Grant Byington on Watching

I like to watch, but there’s more to it than that.

I never went to acting school. There are times when I am envious of those who did. They use a vocabulary that is at times both perplexing and enlightening to an untrained actor. I started pretty young. And I’m willing to admit: Everything I learn about acting I learn by watching.

I’m the guy in the dark corner of the theatre, sneaking into the technical rehearsal. I stand next to the booth and peer down at scenes I’m not in. I frequently get caught-out watching the scenes I actually play in. (I love playing Stanley in this production for this very reason. Although I find myself biting my tongue … a lot … probably something I share with every Stanley out there.) Once, backstage at a performance of Damn Yankees, I was watching a scene from the wings and commented to the person standing next to me that the fellas in that scene were doing a swell job. That same person reminded me that I had the next line.

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But there’s more to it than that. Watching isn’t the right word for what I’ve been doing at Richard III. I think witnessing might be more apt. Here’s this remarkable, masterful director — Barry Kyle — crammed in this tiny, sweaty space using every possible tool he can muster to create what I believe will be something remarkable.

But there’s more to it than that. His process is as evocative as his production will be. There isn’t a moment in this play that isn’t fully realized without a true collaboration of text, performance, color, tone, volume, timbre, emotion, intellect … it’s a consummation. The scenes float off the stage like moments in a tortured symphony.

But there’s more to it than that. There are these actors who are marshaling every bit of their collective knowledge of what Shakespeare probably meant, what they feel, and how they can manipulate themselves to channel all that … stuff … into a performance. It’s quite extraordinary. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s this company of generous actors, among whom I count myself lucky to be a part. We play unofficial hosts to our scene-mates. We clean the dressing rooms. We carve out a space in the clutter. We promote. We manage. We strive to be good to each other and our fellow actors. We breathe into the conflicts that arise from lightning-fast costume changes. We work out on our own how to get a prop off stage out of sight. We support our fearless leader Grant Turner as he wrestles with what I believe to be one of the most challenging roles in the canon.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s this time we’re in right now. I have to stop watching. My job is to give myself over now. I have to start seeing what’s in front of my face. There’s this freaky time in every rehearsal process where you simply have to relinquish control. It’s ultimately liberating, but it can be excruciating for everyone involved. Because we all let go at a different rates. At a different times.

Some of us are more likely to let go a little easier than others. There isn’t a single person involved in this production who won’t go from “I know what to do” to “It is what it is going to be.” And that … release is a beautiful, creative thing.

But there’s more to it than that. So much more to it than that.

-Grant Byington (Stanley)

Photo by Jason Maniccia 2013.

 

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