November 10, 2017

Work Hard, Play Hard

Sam Russo ‘18

In seventh grade, I starred as Tevye in my middle school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Complete with a milk cart – really just a regular kitchen cart covered in brown paper – and a fake beard, I shimmied in front of the whole school to “If I were a Rich Man.” Even though I sang the wrong notes and sang faster than the music, I greatly enjoyed the experience.
That, however, was my last time acting until now.
With that experience in mind, almost on a whim, I tried out for “Arsenic and Old Lace” on the second day of school this year. Sitting in the benches of the Beit Knesset with 15 (relatively) seasoned actors surrounding me, I felt very unsure of my acting ability. That night, however, I checked my phone to happily discover that I had been cast as Teddy Brewster.
Being one of two actors who had not previously performed in a GOA production, I had a different experience from most of the cast. As is to be expected, I learned acting and theater terms – like “blocking” or “thrust stage” – and had fun with the cast, but I also learned some valuable lessons.
First, I was surprised by the amount of work that goes into the play. It may seem obvious, but in addition to the cast, there are: two directors, a costume manager, a stage manager, a propmaster, a whole team that builds the set, a supervisor for that team and more.
Together, this group put in over 700 hours of work for this production, estimating conservatively. That’s roughly the amount of time a GOA student spends in school during a full semester. In other words, a lot of time.
During this time, every aspect of the play is planned and practiced meticulously over and over, whether it’s how the actors should enter the stage for start of the play, or how the lights should go down when a character says “good night.”
Experiencing all of this work firsthand helped me understand much better just how much effort is put into each production. I have new appreciation for the devotion of the teams behind theater performance. This realization, however, extends beyond theater, to other types of art and even more generally, to anything a person produces.
The second lesson I learned is about inhibitions. During auditions, I wasn’t sure how to conduct myself. Mr. Herskowitz instructed everyone to “try things out” in order to demonstrate our acting ability, but I felt awkward putting on an accent or strutting in front of peers.
After I was cast, however, that had to change. Brewster, my character, is insane, so I couldn’t just stand on the stage without acting that way. Sometimes, I had to march around the stage shouting and other times, I needed to grab someone's face and inspect it. These obviously aren’t things that people do every day. At first, it was a little hard to do, but slowly, they became comfortable and even fun.
I wouldn’t advocate acting like that regularly, but there was something freeing about acting without inhibitions. Now, I’ll think a little more about the way I want to act rather than how I’m supposed to act.

Despite the relatively short period of elapsed time since my audition, I have definitely changed. Now, I know a little bit more about theater, my fellow actors and, most importantly, myself. This was an experience that I will cherish for years to come.


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