Tuesday, October 17, 2006

On the Air, With Vince

I do not subscribe to the notion, (as some of my friends and colleagues in the theatre world do), that in order to be considered a talented or accomplished actor, one to be taken seriously, one most seek out only roles which have great depth, unique flaws, or difficult circumstances that call upon the very depths of your creative soul in order to even be passable. While taken such roles certainly provides a chance for evolution in one's craft, I do think that there is nothing wrong with taking a part which is intended for the most part, to be noting but fun, for the audience and the actor.

Plus, it takes talent and dedication to pull off a good performance of a so called "fluff" part as well, (though I hate that term.) One such part that providing me with some of the most fun I have yet had in my career, was the disk jockey, Vince Fontaine, in the musical Grease.

If you do not know the show, Vince is a rowdy sort. Into the ladies, party type. Small town B-List celebrity ham, and proud to be so. I remember reading for Grease, and it being one of the very few times I had ever requested to read for a specific part. It was one of the only parts I thought I could do well in that show, given my age. Plus, for a few years I was an actual radio disk jockey, so I thought I had an inside leg.

I read one of his speeches during the audition, using the best far out 1950's radio rocker and roller voice I could come up with. I also made use of the "radio cadence", which, if you are not a DJ is hard to describe.

I was told much later by the director that he knew at that moment I would be Vince.

But being Vince in that production was going to be a bit different, which intrigued me. To begin with, a small mock up of some turn tables and a microphone was setup for me on one of the stage pods, in front of the curtain. I got to talk to the audience, as they came in, make a few jokes, and introduce the band in the pit, as the played some incidental music, to warm up the ground before the show started.

I had never had that kind of chance to play around with an audience before a show opened before. They, and I , enjoyed it.

For the first act of the show, I would return to this little pod area, to deliver my lines. In the script, Vince is only heard as a voice through the radio the characters are listening to. But in our production I got to be seen by the audience, while being heard by the rest of the cast on stage. A live theatre version of a split screen, if you will.

Costumes and such were great for that part. My hair slicked down every night with large amounts of (say it with me) grease, sneakers, and rolled up blue jeans, and a white t-shirt. Over the t-shirt, depending on which scene I was in, I would where, unbuttoned, these outlandish wild colored shirts. Hawaiian style. One I bought for myself had pineapples and hula girls dancing on it. I was allowed to use it for the show. It is a sweet shirt. I still have it.

In Act II, Vince shows up to be a judge of a dance off. This is where I originally had the least fun, because it was a pain to choreograph. Plus, in order to eliminate people, I had to grope the girls in the group, most of which were under 18 at the time.

But eventually the awkwardness wore off, the blocking smoothed out, and I got to wear the most go to hell far out tuxedo I had ever seen. Maroon and gold. And I got to ham it up by dancing around in whatever way struck me, so long as I eliminated people at the right point in the music. A very hammy moment for a very hammy part.

And an exhausting, hot part. The suit made it feel like 130 degrees by the end of the dance. I lost 10 pounds during the run of that show.

But more important than weight, I lost a few inhibitions I had as an actor. While there are still things I could not do on stage, playing Vince, with his shananagins really widened my comfort level. I was able to let go and fly with the part. I had to, or else I would sink very quickly. But by accepting the need to do that, I became more open and less timid with my performances on a permanent basis. So in addition to being a blast, the role helped me as an actor.
So much for "fluff" roles doing nothing for the serious actor.

1 comment:

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Ty,

A maroon & gold tuxedo, a Hawaiian shirt & you once, a disk jockey? Now, there's a thought. :)

I enjoyed this post and the part of where you said a really vital thing about 'losing inhibitions' & that you became 'more open & less timid with your performances on a regular basis.'

I found that, that indeed had a strong connection with writing where I too, have had to break free from writing on bold topics quite freely when at a time it used to intimidate me.

There is always the prospect of shyness, timidity & conservativeness with one's art especially when bound by lifelong cultural inhibitions in a continent like Asia.

I have and am steadily learning to break free from these things. It's made me happier as a writer and also opened the universe a little wider to the exploration of more ambitious ideas & topics.

I think that confidence has helped me fly as you Ty, had described your own role, playing Vince on stage.
Your post brought home this reality.