I especially remembered a rehearsal when the other actors were all a bit down and out. They were summing up their lines without interest, almost dragging me along in their boredom. But Madame LeBoeuf was soon to run upstairs into the office of Berenger...
With such a small part, you rarely get the chance to actually be playing and I didn't want my moment to be spoiled. I decided not to wallow in the prevailing lack of lust, but to be the lump under the carpet: irritatingly energetic between the apathetic. I mimicked running upstairs like I'd never done before and panted as if I had been chased by hordes of rhinocerosses instead of one.
I ended my part with an enormous leap into the stairwell and and took to my seat, since I had no more lines left. Then I saw what I had done: my enthousiasm had been contageous, the others were acting again and the director put his thumb up at me. It was the first time I realised that -even though my part was small- I could have an impact on the people around me.
So when I heard, several years later, that an amateur theater group was looking for cast extra's I said 'Yes!'. It was for Servant of Two Masters (Carlo Goldoni) and it was to be a staged as a costume drama. All the extra's got a rough sketch of their character and furthermore were free to improvise during the second act in which is a road scene. Our director turned it into a lively square, with his 12 extra's going impro.
|The main cast of Servant of Two Masters|
During this dry run one of the actors fell into the orchestral pit. The fallen actor was the person who kept the whole group together as one, cast and extra's. The accident had shocked us all. What we feared was true: some ribs were broken. But the actress decided to perform in spite of it. As the painkillers began doing their work, the company started to feel relieved and concentrated again on their 'premiere'.
The audience was for a considerable part made up of members of competing theatre groups. One of them was going to stage 'Servant of Two Masters' a few months later. It was as if the audience had practised too. In not laughing. During the first act, the extra's were waiting, all dressed up, in a room where we could listen to what was happening on stage. We heard the witty lines of Truffaldino, and each joke was followed by this ominous silence of the audience. Truffaldino's voice started to sound pretty insecure. We all placed our chairs in a circle and listened to the progression of the first act with sinking mood.
Except for one: our guitar player had no experience with being on stage in a play. He was nervous as hell and kept tottering through the room, tripping again and again over the ribbons tied to his instrument. He even left our backstage room. One of the actors, not on stage, begged us to please stay inside, when our guitarman tripped again, causing nervous laughter from some of the others. The -supposed- widow in our group, in an imposing black dress, reprimanded our poor guitar player and pointed at the empty chair in the circle. The troubadour sat down so promptly and meakly that the widow was stunned by her own boldness. But this interaction was a turning point: we all slipped into our roles and prepared ourselves for a literally 'supporting' act.
One of the critics had his own interpretation of small parts and small actors. He wrote that the only acting he had seen, was done by the extra's. True, we made quite a scene, but I still resent that remark. The actors gave a good performance and deserved a lot better than that. Even without considering the circumstances.
Maybe the smallest actors were in the audience that night?
To be continued ...