ActorQuest - Kristin Huffman Goes Inside 'Company' 6
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 story number Six of the 'Making of Company'. If you haven't read the previous five stories, go back and catch up!
SCENE SIX STAR FOR A DAY - February 28., 2006
Self Centered. It is the standing joke among actors. Thinking that the show is about only "me". Today in rehearsal we started to explore the meaning of "me" with John Doyle as our mentor. The technique he used to help us listen to everyone on stage rather than ourselves was to run scenes with just one character being the focus of the show. In other words, even though this show is really about the journey of "Bobby" the lead, for a few days we will each go through the show with one of the other characters being the 'star'. While the 'star' gets all the attention that day, the rest of us get a chance to find out how that 'star' affects us in the grand scheme of the show.
Our first 'star' was my husband Harry. We ran all the scenes and group numbers in which he was involved with Harry as the main man. It caused us all to become aware of how our own characters related to his "story." After running six scenes back to back, we all got a chance to talk about how we now felt about "Harry" and what we noticed. It was interesting to hear a few women say how 'sexy' they now found Harry or how "in control" he seemed. The men found him a "guy's guy" and as his 'wife' I found myself being proud of my Alpha Male hubby!
The next 'star' was the actor playing "Amy". We ran her group and individual scenes and had our powwow. Since she is the neurotic bride-to-be, I expected a lot of laughing about her character but the other wives expressed jealousy and a feeling that Amy was competing for Bobby's affection! As Sarah, I felt the need to help and guide her. I wanted to invite her to a Bible study class or a karate class. Before the "Amy" show I had only found her neurosis funny and slightly confusing.
Tomorrow we will play this same game with the three single girls in the "Staring Roles" and continue to play what we found with "Harry" and "Amy". John noted that when we weren't directly involved in the scenes today we all leaned forward to really listen to what was happening. Something he hopes the audience will do. His philosophy seems to be that if we are fully invested in the other characters rather than our own, it will invite the audience to lean into our stories as well.
It is often true that actors seem to be singing: me, Me, ME!, but in this show I am secretly dreading the spotlight. When all the attention is on you it makes you feel the burden to be perfect. An impossible task in this type of a show. When we think of ourselves as a company, there comes the euphoria of collaboration, of shared responsibility. It is one of the rare times in my career that I have begun to find more fulfillment in the work of my cast rather than in my own moments on stage.
See what this man has done to all us self-centered actors!
Postscript: If you come to see the show before we close, you can watch for the moments when Raul actually looks out of the playing field and makes eye contact with some of us on the boxes. Midway through our run, he started using the "Star for a Day" technique again and every show he added on one more character to 'see' outside of the scene at moments when it is appropriate. Mostly when we transition from scene to scene. What it has done is keep all of us who AREN'T in the scene, listening and watching more intently and it also makes us feel that we are a part of his journey, pushing him along with our eyes. In the final scene with Barbara, he feels us staring and makes eye contact with a couple of us on stage right as that scene starts. Matt, Heather and I continue to stare at him through the whole scene and I think that continued heat and pressure feels right and feeds into his wonderful rendition of "Being Alive". We never discussed any of this, but with our show, these kinds of things develop all the time and it continues to feel deeper and more connected with every show. Someone asked me how we keep it fresh every night. The tools that John Doyle gave us, like "Star for a Day" is how!
Visit www.kristinhuffman.net for more on Huffman.
Photos by Fred Rose - 1) Raul Esparza; 2) Kristin Huffman; 3) Robert Cunningham; 4) Leenya Rideout; 5) John Doyle; 6) Kelly Jeanne Grant