Tragic Humor

April 2, 2010

By Brittany Howard, rx Arden Professional Apprentice

Romeo and Juliet is nearing its end (the real end, not the kind where you take a sleeping potion so that people think it’s the end even though it’s not).

We’ve had over 40 performances, countless hours of rehearsal, and several classes and workshops. I find myself continuously amazed with the stamina of this cast. They portray one of the most iconic tragedies every night on the Haas Stage, only to wake up, live the grief, endure the pain, and die all over again.

How do they do it and still maintain their sanity? Do they still maintain their sanity?

I can’t really speak for the actors, but I can tell you what I’ve observed sitting backstage watching them in the quiet seconds before they enter and the intense moments after they exit. In my opinion, it’s humor that keeps this cast afloat.

It starts with fight call—where fights done at half speed give them plenty of time to slip in jokes. Then before the performance begins, I listen to Scott Greer (Lord Capulet), Tony Lawton (Friar Lawrence) and others invent their own versions of my curtain speech. You don’t know it sitting out there in the audience, but the curtain speech actually happens many times every day before you see it—occasionally as Abraham Lincoln or Joan of Arc, maybe Scooby Doo, and sometimes Ghandi. Brian Anthony Wilson (the Prince) has a knack for ridiculous nicknames. During intermission, Shawn Fagan (Mercutio) resorts to carrying things around with his teeth since his hands are covered in fake blood. Speaking of covered, or lack of cover, actually—the dressing rooms have been officially deemed unsafe territory for showering after one cast member hid another cast members clothes. It’s always entertaining to watch James Ijames (Benvolio) and Krista Apple (Balthasar/ Lady Montague) dancing in the hallway before they have to enter and find Romeo’s body. And when the play ends and they return to the dressing rooms, they all have tears on their faces and laughter pouring from their mouths.

How else could they get through a show that has them using 4 to 5 boxes of tissues a week? I don’t want to be cruel and make y’all do math, but a six week run plus the rehearsal period makes that a lot of tissues.

Humor is how we all make it through the bad days- whether they are real or just something you play on stage nightly. It’s what gets me through the hectic apprentice schedule, and I’m positive the same goes for the rest of my apprentice class. There’s nothing to do at the end of a fourteen-hour-day, but laugh your cares away. And at least when my long day is over, I don’t have to live it again the next day, and the next, and even the next.

It reminds me of something I had on the wall of my room growing up. I was too smart for my own good, and when other kids were putting up posters of their favorite movies and playing with dolls—I was putting inspirational quotes up on my wall (blame my English-teaching mother). For instance, by the mirror it said, “When life gives you ruled paper, write the other way.” The closet door read, “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” But I’m reminded now of a slip of paper I tacked to the wall on the other side of the room, across from my bed. It was the paper I looked at when I woke up from a bad dream or when I couldn’t fall asleep at night.

It said, “Laughter sweeps away the cobwebs of the soul.”

Sometimes it takes a Shakespearean tragedy to remind you of what you knew to be true a long time ago.

One Response

  1. Steve Heumann says:

    Beautifully said, as were the prior comments of Matt and Evan.
    Seeing the production for the second time the other evening reinforced for me just how much everyone associated with the production are into the words, the action and the story.
    And humor does is always a tonic for the soul.
    Glad R&J lives at Arden but, like all things, must eventually end.

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