part of the production genuinely wanted to be there, and that we all liked each other. And the cast was small enough that it didn't devolve into cliques either. The vibes were great, and MET has been excellent about making sure everyone is heard and respected. Shoutout to Taylor for turning things around! I know there's been a lot of issues with MET's shows' processes in the past, but this one was fantastic... Especially compared to Noises Off. Man, that one was rough. We actors always find a way through, it's just a heck of a lot more pleasant when there's mutual respect, professionalism, and when the show is reasonable.
Now, as for me, I think I did well in this production. Even as the understudy I forged my own path and character and I'm quite happy with it. Of course I wish I had more shows, but I'm thankful for the ones I got. I put a lot of focus into my projection and physicality. After all, this man is incredibly smart, but is also literally about to die. As I kept drinking coffee, I played into how that would affect him physically. I wish I took it just a few steps further, though, but at that point I might be afraid of existing in a different universe than the other characters, who were all very real and down-to-earth. But maybe that's what the show needs? That's not my call as an actor, but if I could do something differently now, I would go back into rehearsal and try upping the energy dial even more and trying new things, because I feel like there could be some discoveries I could've made. And maybe they wouldn't have worked, but at least we would've explored it.
On the other hand, it would be easy to play Moxie as a stereotypical mad scientist, but he's got such a complete emotional awareness he's anything but stereotypical. Even if I could've gone further, I brought a boatload of energy into the show and I'm proud of that. Since it's only four people, and most of the scenes are just two, it can be tough to keep the crowd from falling asleep. Combine with the fact that the set design was very restrictive and the audience layout unorthodox, I worked harder than normal to be seen and heard by the whole house. I played dead well - even despite how uncomfortable it was - but I was breathing very carefully and staying as still as physically possible. That's one thing about this show I'm proud of, that I was always in control. I never broke character, I never laughed at inopportune times, and when things got gunked up in funny ways I stayed in the moment and kept going. The same couldn't be said for me had I done this show at this time last year, and I think this speaks to my emotional growth since then. I'm proud of my professionalism as a whole, but I need to keep going, because even though I'm satisfied, I know I can do even better.
Speaking of which, this show has really got me thinking: why do I do theatre? As in, what's my intent behind going to auditions and being in shows? For me, I think it's out of the desire to grow and learn. I want to be challenged, I want to be made uncomfortable, and I want to have to open up and try new things. Every show is a learning process and I want to have takeaways from it. I think I'm at a point in my career and my life where it's time to really double down and focus on the craft. Now the challenge is that I'm not sure the intention behind this show matches up with that, and I have a couple reasons for thinking that. One is that we didn't get very many notes, and naturally that makes me a little anxious. Like if I can do better, please let me know and we'll try it! I think there could be a couple reasons behind this: maybe Bray didn't really have notes, and maybe they did genuinely think we were doing great. Maybe Bray had notes, but didn't want to share them. Because either A) we're all lost causes or B) they had a specific goal in mind to avoid stressing us out or making us doubt ourselves. Considering MET's history, and the fact that they are a community theatre, I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear that they would rather keep the actors happy and stress-free than push them to grow as artists. In that case though, I still think there's a responsibility to identify the intentions of your cast as well and to try and satisfy them to the extend possible. In this case, for a community theatre production put on by mostly younger adults, the intention may have been to keep everyone happy to make sure we have a show, prioritized above the quality of the show itself at the end of the day.
So that's about it. Moving into Midsummer I'm trying to be especially aware of how I'm doing and feeling. I want to improve my craft and even though I haven't been inactive in theatre, I feel out of practice especially with Shakespeare. I want to do more, and I'm going to. Now that I'm feeling (relatively) emotionally stable lately, and that I'm in control of myself again, I think the biggest things for me right now is that 1. I need to relax, and let myself be honest in my work (and stop being a wallflower) and 2. once I've relaxed, dig in and study hard and then 3. take it all as far as I can, and try as much as possible before settling on a decision. I think this'll put me in good shape for the future. Till next time!