Becoming Sarah: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (A.K.A. Act I, Scene 3)

Alicia Dempster

When working on a show, regardless of your contribution to it, there are points in the process where you begin to doubt yourself or question your choices. Generally speaking, everyone is working toward a common goal – to put on the best production possible. However, as humans who are putting something out there to entertain or connect with other humans, those inevitable moments of uncertainty are bound to appear. There are the universal questions that we all ask: Will the show be good? Will people come? Will they like it? Then there are the personal moments of doubt that we deal with throughout the process.

The first time I heard about the “FUD factor” was in my role as a marketing professional in the corporate world. Regardless of its corporate roots, the “FUD factor” – or Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt - has certainly been alive and well in my journey to bringing the role of Sarah Goodwin to life. I’ve already talked about the daunting task of learning a ton of lines and thankfully I have somehow managed to rise to that Herculean undertaking. Yet there remains other points in the show where I find myself more vulnerable than others. In my ever-obsessive mind, I have dubbed a particular scene in the show as TheFUD Scene, where seemingly trivial fears, uncertainties and doubts seem to crop up in quick succession. I always breathe a sigh of relief when those moments in Act I, Scene 3 are over and I can get out of my head a little bit.

Fortunately, these moments come in quick succession and are over within five minutes of performance time. The first moment comes when my character has to fall to the ground. Having been injured in a roadside bomb in Iraq, Sarah is outfitted with a fair share of medical equipment, including a full leg brace, arm sling, wrist brace and crutch. To make the fall even more exciting, I have spent the better part of the last eight weeks recovering from foot surgery. Every time I fall, I am painstakingly aware of how I will fall, how I will land, where the crutch will go and, most importantly, if I will feel any pain in the recovering foot. So far, most of the falls have been without incident.

OK – so I’m on the ground and presumably have not broken or bruised anything. Now I have to get up. Remember, I have a full leg brace and an “injured” arm, so I can’t just bounce up like a Mexican jumping bean. This is where Aaron, the actor playing my boyfriend, has to help me up. Let me tell you, my right quad muscles have gotten quite a workout while trying to assume as much of the effort of raising 150 pounds from the ground as possible. But does it end there? Oh, hell no! Now he has to lift me up and carry me across the stage. As someone who has spent the better part of her life worrying about her weight, that 30 seconds is generally spent in silent prayer hoping I don’t end up on the ground again. Thankfully, I haven’t been dropped yet. And now I’ve been transferred to the bed for what the producer has affectionately dubbed “sexy times.”

As someone who has spent the majority of her acting career as the sidekick or in a supporting role, I have managed to generally evade the need for any romantic interaction onstage. My first onstage kiss was in The Fantasticks when a 15-year-old me was portraying Luisa. My last onstage kiss was about 20 years ago when I was doing an irreverent mash-up Christmas comedy and, as it would happen, that kiss was with the man who became my husband. The reality is that I haven’t kissed another man onstage or off since. Now let me tell you, musical theatre and comedic kissing is very different from kissing which is meant to come off as believable and is generally not set to music. Yeah, I panicked about this a little. It gave me a newfound respect for all of those actors in Spring Awakening, who had to take onstage intimacy to a whole new level. The reality is that onstage kissing is less about romance than it is about mechanics, like blocking, finding your light and being aware of volume and projection during the dialogue. It is also about having mutual respect for your scene partner and maintaining a sense of humor, which thankfully exists in my situation. Most importantly, it is about avoiding onions, garlic and tuna fish. Thanks to Liam Hemsworth for the reminder!

So, I’ve made it through the fall, the transport and the sexy times all with what is perhaps my biggest underlying fear, which unfortunately does not go away at the end of the scene. As a Type 1 diabetic, I am constantly thinking about my blood glucose levels, hoping they don’t plummet to the point where I pass out onstage. Mind you, this has never happened in my six years as a diabetic but the thought is there, nagging at me like a child pulling on my pants leg. In this production, I spend very little time offstage. Fortunately, there are Skittles stashed in the dressing room, in offstage spots and I diligently test my levels when I can to avoid any kind of dramatic medical situation. I honestly don’t know how Elaine Stritch or Victor Garber did it. I have such a newfound respect for them and I breathe the hugest sigh of relief when I’ve successfully made it through the final scene of the show.

The thing about fear, uncertainty and doubt is that they are surmountable. When you face your fears head on, you become a stronger and more agile performer. Thankfully, conquering my fears in The FUD Scene has given me a new respect for both myself and for performers that overcome similar uncertainties, if not more challenging ones. In all honestly, I feel taking a little risk and exposing yourself more than you normally would is what makes for an interesting and memorable performance. So by the time this performance is over, I will no longer fear The FUD Scene but embrace it for all it has done to develop my character and me as a performer.

