Every couple of years or so, I like to take on a small to medium role in a stage play. I do this for several reasons:
1) I like it.
2) I have B.A. in Theater and I feel like I'm actually using my college degree, and...
3) For Brain Health.
I do it to keep different parts of my brain active, especially the memory part. (My memory has always been terrible, which has always been my Achilles Heel as a performer.) As physical exercise is good for the body, this kind of exercise is good for the brain.
Having worked in a facility with memory impaired people for the last 12 and a half years, I've seen my share of memory loss, and I've done a fair amount of (informal) research and reading about it. I want to keep as much of what I have as intact as possible, for as long as possible. My research has always, without exception, turned up the same three things. The first two are always Diet and Exercise. It turns out that what's good for your body, is also good for your brain. I keep looking, because I always want the research to say that the two most important things for strengthening memory are Sitting On The Couch and Eating Ice Cream. But it never does.
The third thing is using your brain in different ways - learning new things, like languages; learning new skills; changing routine tasks; using your opposite hand for a repetitive activity, like brushing your teeth (I know what you thought); doing crossword and other kinds of puzzles; practicing meditation and yoga; etc. I figure that memorizing lines and songs and putting them together with blocking and choreography falls right in there.
And so, I start rehearsal for Arthur Miller's Death Of a Salesman in December.
I have three main criteria for doing a play: I have to really like, admire, and trust the director (and there are only one or two of those for me right now); It has to be a part that I really want, in a play I really like; And it has to be in a theater near where I live and work. But, I don't always follow my own criteria. Sometimes, two out of three will suffice. Sometimes, maybe only one.
A note about my personal criteria: I'm not a prima donna, or a theater snob. I'm just realistic. I have a full time job, for which I work at least two evenings a week. I'm not out there auditioning for everything and hoping to get any part that comes along. With my busy schedule, I have to be choosy about my extracurricular activities. If I'm going to invest so much time and effort into a project, it had better be one that I enjoy. And the director needs to know what he or she is getting into when they cast me. I will give 110% - anything less would be a disservice to the director, to me, and to the play - but, it has to be workable for all involved.
So, this show, Death of a Salesman meets at least one of the criteria, and partially meets another one. The one director I will always work with is my life-long friend Fred Sternfeld. I know him (long history there - story for another post, perhaps), like him, and trust him implicitly and completely to give me what I need as an actor to be my very best, and to put on a good production in general. Fred's directing this, so that was a given. I'm playing the role of Charlie, Willie Loman's next door neighbor. Now, see, I never knew I really wanted to play this part. But, when Fred said he was directing it, and there was a part I should consider reading for, I became intrigued. It had been so long since I'd read or seen the play, I didn't remember much about it. I got a copy, read it, and decided that I should not pass this opportunity up. As I said, I don't do much theater at this point, but this, this work is part of the cannon of Great American Literature. It really would be a privilege, I thought, to be able to let Mr. Miller put the words in my mouth, and for me to put my heart and soul into this production. So, I auditioned, and here we are.
Now, my third bit of criteria is usually the one that goes by the wayside. This production (and its rehearsals) will be at the French Creek Theater in Avon, Ohio. It's about 40 miles from where I live and work. It's a relatively long drive, but a small sacrifice for this opportunity, I think.
One more note about this production. Fred has employed a bit of color blind casting. Our Willie Loman is a fabulous African-American actor by the name of Greg White. Fred is not trying to make some bold political statement. He's not trying to make a point ... but maybe there is a point being made: Good acting is good acting, and maybe we should just see a person for what he or she is: a person. We'll all get a rare opportunity - as a cast, and as a theater going community - to look beyond our outer shells and be judged by the content of our characters, on and off stage.
Death of a Salesman opens on Friday, January 13th and runs through Sunday, January 29th. Friday and Saturday curtains are 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 3:00. French Creek Theater is located at 4530 Colorado Ave.
Sheffield Village, OH 44054. Click this link to reserve tickets.
Here are some photos from our first table read: