Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making Space

Lance Baker is a really great actor, a company member of A Red Orchid, and in the cast of Mauritius at the Northlight right now (in which, for full disclosure, I'm an understudy and doing tech work).  He has probably the most fun role in the show; he plays a shady Mametian gangster type who for some reason really loves stamps.  Lance gives a dynamic and detailed performance which you really shouldn't miss, a lot of fun: a big role with room for nuance and Lance has, seemingly, a great time sharing this guy with the audience.

But, what I really want to talk about is this one little trick he uses that I think is amazing.  His character is in a stamp shop examining very carefully two incredibly rare stamps.  First he shines a special stamp lamp over them and looks through a magnifying glass.  Then he puts these away and looks at the stamps for a moment just under the regular light "in the store" (just stage lights, not practical lamps).  He looks at them like this for a moment, then he looks up at the "ceiling," finds exactly where the "light fixture' is shining, and moves the stamps slightly to be more directly in this light.

If we follow his eyes while he goes through this little bit we will trace the stage walls to where they end, then the fifteen feet or so of fly space until we get to the lighting grid cold and functional from which hang dozens of stage lights of all sizes and colors pointed meticulously at all parts of the stage.  But we know for Sterling (Lance's character), that there is simply a light fixture some four or five feet above his head.

In this bit Lance draws our attention to the patent theatricality of the moment while casually insisting that we are mistaken and that he is simply a stamp enthusiast in a dingy little shop trying to get the best view.  It is completely fantastic.

1 comment:

atrophymule said...

Benedict Nelson is a really great writer. While I would like to take credit for things like drawing attention to the patent theatricality of a moment onstage, the truth is I was just trying to find a way to get my face up enough to deliver a quiet line loud enough to get the laugh I thought it deserved. The solution, to look up for a "better light," fit the bill just fine (though still never quite getting that laugh). You never expect someone to notice little things like that, unless they see the show a couple dozen times. I suppose if I had an audience forced to watch my performance several times a week (as understudies often are required to do), I'd certainly give careful consideration to serving them a little more "meta" with their meal. But one of the things I like about theatre is its unstoppable transiency, that you only get this one shot to tell a good story to a complete different set of eyes and ears 8 times a week. So it is a rare treat to hear that certain choices intended as a single-serving portion can be satisfyingly feasted on over the long haul. Thanks again, Ben, and I'll see you round the offices.