ActorQuest - Kristin Huffman Goes Inside 'Company' 19
In November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company. The actress, with a new series of tales that go inside the making of Company from an actor's perspective, starting at the Cincinnati Playhouse and on to New York, continues her stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
This is the nineteenth story about the "Making of Company." If you haven't read the others, go back and do so and then rejoin us here!
SCENE NINETEENTH: SURPRISE!
Today was the best rehearsal of all! John Doyle used one of the techniques he uses when he directs Shakespearean plays, his favorite genre. Every time you were on stage in a scene and someone said or did something that surprised your character you were supposed to physically show it. For his Shakespearean plays he has them say 'UH" and mime as if they have been socked in the stomach. We were allowed to do that or snap or clap or hit the piano or stomp or whatever else showed him that we had been surprised.
He admitted that this was really just another exercise to get us to listen to each other on stage but it was great fun. During my scene with Bobby and Harry I felt the necessity to UH or hit the piano at a number of points. When my husband said "Can't you just see it now, all those fat broads in the gym doing karate" I belched an "UH." The rest of the cast was on the perimeter in their seats and as an 'observer' you weren't really supposed to react but they couldn't help laughing.
As we progressed through the show you could see other cast members doubling over or stomping the floor or smacking the piano every time someone said something that seemed really surprising. During the Jenny and David's scene when they are trying pot and discussing marriage with Bobby, the actress playing Jenny adopted a very high pitched "OH" for her surprised sound. Until seeing this scene done with surprises noted and remarked upon, I never realized how much of this scene is news to Jenny. Jenny, played by Leenya, used that "OH" all the time and it was right on target. Her character really does think that every thing is fine and you realize as an observer that she really is surprised, not only by her own reactions to smoking pot, but also by the things that come out of her husband's mouth about marriage. It is really funny – and interesting. We were all laughing so hard by the end of the scene that tears were streaming down my face. I had to swirl my chair around so that I didn't totally disrupt the scene. Everyone reacted the same way.
The surprise exercise made us all listen more carefully to what was being said. Of course, we won't use those extreme reactions in the production but we may lift an eyebrow now, or give a sly smile or maybe a wide-eyed look at something that was said. The lead in Company, Bobby, is constantly learning surprising things as he travels through this experience toward a relationship and you can see that in his face and voice. Again the life lesson in this experience is to note how often we cover up our real feelings of surprise. What has helped us become complete characters on stage has had the effect of helping us become more real in life.
Our final surprise was that at the afternoon run-through "The Sondheim" showed up. While not quite as nerve wracking as when he came to see us in Cincinnati, it was still a wonderful surprise when, after we had finished, he put his hands together and clapped loud and long for us. We will be getting his "notes" sometime this week.
As I moved my flute and saxophone over to the Barrymore Theatre today I got one final surprise. I saw my picture up on the outside of the theatre. The theatre where Streetcar Named Desire played. The theatre where Lawrence Oliver got his debut. The theatre where audiences sang along with the musical, Pal Joey. What a wonderful surprise to realize that I am going to be part of its history.
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Photos (top-bottom): John Doyle; Leenya Rideout; Kelly Jeanne Grant and Kristin Huffman; Barbara Walsh