Unbelievably today in rehearsals involved being a tree. Actually standing there as a tree. An apple tree to be precise. How absolutely stereotypical for a group of actors to hang around in a rehearsal room pretending to be a tree.
When I get asked to do this, which I do a lot, I always get a deep internal cringe. I am reminded of the song ‘Nothing’ from A Chorus Line. The song where Morales the failed actress explains why she became a dancer after attempting an acting training at drama school. She sings: 'And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul to see how an ice-cream felt, and I dug right down to the bottom of my soul and I tried to melt. But I felt nothing’. Invariably when I am asked as part of the ensemble to be a tree or a donkey or a ship wreck I freak out. This can be exacerbated by coming directly from a one on one rehearsal where you have been exploring your deeply held emotions flipped into pretending to be an inanimate object. The natural reaction is to think that you are being a bit of a berk and wasting valuable time.
However if everyone in the room is complicit soon you are creating something amusing, clever and satisfying. Really it is just getting over that initial hurdle and that hurdle isn’t that different to the one you are required to jump in order to tell the truth in a monologue or duologue of profound emotional depth. There is little difference in the potential of exposing yourself as a wally with your arms in the air assuming the stance of an Oak than there is in standing on stage face to face with another human being pretending to love them and inadvertently revealing a slice of your soul to the audience and the actor you are working with.
So with a few laughs and a bit of a limber I realised that I have to accept that flash of horror and embarrassment that the physical side of dramatic creation brings me as it is just as important, trying and creative as looking in the eyes of another human being and trying to refract your pain/joy/confusion through your character and their actions to illuminate life for your audience.