Reading Room


I've got to learn not to resent . . . well: anything; basically. Resentment is not a helpful emotion in general and, if you are allowed a little perspective, you often have the double-pleasure of experiencing both the pleasantness of resentment and--later on--the pleasantness of realizing, "Oh God; I was such an ass to resent what I was about two weeks ago resenting."

Yesterday I worked. I worked two smallish jobs, actually: this one & this one. (It's a good day when an actor can be excused from his or her day job for paying acting work, but it's a great day when said actor be similarly gainfully employed and make more money than he or she would at his or her day job.) I had, in brief, a very lovely day indeed. It was only today, after sitting down to consider it, that I had a brief pang of realization that yesterday seems as though it were structured to point up my aforementioned fault. Well, regret is probably an even less useful emotion than resentment, so I shan't linger on it, lest I propagate it. I will, however, stop getting all Charlotte Brontë on my syntax and specify my observation in the hopes that it keeps me from getting stupider (i.e., more [ah regret!] resentful) in the future.

The first gig was a film gig, of sorts: an industrial for a company known as Lancer Insurance. This was, in a sense, a cushy gig. All I had to do was be familiar enough with the script to be able to perform it convincingly off a teleprompter. It was my first experience using a teleprompter, in fact. (Those of you familiar with Anchorman -- it's absolutely true; if it had been on there, I would have read it aloud.) It was essentially an interview, my scene, and a bona fide lawyer was off-screen asking his side of the interview off a paper, while I read my responses off the teleprompter, trying as hard as I could to make it look like I was looking a guy in the face. The screen had a couple of stationary arrows on each side, the which are supposed to be where I was reading at a given moment, though an operator was pacing the scroll specifically according to my the rate of my performance. He did a pretty good job, too, save a couple of times when I thoughtfully paused and had to tamp down terror as I noticed the scroll, in fact, didn't. The hardest part for me was avoiding left-to-right eye movement; I tried to look between the arrows and enforce peripheral perception, a little like looking at one of those hidden-picture stereographs. ("Over there?! That's just a guy in a suit!")

What struck me about the gig was that, in spite of having no lines to learn -- or perhaps, as a direct result of it -- this job ought to have been rather difficult. I mean, acting itself often requires us to accept a huge amount of ridiculous non-reality and to play for truth right along with it, but here was a complete and utter refutation of the actor's need for believable circumstances, environment, or even a scene partner with whom to make eye contact. I was sitting at a table, mic'd up, against a giant green screen, reading from a projection with a backdrop of cameras, lights, technicians and the various tools of the trade to be found in any film or photography studio. My imagination was the only recourse I had, and it served me well, but on top of all that, I was being asked to read and make it alive. Why wasn't this more difficult? Where had I been doing this, getting such good practice that I barely registered the challenges it presented?

My latter gig that day was a return to NYU for the Steinberg Lab, which is a program in which undergraduate playwrights get to workshop their writing, in part by way of casting actors to perform readings for them and a few of their closest colleagues. Most of the work I get through NYU involves some sort of staged reading, live or for film, and as I proceeded to wing it with an especially abstract script on Monday, I realized that this plethora of readings I've been doing of late is exactly what allowed me to be perfectly relaxed in the surreal environment of the teleprompter. In fact, teleprompters are easier than scripts in many respects. The key to a good staged reading is stealing as many moments away from the page as possible to make eye contact, all without losing your place (or, at least, being able to effectively fill moments spent rediscovering your place). Though you're deprived of eye contact with a teleprompter, you're also saved the logistical struggle and potential whiplash of a script-in-hand read. Either way, the unique skill of reading something as though it's just coming to you, motivated by the moments before, is like how one gets to Carnegie Hall.

I do not mean taking the N/R/Q to 57th Street.

So thank you, one and all, you workshopping playwrights, you producers looking for backing, you theatre-philes and patient givers of feedback. Thank you university teachers, new-works encouragers and experimentally inclined venue managers. Thanks everyone, for all the reading work. I knew not what a valuable skill reading could be!
 
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