Jekyll and Hyde
Time: September 16, 2016Place: Broadway WestRole: Henry JekyllDirector: Jim Woodbury
One of my top favorite roles indeed. But heck, Henry Jekyll has quite a lot to say and do in the show. Still, it allows for a huge exploration of emotions and moods–more so than most of my other roles.
The original audition was part of a general audition in December, 2015, which was somewhat productive as I’d been contacted about callbacks for four of their other shows, two of which I was able to attend callbacks, but each time, I didn’t land the role I was auditioning for. Third time’s a charm I reckon.
The role was offered via email, which was great to read. However, I had also been offered another role at the same time, which … complicated things. There was no way to do both. Each one was uniquely different. The first role (Curly in “Oklahoma”) was a fun one since I enjoy the songs and comedy from the show) but “Jekyll” would allow for some deeper character exploration and emotion. The first one also rehearsed much longer and performed for only one weekend, while “Jekyll” rehearsed for only a few weeks and then performed for five. Yeah, I had to go with the latter (obvious).
That said, I did have a trip to Europe planned and it overlapped rehearsals a lot (the trip prevented me from being a part of “Noises Off,” but that was fine. We can’t do every show now. Or can we?
So when rehearsals started, I went to about three of them, and was then on a plane to Europe.
Oh yeah, one other thing: the script turned out better than I thought. Before I had made up my mind, I did want to read through it and see if it was a good fit for me (Actor’s tip: whenever possible, always trip to obtain a script first and read through it.) I read it and liked it, except for the ending. It ended very oddly, like not really at all. This made me pause on accepting the role. I just wasn’t sure the entire show worked very well. I didn’t want a disappointed audience.
But as I said, I did take the role.
And during the first read through, we read up to the part that just ended and I thought we were done and maybe they could even add something to end it better. However, someone pointed out that no, we were in fact, not done. There was one more scene. Well! So there was. The script I had looked through was incomplete–the last scene had been missing.
We finished that scene and what do you know, it was much better. And I was much happier. The show had an ending. That always helps.
Now I was missing about 18 days of rehearsing, and Jekyll is by far the largest character in the show, so I had some homework to do during my trip.
Yet, things got busy. That can happen when you’re in Europe. I didn’t get my line-memorizing done; however, I was a quick study and picked it up fast after my return. Piece by piece, I got the scenes learned and we were soon running the show.
I got quickly introduced to the nature of the Broadway West theatre. I’d seen two shows there before, so I knew about the place from the audience point of view. I now had to learn about the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. The backstage space is … tight. Not a problem. My character was onstage a lot anyways. But the backstage also had no restroom.
Yeah, i’d heard about that little nuance before. And it’s not the end of the world. One just stops drinking fluids quite early in the day (or morning for Sundays). This would also mean giving up coffee by 4pm. Not an issue for most people, but my coffee habits go much later into the day. Ah, sacrifices.
(Obviously, in an emergency, one could toss a cloak over his or her head and find a way to the restroom. It’s not like it’s forbidden or illegal. And there probably was an empty bottle somewhere.)
Needless to say, the backstage area also had to keep noise down to a whisper. That’s true at all theatres, but here it’s vital. It was never an issue during our run, but one thing that was heard was creaking floorboards. No way to combat that.
We had a small, but fun cast. Seven men and five women I think. Almost all were very sociable, though some more than others. It happens. And perhaps with more time, others would open up some. But no matter. There was a show to perform and each was on point for that aspect.
We actually had two “previews,” though they were both paid (discounted rate), so in effect, they were performances. Thus, by opening night, we were pretty much on our third performance. The houses were filled most of the time and sold out on occasion as well.
With five weeks, it was a little draining after a while. The role itself takes its toll too. Jekyll goes through a gamut of emotions, and while the catalyst and source of those emotions are fabricated, the effects still leaves residue to some degree. Ergo, in the end, one has the aftereffects of having spent a few hours in an emotional washing machine–on heavy wash.
The final scene is the one that required the most pounds of flesh. It’s basically a 10-minute monologue, with a few questions sprinkled about. Throughout it, the character breaks down more and more until there’s not much life or sanity left in him. Getting a chance to undertake such a challenge is all too rare. Of course, when emotions flow, so do the waterworks. Not so bad if it’s just the eyes, but for whatever reason, as the eyes tear, the nose runs too–and that was incredibly annoying since someone going through all that despair would not likely be concerned about a running nose; however, the actor was concerned and yet could not do much to wipe it all away since that would demonstrate an awareness of the issue (pseudo “Catch-22”?) I tried to sneak in a few wipes at times. It was never enough.
