the transformative power of live theater


Unmasking The Malcontent: V. VIII

“And, Celso, prithee let is by thy care tonight to have some pretty show to solemnize our high installment…Why, any quick- done fiction. …Some far-fet trick, good for ladies, some stale toy or other. No matter, so it be of our devising. Do thou prepare’t; ’tis but for fashion’s sake. Fear not, it shall be graced, man, it shall take.” — Mendoza, THE MALCONTENT, Act V Scene 3

Previews have been met and soundly defeated one by one, and (as I know you’re wondering) I found them eerily identical to Alex’s description: frightening flashes of awkwardness punctuated by illuminating moments of discovery.


Bo Foxworth and John Achorn. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

The alternate casts took turns this week, one cast rehearsing all day and performing at night while the other cast came to watch the show. The following day, the two would switch places and the second cast would endeavor to put in the changes they’d watched the night before and adapt to the new tweaks of that day’s rehearsal. Keeping it all in the air is difficult — watching the other cast perform, you couldn’t be sure if the differences you were noticing were new directives from Liz or random accidents of the moment, until you were at liberty for a whispered conference with your doppelganger after the show (“No, that was totally an accident, I just stepped on her skirt…why, do you think I should keep it?”).

The next day you would be called in for your own rehearsal, hours before your performance. You’d begin your day by receiving notes from Liz, a mixture of those from the counterpart-cast the night before (these notes focusing on the placement of actors and the flow of the story) and your own performance the night before that (these notes, just for you and unique from your counterpart, focusing on your own particular choices as an actor). For the following 3 hours, you and your fellow cast members got to work solving those notes; characters would be added to or removed from scenes, lines added out of thin air (or worse, words in existing lines re-arranged ever so slightly), comedic bits pumped up or trimmed down. (“You keep cutting all my schtick!” lamented Saundra McClain, the Wittols’ Maquerelle, to which Liz Swain could only retort “Oh, and God knows you haven’t got ENOUGH schtick already.”)

Joseph Fuhr and Saundra McClain. Photo: Geoffrey Wade

During the show, the actors keep a running commentary going backstage after every exit; what’s the audience like, how is the show going, what’s working, what isn’t (and whose fault is THAT). Our lifeline is the backstage monitor, speakers perched on the piano in the library that give us a direct audio feed from the stage. There is no sound more terrifying than that of complete silence coming over the monitor, for it can only mean one of three things:

1. The monitor has gone dead, in which case we are at a loss to keep up with the play
2. An actor onstage has gone completely blank on their lines and the entire show is at a standstill.
3. An actor backstage has completely missed an entrance, the entire show is at a standstill, and that actor might be YOU.

In a moment, another voice is heard, the show resumes, and we all heave a small sigh of relief as we continue towards curtain, at which point we are finally allowed to smile, look at one another and say “I think that went rather well, don’t you?”

You see, even now, two months into the process, the play continues to crystallize and clarify. Either watching or rehearsing, I walk away with a new “aha!” moment every time. It’s a unique brand of difficulty working on a classical play that none of us have performed before. Everyone has ideas about Hamlet and everyone has ideas about Antigone, but no one is an authority on The Malcontent. We continued to argue back and forth on questions of tone and story before, during, and after every show. Still, intimidating though it may be, it’s a gift to be given show like this to be interpreted for virtually the first time. In spite of all our innate actorly insecurities, it’s a powerfully good show. I do not feel we’ve had a “bad” performance yet, and (regardless of how scared we may feel), I think every one of us is more than ready to open. And open we shall. This very night.

A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, continues to share her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the eighth installment. For tickets, visit www.antaeus.org

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