By James Murray
With Praxis Theatre’s one-man show Steel in the final leg of its three-week run, actor James Murray reflects on the production so far:
The day before the show starts
After a gruelling three months of rehearsals, our pre-show tech/dress rehearsal is an unmitigated disaster. This is understandable since we haven’t yet run the show with full transitions, light and sound cues. The problem is that we have to open the next evening and there is no time for another tech rehearsal. Director Mike Wheeler arranges for us to do a ‘tech-less’ run-through the next afternoon, before opening, because, he says, all of those cues have hindered my performance.
The final and imperative acting notes are: “slow it down”, “talk to the audience” and “become more intimate with them and all those imaginary characters you speak to throughout the play.”
At 7:45 pm on opening night, I wait in the office while stage manager Meredith Scott leads the audience to their seats. My stomach is in knots. I have to urinate for the umpteenth time and I’m trying to dispel my fear through long, deep breaths.
My three main worries are formidable and intrusive:
1) Will I remember those 22 pages of dialogue? Word for word?Thankfully, opening night brings the most supportive and loving audience any actor could ask for – the show goes way better than I thought it would. There’s a nice reception at “Sparrow”, the bar next to the theatre, and I’m really looking forward to seeing my family when the come to see the show the next evening. Although we feel that tonight’s performance made a decent impact, there is a big notes session the next day. It can be better.
2) Wow, those transitions are insane! I have to remember them, too?
3) Oh God, I have no water! No access to water during the entire show. I’m going to be T.E. Lawrence crossing the Nefud Desert by the third scene.
When it comes to breaking down this show's first performance, Wheeler pulls no punches. My eye-line was locked over the audience’s heads, he says, and I kept pacing three steps from stage right to left throughout the narratives. Distracting.
“The play looked like a series of monologues”, Mike says. “You need to play off of the audience. You need to look right at them and include them more. Think of them as very intelligent children sitting around a campfire except they don’t know you or trust you yet. You need to win them over.”
He’s right. A one-man show is a lonely stage – there isn’t anyone to play with up there so why not use the people who are sitting just seven feet away from me? This is one of the last bolts that needs to be tightened. I don’t just need to break through the fourth wall, I need to destroy it. It brings on a whole new challenge, but it makes the build-ups and peaks more compelling. Also, I definitely needed to make the conversations with the imaginary characters more specific and engaging.
The playwright’s parents are in the audience
My most important performance was the night playwright Andrew Zadel’s parents came to see the show. Mrs. Zadel gave me a much-appreciated standing ovation. When I met them after the show, I was overwhelmed by how much this production had meant to them and how proud they were of their courageous and talented son Andrew. I could barely hold back my tears and I’ve never received such a priceless compliment.
There’s only one thing I want to say: Andrew, my friend: when the show closes this Saturday, Steel will not be buried six feet under, nor will it be swept under the bed. Steel is going to have a siesta under a golden day of blue sky and sunshine until the time is right to unleash its power again. Fire awaits.
Be sure to catch James Murray in Praxis Theatre’s Steel this Thursday, March 22 through Saturday, March 24 at the Queen West Arts Centre, 100A Ossington Avenue, Toronto, Canada. Click here for a map. Tickets at the door.