A funny thing happened on the way to the theatre last week, something that started out as a kind of quirky story but that ended up having greater personal meaning for me.
I was in Soho to review this show, and I arrived at the theatre way early, so I decided to kill some time by running my lines for the show I’m currently rehearsing (which The Boss talked about briefly here). There was already a huge crowd, both in the lobby and outside the theatre, which I didn’t want to deal with yet, so I parked myself on a stoop about fifty feet down the street.
Or rather, I parked my bag on the stoop, because I immediately busted out my script and commenced the running of said lines. What this usually entails is me compulsively pacing back and forth while I speak the lines silently to myself and physicalize as needed (depending on how much I feel like doing).
What this usually looks like to other people, however, is some crazy guy on the street muttering to himself and randomly gesticulating in an odd fashion.
Such was the case on the evening in question. Near me were several groups of people waiting to go into the theatre, and they all almost immediately put an extra five-to-ten feet between themselves and me. Right away I noticed several of them averting their faces and actively trying to ignore me, as if they were worried that direct eye contact might instigate something they wanted no part of.
I was kind of amused by it all. Nice of everyone to think I’m dangerous and such, but I knew there was nothing to fear. I figured anyone who noticed the stapled sheaf of paper in my hand – to which I was more than occasionally referring – would get the idea. (Besides, it just meant more room on the sidewalk for me to pace.)
So, there I was, working my lines, and trying to keep my head out of the script. All of a sudden, as I was working on this one passage that had been giving me trouble, I briefly glanced at a clothing store directly across the street from me. There in the store window, I noticed that one of the salesgirls had completely stopped what she was doing and was looking over in my general area. I thought nothing of it and continued pacing and muttering.
On my next pass, I saw that the girl – let’s call her Miss Salesgirl – was still there. I momentarily wondered what she was looking at, then kept on doing my thing.
Then, it occured to me: she’s looking at me. She’s watching me rehearse.
To test this theory, I looked over in her direction, flashed a big ol’ smile, and waved to her. Without hesitation, she waved back. Bewildered, no doubt, but she waved.
Interesting, I thought, and then kept rehearsing. Miss Salesgirl lingered in the window for another minute or two before returning to work. She was immediately besieged by customers as soon as she turned away, so I figured that would be the last I saw of her.
A few more minutes went by, during which I was able to run a sizable portion of the script. I was about to give that tricky section that had been giving me trouble a second go-round when I looked up and notice that Miss Salesgirl had returned to the window.
And, this time, she’d brought a friend.
So, I flashed another smile and waved to them. They both tentatively waved back, not knowing what to make of me.
This whole business tickled me to no end until I realized I was no longer rehearsing.
You see: one person watching you is a rehearsal.
Two people watching you, however, is an audience.
Which meant that my rehearsal had now turned into a performance.
This thought distracted me at first, and I immediately started flubbing lines I’d known perfectly for a week. My focus was shot, and I couldn’t concentrate.
But, then I said to myself, Dude, if this is a performance, then step it up to performance speed.
Suddenly, my energy focused and centered itself, and I miraculously knew my lines again. And I mean all of them, even that tricky passage that had been giving me trouble. Knew it cold for the first time. I ran it a couple of more times, just to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. Indeed, I wasn’t.
And, I felt that rush: the one you get from doing the show in front of an audience for the first time. I felt it right there on the sidewalk. My adrenaline surged, the pacing back-in-forth increased, and the muttering-to-myself grew more heated. I was in “the zone.”
A quick glance at my watch revealed that it was time for me to go into the show. I put my script away, and was picking up to leave when I heard someone shout, “Hey!” from across the street.
It was Miss Salesgirl. She was standing outside her store, sans friend, waving me over. Our conversation went something like this:
Miss S: Were you rehearsing lines or something?
Me: Yeah. For a play I’m doing.
Miss S: So…are you an actor?
Miss S: (gesturing towards the theatre) Is that, like, an acting school?
Me: No, it’s a theatre. I’m going to see a show there.
Miss S: Is it the show you’re in?
Me: No, completely different show.
Miss S: Oh. Well, that’s cool. Have a good night!
And with that, she went back to work.
At the time, I didn’t have the presence of mind to thank her for inadvertently helping me, so I’ll do it now. Thank you, Miss Salesgirl, whoever you are. You helped me take my rehearsal process to the next level at just exact moment when I needed to do that.
She also gave me another gift, perhaps a far greater one. As The Boss mentioned in his blog post, I’ve been away from performing for a while. But now I’m back. And, when Miss Salesgirl turned my rehearsal into a performance, I finally felt like I was back. Like I was once again connected to a part of myself that had laid dormant for far too long. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.