Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The art of listening...

Photo by Ed Krieger
As a young performer, I was trained in the old-school style of musical theatre...louder, faster, funnier.  My job was to FIND my show by opening night and then repeat that show every night...hit my marks, re-create what I had prepared myself to do.  I was very literal with that technique for a long time.  It wouldn't be a surprise if someone gave me a wrong cue line and I just said what I was supposed to say, even if it didn't make sense.  After all, I was doing my job, saying MY line, the playwright or book writer's line, in the place I was supposed to say it as I had said it many times before.  

Two years after I graduated college I was invited back as a guest artist to revive a role I had created as a senior in a very difficult and wonderful historical play about the life of Saint Vincent de Paul.  In a particular scene I was supposed to break down into tears talking about Thaddeus Lee, Vincent's and The Congregation of the Mission's first martyr.  When I was a senior in college, I often had to fake it. I tried emotional recall but it didn't always work for me.  And besides, there were so many lines that I was always thinking about what came next half the time and so quite often, during the original run, I would fake it.

However, when I came back to the text two years later, it became quite apparent that if I just LISTENED to the monologue before mine that all the emotion I needed was RIGHT THERE.  I just had to LISTEN.  I just had to let go of what had already happened in the play and what was to come and trust that all of my preparation was enough.  Now... much of this wisdom was arrived upon with my director Tim Ward and the actress who played the queen, the gorgeous and talented Erika Insana.  They were instrumental in my beginning to become aware of the art of listening.  Not just to my cue line or the line before it, but to the life and world of the play.

As I got older, I didn't always heed that wisdom...I would often find myself in my old habits of "repeat that performance if you can!"

Thankfully, in recent years, having worked with some amazing folks who have studied the techniques of our more modern age, I now make it a part of my craft to LISTEN.  I do my work to be prepared but each show is it's own.  I do NOT take liberties with blocking or with words, and those actors who do are disrespecting all those who work with them - directors, writers and mostly fellow actors.  Those egos should stick to one-man-shows!

But I do listen and I do stay in the moment that I am in.  Each night may find different inflections or a different cadence or emphasis.  My physical life, within the set blocking may be different.  And if other actors have found new things or if they make a mistake and say something different, I try to pick up the ball (as it were) and not be so rigid or stuck with what it was supposed to be but live in what "it is!"

I am grateful for my current play, The American Premiere of THE IMAGINARY LIFE OF THE STREET SWEEPER AUGUST G as it gives me a chance to listen, to be in the moment, to create a living piece of art that WILL BE different each night but at it's root, holds the truth and vision of the playwright, the director and the cast who helped to create the work.

Theatre is a special art form because the nature of it, is, to be live.  Therefore it is living.  And in life nothing stays the same...and in life, when we listen, we tend to learn and grow.  I have certainly learned a great deal about my craft doing this show.  And I expect to learn more before the the run is finished!



  1. You should find away to let your learning about listening (in your journey as an actor) become more widely known. On a purely human level, so much of human interaction is devoid of listening. In the art of prayer, so many people begin by talking (instead of listening). We could learn much by staying in the present and listening deeply. All of us would find more of what we need. Thanks for this post, Patrick!

    1. Thanks for this Aidan...and I couldn't agree more. I find that when I silence all the voices, all the "wants", all the "I need it this way Lord," and just keep quiet, the peace is quite revealing and answers often come...not always the ones I want or expect...but they come. But as you know I have the gift of gab so it's a process for sure! One I work at on and off the stage for sure. Light and love my friend. Patrick