A play is a living, breathing organism. It grows, changes, adapts. The story becomes richer as our time inhabiting these imagined lives increases and our understanding of the created world deepens. Show after show, the challenge is to keep making those discoveries that keep things fresh and immediate, while always maintaining the integrity of the piece. A month into our run here at the Folger Theatre (we close March 16), I think we’re in great shape – the show’s really found its stride, we’re much more adept at plugging into our audience’s energy, and there’s a healthy sense of play among the cast.
Despite all of that, every time I take the stage, I’m struck by how much more work there is to be done. What can I do differently to make this moment work? What would happen if I pitched this one word up instead of down? Should I turn on this line or the next, and how will that change the audience’s perception of the story I’m trying to tell? There’s no such thing as a perfect show. The actors that I admire – and there are many – are rarely, if ever, satisfied. They attack the work every single day, desperate to find more nuance, more connection, more honesty. They are ruthless with themselves, always looking to make the next discovery, and they temper that with a supreme generosity on stage, sharing that new-found knowledge with their scene partners to better serve the storytelling.
There’s a story about Joe DiMaggio that I like to tell my students when they ask me what I think it takes to do this job. Surrounded by a group of reporters, one of them asks DiMaggio why he never seems to take a play off, always running hard even on what looks to be a routine ground-out to short. He tells them, “Because there’s always some kid who may be seeing me for the first time. I owe him my best.” I think the actors that have inspired me approach the theatre the same exact way. They find a way to get geared up for every performance. They fight through the physical pain and emotional exhaustion that a long run generates. They always know that there’s someone sitting in the audience that’s never seen their work before…that they’ve opened their wallet to come and see them, and they deserve their very best.