Up Close and Personal with the Audience- Ross Beschler

Wed, 02/22/2012

Knives' Ross Beschler writes about the hardest days of rehearsal and the arrival of the final character.

In case you haven’t already heard, the space we have created for Knives in Hens is small.  Intimate.  The hardest day, by far, of rehearsal, was the day we had to take all the work we had been doing, the strange alchemical excavation of given circumstances, actions and objectives, and take that work down to an energy level that felt almost non-existent.

It is perhaps a strange thing to explain, this terror actors sometimes feel that they will not be understood, that they won’t communicate their character effectively.  I firmly believe that an actor’s job is to focus on actions and intentions, and not put on a display of extraneous emotion - the emotions come as a byproduct of the actions, and are ultimately meant to be felt by the audience, not the actor.  But try telling me that while I’m on stage!  It is an act of real bravery to tell that fear to shut up, and trust the work you’ve done, visible and invisible, to tell the story through the willing, flexible instrument of your voice and body - and every extraneous hand-flap, eye roll, and foot-stomp you’ve ever witnessed in a performance is a product of that fear.  Everyone does it.  Good actors do it less.

So it was a very sobering day when the director starting tempering our work to a size that the space could handle.  We did scenes over and over, each time being told “do less.  Do less!”  until it felt we were barely doing anything.  And if what felt like such a miniature level of effort was telling the story, that meant that every tiny gesture was also a present and immediate part of the play - every swallow, every eye shift, every finger twitch.  And I have done film work, which exists at that same small, subtle level - I love film work for that very reason - but a film is created in small pieces, one moment at a time, one small frame at a time - a reaction here, a glance there.  To maintain that level for 70 minutes in a theatre space, where I am used to at least a certain amount of size to carry a story across a space - well, let’s just say I suddenly feared the prospect of an audience.

But the audience showed up, as they do, and so far it has been tremendously fun to play with the variables.  It’s been exciting to get away with doing so little, to learn how far I can turn down the dial and feel the crowd lean in to catch what’s going on, and feel out where I can lean into playing a moment a little harder - once a base level has been established, the audience will go on the ride with you.  And ultimately, as it often happens (thank goodness!), as the first few live performances unfold, I am finding the freedom to forget the technicalities of the space, to let them live in me as natural and easy parts of our imaginary world and just BE.  Which is what we work so hard for - to forget all that work, and go on the ride of being a real human being in an imaginary circumstance, and feel the thrill of other humans taking that ride along with you.  And believe me, the audience is close enough that I CAN feel them with me at every moment, watching.  Or laughing. Or coughing.  Or opening a soda.  I have rarely been SO privy to every small moment unfolding out in the audience.  In some ways, they are performing for me just as much as I am performing for them - or perhaps we are performing together.  It’s still a dynamic I’m untangling. 

So come on down and see what the ride is about - I’ll see you there.  Really.  I’ll see you.