At one point in this play I’m rehearsing, I have to make a leap. It’s not a dance leap, not a plié. More like a pâté. A gristly splat. The springing is okay; I can still spring. It’s the landing that’s rough. Not right away – I’m in the moment, in character, and he don’t care about no stinkin’ bruises. But later, and the next day, oooh, it feels like a sacrifice for my art.
This, it turns out, is acting in my forties. It’s been half a lifetime since I did any stage acting. The last time I was in a play, Ronald Reagan was in the White House. He was an actor too. He’s dead now.
I’m in QNEK‘s production of Wait Until Dark, which opens at the Haskell Opera House next Friday. My greatest worry going into the play was that I wouldn’t be able to remember my lines. I’ve found in my forties that my brain doesn’t retain information like it used to, probably because there’s 25 more years’ worth of stuff in there than when I last acted. I believe 32 percent of that extra stuff is security passwords. Another 13 percent are episodes of “Friends.”
Would I be able to memorize my lines at age 48 the way I could at age 23? It’s hard to say because I have no memory of memorizing my lines at 23, which is ironic and not particularly helpful. But then I recall what I was doing to my brain at age 23, so it’s actually a pretty even playing field.
As it turns out, I remember my lines just fine – in the shower, driving the car, walking to work, doing the dishes. Got those lines nailed down! On stage, though, with props and movement and other actors distracting me with their own lines, I get thrown off. If the director would only allow me to deliver my lines while folding laundry, I think I’d be fine.
Reduced flexibility aside, not to mention the worrisome possibility of early onset dementia literally occurring on set, in many ways acting in my forties is better than my twenties.
For starters, there’s less sex. I don’t mean on stage. And I don’t mean for me specifically, because, given the spotty romantic record of my early twenties, it’s once again a pretty even playing field. I mean less drama – less “drama” drama, usually having to do with the coupling or attempted coupling or the uncoupling that invariably occurs when two or three young actors are gathered together. Maybe it has something to do with all those costume changes, but for actors in their twenties, a play is just the second syllable of “foreplay.”
Twenty-five years later, I’m married, and the only pickup lines around here these days are, “Would you pick up dog food after work? Would you pick up your socks off the floor?” Acting is a hobby, not a potential singles bar. It was either theatre or curling, so that tells you something.
There’s also less pretention in my forties. Actors like to remind mere mortals that it takes such courage to be vulnerable onstage. That’s a bit much. Rescuing orphans from a burning building: that takes courage. But in my twenties, being an actor felt like the noblest of pursuits, more free-thinking than everyone else, more iconoclastic, more obnoxious – a breeding ground for pretentious behaviour. If actors in their twenties were to suddenly disappear, it would mean the collapse of the global trench coat market.
Paradoxically, those pretentious young actors are also as insecure as they are randy. Not only are they consumed with self-doubt but they live in constant fear that a fellow actor is going to steal their thunder. Or their girlfriend.
In my forties, on the other hand, acting is merely a lark – a surprisingly difficult, mildly terrifying lark, but a fulfilling pastime that doesn’t involve going to the gym. I don’t feel pretentious, nor, for that matter, do I really feel comfortable saying “a sacrifice for my art.” I know that acting in my forties isn’t going to influence my personality the way it did in my twenties because my personality is pretty much calcified at this point. Theatre won’t take over my life, mostly because I want to get home and go to bed.
So when the curtain goes up next Friday night, it won’t be the end of the world if I fall flat on my face. I’ll just be a little sore. Probably for weeks.
QNEK’s production of Wait Until Dark runs October 10, 11, 17 and 18 at 7:30 pm and October 12 at 2:00 pm at the Haskell Opera House, Stanstead, Que./Derby Line, Vt.
Want more acting tips? Listen to this? Originally aired on CBC Radio’s “Breakaway.”