Diving inside such a long monologue can be pretty darn cool. At various places, the lines and story almost take over–that is to say, they start pulling you into it, where things become all the more real. It’s never 100% reality. If that were to happen, well, a person would effectively be crazy and that’s never where you want to be. Some possession of mind should always be present. I find it can be like a rubber band, that you toss out a ways and then the story pulls you over as the band relaxes. Nice work if you can get it.
Things Go Wrong
Overall, the mistakes were pretty small. There were moments of improv from time to time where lines were dropped and someone else had to secretly adjust dialogue. The biggest “oops” came closing show, where someone started the second act before another actor did his scene. I mean several huge things were obliterated: a phone gets put on a hook; a broken cane gets put in a drawer. This would soon create some challenges.
You see, later in the scene, an inspector says that the phone has been off the hook all night. Usually, it’s back on the hook because of that earlier scene (now missing). Jekyll mentions that it’s in fact on the hook–yet it was not the case during that performance. Luckily, the inspector was looking at me and not the phone when he said it, so I went over and placed it on the hook and said that it’s on the hook. I guess he didn’t watch me do that (clever thinking on his part). So it looked a little awkward, but not too shabby. For the missing cane, I was able to just drop that bit. I still had one half of it.
I never mind too much when stuff like that happens. It certainly causes a bit of rapid thinking once you realize something is off the rails. You then have to decide just what was missed and how to best fix it–all the while remembering the lines, cues, and normal entrances and exits. But I love a good challenge, so it was a fun moment to explore opportunities to assess and resolve the situation.
The whole experience was most worthwhile. An added bonus was a great director who came in with a terrific game plan, who never wasted our time, and who never yelled or became disrespectful to actors. I agreed with most of the decisions that were made, and of course went along with any that I interpreted differently (as I was not the director). The only part that complicated things was when a couple of other directors were asked to give feedback. This isn’t so bad in itself, but the process is safer when the other reviewers privately channel their feedback through the main director first and the director can then relay it to the actors (if he agrees with their thoughts). Otherwise, it dilutes the effectiveness of having one primary director, should opinions differ.
The theatre is great, although the steep stairs are a challenge for some. I do feel bad that not everyone can view a show there. Perhaps an elevator could be built, but if there were an emergency, then the elevator would be best not used. In short, a fast evacuation option is paramount and mobility limitations are problematical in such a situation. One solution is to simply have a special performance at another location. The sets and lighting could not be used, but the price could be reduced, and that would allow a customized version for those who wish to see Broadway West shows but cannot. It may provide a solution to those who used to see shows there but had to discontinue due to restricted movement. Hopefully, something like this can be explored down the road.
– For each show, I kept several kleenexes backstage left and would use them up to the last second before coming on stage. The runny nose was truly a nightmare, especially since I was never sick at all.
– During some moments when one looked offstage at something, one would often find one or two people there making faces. It added an extra challenge to not break. One learned to stop looking at those offstage faces.
– One night, I could not find my “poison.” I had it earlier in the scene, so I knew it was somewhere. But then it was gone. My heart raced and I frantically (though hopefully I appeared calm) glanced around the floor and checked my pockets. I suppose I would have faked taking it at one point, but I finally located it. (I had placed it in my inside vest pocket.) After that, I always kept a duplicate spare inside the snuff box. As I learned in West Side Story, always make sure there’s a spare. This would come in handy if the poison were dropped and shattered too (though I’d have to ensure not do die in that spot).
– The publicity and program shots were excellent. I was highly impressed by all of it.
– Having to share the Hyde part of the role was welcome by me. It allowed for avoiding the heavy makeup and fast transitions. As well, it allowed less stress on the voice (no gravely voice). But mainly, it provided an opportunity for a very fast metamorphosis, which even fooled a few people in the audience from time to time. It was a treat to hear about that on occasion.
– Before the show each night, most of the actors would be onstage working through lines. It was funny since it was all about four feet in front of the audience–who were separated only by a red curtain.
– I am truly grateful to each and everyone that attended the show. While not one person from the office came out. (Despite several posters and ironically, repeated questions of “Are you doing any shows right now?”) It’s all well and good; it’s just ironic how much people ask about it and then miss it anyway. That said, a few office people did attend other shows and I do appreciate them doing so.
– “Jekyll and Hyde” was a proud addition to add to my resume.