Becoming Sarah Part 4 : Divorcing the Director

Alicia Dempster

When directing a show, there are certain types of actors that are hard to direct. The divas, the drama queens and the slackers provide obvious challenges. It is also difficult to direct an actor who has already portrayed the role you’re directing him in or someone who has been involved in previous productions of the same play. Perhaps, though, the most challenging person to direct is another director.

Going into this production of Time Stands Still, I knew that I would have to fold up the director’s chair and do my best to view the project solely through an actor’s eyes. In many ways, I have found myself greatly liberated by having to tend only to the responsibilities of the actor. I am working hard to know my lines, remember my blocking and develop a memorable character.

But there are times when it is difficult to suppress the directorial urge. One of my cast mates can attest to this because apparently you can “see it on my face” when I want to say something. Fortunately, though, Sonnie is a very open and collaborative director and we have had a very open dialogue about character choices, blocking or other business. I do, however, make a point to speak to her privately on those occasions.

I am enjoying the different perspective being behind the footlights brings. It has been interesting to see how easy (or difficult) it is to practice what you preach when it comes to rehearsal protocol. When I am directing a show, there are a few ground rules that I lay down at the beginning of the rehearsal process. Though not all were articulated, per se, I suspect the director of Times Stands Still (and most others) would agree with these simple rules:

Start On Time
When I direct a show, I tell the company that I expect them to be on time. Just as the actor’s time is valuable, so is the director’s. A properly managed schedule can be very productive and can even afford some actors a “night off” here and there. I also think it is important to be respectful of a call time, both for the actors and the creative team. I maintain that actors should be onstage and ready to rehearse at the scheduled time. It is equally important for a director and crew to, as best they can, tend to production-oriented tasks outside of the rehearsal window. Naturally, there are times when circumstances or the point in the production process preclude this. And all bets are off during Hell Week.

Remember Your Blocking
This one seems like common sense, right? When you are stumbling through and/or fine-tuning blocking, it stands to reason that you are expected to remember it and/or have it written down. Especially if you still have your scripts in hand. I can’t tell you how many times during our rehearsal process I’ve had the stage manager remind me that I had to cross to a certain point or sit or stand. When this would happen, I would look at my script and see no blocking notes. If this occurs more than once, as it did with me, it is inevitable that you will hear the director say, “This is why I tell you to write it down!” What is even worse is when you go to write it down and the director rushes up to the stage to hand you a pencil. This also something I’ve done as a director and, mortifyingly, something that happened to me as an actor. Which leads me to…

Always Be Prepared
In early rehearsals, always bring your script and a pencil with an eraser. Highlight your lines and/or blocking so it is easier to find your place when you are running scenes or have to backtrack to a certain spot. In later rehearsals, when you are told to be off book, be off book. If you are asked to bring a prop or costume element, bring it in when it is expected. Likewise, the creative team and crew should be prepared by having blocking notes or ensuring that the technical elements come together as expected. When you are prepared, it is a much smoother ride. If you are constantly scrambling, then you better buckle up because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

Pay Attention
When in rehearsal, pay attention to what goes on around you. Listen to your fellow actors when you are on stage. When you are off stage, listen for your cues or prepare for your next scene. Time spent waiting in the wings should not be spent checking your Facebook or chatting with your friends. During notes, pay attention to what the director is saying. Oddly enough, this is the one that I have the hardest time with. It is difficult when you are building a camaraderie with your cast mates to resist making conversation or share little inside jokes. But, truly, timing is everything with that. There is nothing more frustrating to a director than having to repeat themselves because someone wasn’t paying attention.

Don’t Give Other Actors Notes
I hate this as a director. I hate this as an actor. This is where building a good relationship with your director and your scene partners is key. Having a conversation or forming the thought as a question is far more productive then telling another actor what to do. There is nothing more annoying, for the director or for the company, than an actor telling fellow actors how to interpret a line or their character. Except for maybe the actor who takes that direction.

Respect Everyone Involved
There are many theatre maxims that relate to respecting everyone involved with the production, no matter their role. There are no small parts, only small actors. Be nice to the lighting guy because he controls the “off” button. If you mistreat a crew member, your prop could be missing or your quick-change costume might not be there. It truly does take a village to build a successful production. From the producer to the director, from the crew to the front-of-house, from the actor to the audience member, every person plays an integral part in the theatrical experience. Never forget that, no matter who you are.

Hatena Ftolife, https://commons.wikimedia.org 

Hatena Ftolife, https://commons.wikimedia.org 

This latest project has really broadened my appreciation of what it takes to bring a theatre production to life and it has refreshed my memory of what the actor experience is like. Acting is completely different from directing in terms of how you reap the rewards of bringing a performance to life. I have to say, I am really loving it this acting gig. I’ve joked with friends that I might never direct again. Of course, we all know that isn’t true. So, I guess I’m not really divorcing the director, it’s more like a trial separation.  And I’m okay with that.

Times Stands Still is playing weekends at TheatreWorks New Milford from July 10th to August 1st. For tickets and further information, visit www.theatreworks.us. 


Source: Hatena Ftolife, https://commons.wikimedia.org