A Critic Strides the Boards: A Personal Tale

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One complaint that often arises about theater critics is, what right do they have to comment on something in which they have no experience?

Prior to Broadwayworld, I had freelanced for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner newspaper writing, among other things, critiques of local performances, from Center Stage to the Vagabond Players and a variety of community theaters in between.

But still, that doesn't really qualify as "experience." Experience in REVIEWING, yes, but not in the world of drama itself.

So when I received word that the Fells Point Corner Theater (FPCT) was holding open auditions for "non-paid, non-Equity" actors for their "10x10" playwrights' competition, I thought, to quote Woody Harrelson's character in ZOMBIELAND, "It's time to nut up, or shutup."

For you see, I've long harbored an interest in acting...I like to review theater, go figure. Anyway, for reasons which will remain the stuff of confidential psychotherapy sessions, I had delayed any foray into the dramatic arts, but feeling confident and being a ham so huge, I'm the envy of Smithfield Foods, I decided to try out.

It wasn't easy. First, I was battling yet another cold/flu/creeping crud outbreak.  Then there's the fact that I've always found any trip to FPCT daunting as parking can be, well, non-existent. I've never had to park so far from the theater that I needed to hire a team of armed sherpas to make the journey from car to stage, but the thought has crossed my mind. Luckily, FPCT has a system where, for $5, you can procure a parking pass for a very convenient nearby lot. But I digress...

I auditioned for several parts, but ultimately wound up landing two, one as "Man" in Pat Montley's "Rachel Carson Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and as "Ronald" in Jody Nusholtz's "Saving Mrs. Goldfarb."

Immediately I learned something about the challenges actors face-that of demonstrating RANGE...and I don't mean a Viking gas convection model. 

In "Rachel Carson," I was, essentially, the Devil...though that was an exploration in and of itself as my director, Miriam Bazensky, myself and my "co-stars" (not to sound too grand), debated on whether Man was the Devil or just Death. ..which was another turn on the learning curve, the discovery of character and the give-and-take between actor, director and playwright. We all ultimately decided "Man" was indeed the Devil...afterall, the title is a bit of a giveaway. But I'm digressing again...

In "Goldfarb," I came to find what, if I dare say it, might have been most challenging of any of the roles performed in the series, with the possible exception of Kate Shoemaker's one-woman performance in "Thin Air." While in "Rachel Carson," I was free to revel in the all-too-appealing-to-a-Scorpio role of a malevolent, uberpowerful, supernatural being, in "Goldfarb," it was a Monty Python moment-time for something completely different.

Described as a "gay, Jewish, 30something man," I was faced with three things I am not. Trying to read between the lines of dialogue (not to mention the fear and excitement that comes with my character's opening page-and-half monologue), it took time for me to finally strike upon what I thought Ronald was all about-a flamboyantly gay Curly-a-la-The-Three-Stooges.

Our "Goldfarb" director, Da'Minique Williams, worked feverishly to get us to "keep our energy up," putting myself and my fellow thespians through a variety of acting exercises designed to get us moving and to keep us...well, silly. My particular favorite was where we attempted to read our lines but in different characters and settings , ranging from a dentist's office to  monkeys in a zoo to snooty rich people.  Da'Minique envisioned our play as a kind of live-action cartoon, and so pushed for us to be over the top. Since I'd be the first actor on stage for "Goldfarb," a lot of responsibility for keeping that energy up rested on my novice shoulders.  Oy veh.

Once I was chosen for my two roles, about three weeks worth of rehearsals began. It was in this process I gained a deeper appreciation of what actors must face as they delve their roles, determine what feels good and right to them versus the director's interpretation versus the playwright's vision.

 Fortunately, I was "born to play the Devil," as my girlfriend quipped; "Satan is always a gentleman," is my motto, so I channeled the suave-debonair elements of my own character in molding this creature which I decided was really no more than a slick salesman, hard pressed to make deal-in this case, for Ms. Carson's soul.

I learned a lot from Hillary Mazer, a theater veteran, who looked very familiar to me...I supposed I had seen her in other plays, and in fact, I had, but as it turned out, we'd both met about nine years earlier when she was a field producer for DISCOVERY HEALTH and had worked with me at Mercy Medical Center (my day job!) on the "Special Delivery" newborns series. Sorry, that's my third digression...




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Daniel Collins A communications professional for 25 years, Dan Collins was a theater critic for The Baltimore Examiner daily newspaper (2006-2009), covering plays throughout the Baltimore-Columbia area including Center Stage, The Everyman, The Fells Point Corner Theater, Mobtown Players, Vagabond Theater, Cockpit in Court, Spotlighters Theater, The Strand, Single Carrot Theater and others. Mr. Collins has been a reporter, features writer, editor and columnist since 1984, including stints with The Washington Times and the Times Publishing Group (later Patuxent Publishing and now part of The Baltimore Sun) in Baltimore. His freelance writing career has included his work for the Examiner as well as other publications including Baltimore Magazine.


 
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