Tuesday, October 10, 2006

This Mortal Coil

In all the shows I have done, it seems hard to believed my characters have never died.

Well, I supposed that depend on how you look at it. If by dying you mean a character's sincere death actually being portrayed within the context of an on going story, I have not yet done so. If, however, you count moments of absurdity and comedy, I have died nine times on stage. In only two shows.

My first lead role was as Leon Trotsky, in David Ives' Variations on the Death of Trotsky. It is a farce which is based on literal events surrounding the murder of Soviet Revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. (It just sounds like fertile ground for comedy, does it not?)

To summarize, the character of Leon walks around with an axe embedded in his skull, which at first he does not notice, until his wife points it out. He proceeds, moments later to die. But in true Ives fashion, a bell sounds, or the lights go out and come back on, and Leon is alive again, during which time he attempts to find out more facts about his untimely demise.

Until he dies again. And so on. The character dies 8 full times in the show, before the show finally being over.

I have no problem saying that it was the most bizarre role I have ever played, in the most bizarre play I have ever been in. But great fun, and a very fortunate chance for someone who had never had a leading role before.

The other "death" a character of mine experienced on stage was during The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. (The show I mentioned in the previous entry.)

Given that the gimmick of that show was to portray the action of all of Shakespeare's plays in less than two hours, one can assume that there were characters dying left and right. Indeed their were. Somehow though, even with all of this stage death going around, I ended up being the only cast member who got to "die" on stage just once. Even then it was barely noticeable, because it was a particularly chaotic scene.

The whole cast was in stage, presenting the history plays in the context of a football game. We would be tossing a crown back and forth to represent the regime changes and such. At any rate, for one play of this Royal Bowl, I played King Richard II. The ball was snapped to me or something, and a moment later, the guy playing Henry IV killed me.

I did get to say, as I fell, usually unnoticed in the mix, "My gross flesh sinks downwards", an actual line from Richard II. But it is not a well known Shakespearean line to those who have not read that play, (and many have not), so I think even those that heard it were usually unaware of what they had heard.

It was fun to die and reside such a line though. This despite the fact that 5 seconds later I had to get up and portray yet another king.

So in both plays, and all nine deaths, I had comic fun playing the death "scene", if you will. Still, though some may call it sick, I hope I play a realistic and dramatic death at some point. A realistic death on stage, whether instant or prolonged, is one of those razor thin balancing acts that an actor must walk. It is so easy to be melodramatic as opposed to just dramatic. It is a challenge I have not yet faced, but I welcome.

Just out of curiosity, have any of you loyal blog readers that act ever had a serious death scene to perform?


Anonymous said...

Yes...serious death, but in a "stylized" show (please, no pun intended). I worked and worked and worked on how someone who was shot would die. During the show I feel an overall confidence in it. It took many, many hours of watching Law and Order to get comfortable in it. I enjoyed doing it.

Susan Abraham said...

How gory, Ty, to have an axe embedded in one's skull. It sounds unforgettable.
I do wonder how everyone managed to get all of Shakespeare's plays staged in the recorded time of just under two hours, no matter how creative the technique.
Sounds like a monumental feat.