Enter the Room of the Moment

Susan Cinoman

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist

So my acting teacher, Joel Friedman, he’d say, “You must enter the room of the moment.” 

What must I do, Joel? 

“Darling, you must enter the room of the moment, you must slice the bologna very thin.” 

And I’d ruminate about how to do either of those esoteric actions. Where was the room and what was the moment? What kind of bologna was I providing that was clearly too fat and not thin enough? Surely Joel was not making a comment about my weight because he was the last of the great gentlemen of the theatre, with an accent that would make someone from Brooklyn say, “Hey! You from Brooklyn?”

In those days, when I was acting, I couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands when I was on the stage. When I played Gretel’s friend Victoria, the vicious vixen, I knew how to be mean, and scowl at poor Gretel when she asked where Hansel had gotten to, but I didn’t know where to put my hands when I stood outside of the witch’s house while people were eating it like they were a mouse. Or something. So, I guess, I hadn’t entered the room of the moment. It’s not like I go around life wondering what to do with my hands. I know where my hands are supposed to be, on the steering wheel, around my credit card, in my make up kit or handing my daughter 20 dollars. At those times, I’m in the moment, and not thinking about anything but what I’m doing. Is that the room I was supposed to enter? And if I wasn’t in that room, where was I?

I did a scene from “Hedda Gabler” with my friend, Michael for Joel. Now to say that Michael’s tone was droll, was like saying that Noel Coward smoked while interviewing. Both were true and in a way, interchangeable.  I, on the other hand, could get the rage going like fruit in a smoothie blender.  We started the scene, me barbing and biting like a bitch at a bitch fest, while Michael just lolled and drolled along—it took about fifteen minutes for each word to come galumphing out of him into our completely unbelievable and poorly conceived conversation of no drama, but much self satisfaction, that we both perpetrated.

Joel stopped us as quickly as humanly possible, and yet with a kindness of which we were highly undeserving. 

He put his hand on my shoulder firmly and said, 
“Don’t act.”

He looked at Michael, while still steadying me,

Those were the words that helped me get through ten more years of acting on the stage, both in Philadelphia and New York City. When I gave it all up for writing, one of the best directors I had, gave me similar advice when I was learning how to craft a play.  Her name was Jane Hoffman. She said: 

“Write it better.”