Student Blog: Playing Unhappy People: A Reflection on POCATELLO

Bringing to hope to the hopeless in Samuel D Hunter's cry for connection-- Pocatello

By: Apr. 15, 2024
Student Blog: Playing Unhappy People: A Reflection on POCATELLO
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“There are plenty of unhappy people in the world. Why should we be the ones who get to be happy?” This is a line I had to bitterly deliver with my entire soul every night of my recent run as “Tammy” in Samuel D Hunter's play, Pocatello. Pocatello was indefinitely the hardest piece I’ve ever worked on, spending a near four months taking a slow Meisner focused process, dropping myself into the lonely world of a small town in Idaho during the 2010s. Our genius director, Andrew Gallant– founder of Green Shirt Studio in Chicago, spent generous amounts of time working a slow paced, piece-by-piece rehearsal process with our cast that centered around not only evoking the emotional life of the characters, but finding the real feeling of the piece in ourselves, which allowed me to find a truth and honesty to performance I have yet to find prior to this show. 

Our shows were in April, but we started in January. We started by reading through the script a sum of three times just in our first week, and just talking about it. We talked about what we noticed, what moved us, what made us think and really feel. What we related to. We stuck to table work for about a month, just getting the words in our minds and bodies, letting the setting become familiar and our names meaningful. Andrew, as a Meisner technique instructor, wanted everything to have real meaning, and become a sort of second nature– the way that saying my mothers name brings up emotion and memories in real life, saying the name of my fictional husband onstage became similarly evocative. 

One of the hardest things about Pocatello was its overlapping and layered dialogue. Our cast spent long amounts of timing running specific scenes over and over again, just getting the rhythm down and finding how to function as a unit in the chaotic moments. This could be difficult and frustrating, as we had to be very aware of what was happening all the time and around us, as separate conversations happened simultaneously in one setting. While this specific point of the process was lengthy, it really allowed for us all to become a bit zen in one another, and really function as a unit with awareness of each other and solid flow we had down by the performance.

Lots of time was spent working out these technical things and dropping into the life of the moments, so getting it up on its feet was actually very intimidating when it came time to. I found myself nervous about one scene in particular in which my character, Tammy, sits in silence for five minutes and then is supposed to burst out crying. As an actor, this was an intimidating task. I’ve never had to cry on stage before, especially not anything as genuinely sorrowful as the moment of the script it fell in. For several rehearsals I would end up just sitting and staring off in silence, not wanting to force emotion, but feeling slightly frustrated I couldn’t conjure anything up either. I asked one of my professors about this and told her I was embarrassed that I tried to push myself to feel it during one of our preview performances for some classmates, which ended up making the moment feel very fake and unsatisfying for me as the performer. She encouraged me to focus on myself and the mental/internal arc I go on across those five minutes of silence and to just be authentic to whatever comes up in the moment. Presence is always something I’ve struggled with onstage, but as I’ve been getting better with it over the past year, I took her advice. 

We got to our shows, and when it came to that scene, I kept myself so internal and in my characters head, I practically forgot that I was being watched by a filled audience. I played with cups, rocked in my chair, smoothed my pants, and did any small humane tendency to ground myself and breathe into the emotion of the moment. And finally, when it came time for the tears… I felt a genuine hitch in my breath. I would shake slightly, my lip would quiver, and the moment I felt another actor put his hands on my shoulders– I would collapse into tears. Real, honest, heaves and sobs that released themselves with no effort from my body. And focusing on my presence in the way I described earlier, this experience reoccurred for every show, and was something people always came up to me and mentioned after the performances. I’ve very little felt a pride like getting through that moment on stage without an ounce of force or “try” to it.

Our director would always tell us to not play “the mood” of the show. While Pocatello is a wildly sad and heart wrenching piece, he told us to lean into the hope of it– these are the moments I felt were our strongest. For a text that centered around loneliness, and a “cry for connection”, as a review on the back of the script says, it is really about reconnection, and the ideology that it’s never too late to get better or get back with others. Of all the teary eyes that left the doors of the show, mine were certainly the messiest, as we had not only put in the time and effort to grieve with the characters, but also to love and hope honestly with them for a brighter future. And as my last show at my college before my departure this May, I couldn’t have been more touched to leave on a heartfelt note as this one. Pocatello was educational and incredibly healing, as well as bringing me closer to potentially the most fun and family-like cast I’ve ever worked with (or in the terms of the show, “famiglia”). Thank you Andrew, thank you cast, thank you crew, and thank you Pocatello for bringing a new life to the words “you are not alone” and “I’m here.” I’m so so grateful to have been here.



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