Those of you who are my friends on Facebook may have seen my enthusiastically misspelled post about getting cast as Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. If you’re Southern and an actor, you basically have to be a Tennessee Williams fan. If you aren’t, you get thrown out and sent to NYC, where they regularly cast people like Christian Slater to play T.W characters.
So anyway, I’ve done some research on my part–specifically, reading negative reviews of other performances of the show–and have determined not to fall into what I call the Laura Trap. That is, staring at the ground, hugging myself, and whispering.
But isn’t that what shy people do? Maybe. But when it comes down to it, that’s simply not interesting to watch on stage. It also presents problems with, you know, the basic tenets of acting: being heard and being seen. And as an actor, the descriptions most often used for Laura–“shy” and “fragile”–are not actionable. (If you’re not sure what I mean, go ahead and try acting fragile. I’ll wait.)
Hard, isn’t it?
Because the truth is, shy people don’t go around acting shy. It’s like the age-old example given in every beginning acting class of trying to act drunk (which happens quite a bit, and not just in Tennessee Williams plays). Nobody who is drunk in real life is trying to act drunk. In fact, they’re more than likely trying to act sober (admittedly, to varying degrees of success). It is the same with shy people. I should know: I am one.
That’s right. As a child, I was painfully, awfully, frightfully shy, and that little girl isn’t ever far from the surface, even though I’m not and never was completely hobbled by it, as is Laura. But even if you don’t allow timidity to overtake your life, as a [recovering] shy person, it isn’t difficult to imagine what it would feel like if you did. So I think I have a good perspective on Laura. Shy people often have a lot going on in their heads–maybe more than folks with the gift of gab, which I can easily imagine takes up a lot of brain space. But I can say with some authority that shy folks don’t just hide their faces and mumble.
At the first blocking rehearsal, I try a few things, and I get the note to “be more timid.” Sigh.
Acting is action. My director wants to see timid, but I can’t get up there and act timid any more than I can “act smart” or “act worried.” If you’ve ever seen people try to do these things, you know that they automatically and without exception become a caricature of themselves–pretty much a walking, talking emoticon. That’s the Laura Trap.
Also, I figure that even if Laura is steamrolled on the reg by her mother and brother, she wouldn’t be afraid of them, at least not like she is of the outside world. (Fear and surprise: two more unactionable emotions). So how do you play a girl who’s afraid of life and on the edge of falling apart at all times?
If you thought I was about to tell you how to do it–sorry. Hey, that’s what rehearsals are for, and we’ve only had two! But stay tuned. I’m determined to figure it out.