Hi. It’s me again. Rob. I’m back with another BLOG. It’s a Rob-o-Blog. Like Robocop. He was in Detroit too. Great movie. Anyway, last time we talked -well, I talked and you listened, and that’s how I like it – I was in the middle of a show at The Tipping Point. I’m happy to report that Wiley and The Hairy Man ended its successful run on Halloween.
What have I done between Halloween and now, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I did some on-camera acting work during November. They include: a training video for GM, an online commercial for Zoup! featuring the Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas) from Seinfeld, a commercial voice-over and a featurette for Ford Explorer’s facebook page.
On December 14 I started rehearsals for The 39 Steps at the Meadow Brook Theatre. As I write this, Thursday night, January 6th, we have just finished our second Preview. The show is looking great and we open officially on Saturday. I have had such positive experiences with theaters in Michigan since graduating and this one is no exception. I don’t mind telling you, my Silent Friend, that THIS is the show I have been waiting for all season. If you don’t know about the show, don’t worry, I’ve put a link for you here.
I play somewhere around 12-13 characters in this play. All of whom range from a standard British to Cockney to Irish to Scottish to West Country (think Hagrid from Harry Potter). Some are male, some female and all are different ages and physical types. I found out I had been cast during the summer and so I’ve had a good long time to worry if I was up to the challenge. I was excited, don’t get me wrong, but very VERY intimidated by the role(s). There are always two thoughts that go through my head when I find out that I’ve been cast in a role. “All right! I got it.” And then “Oh crap, I’ve gotta DO it!”
I know for a fact that I would not have been up to this challenge had it not been for the Hilberry. Now, I know this just sounds like lip-service, but just hear me out. I have made a strong effort to create 12 different characters (sometimes switching between them in mere seconds) with different physical types and accents. Now, in order to do this, I had two things to rely on: my own imagination to create the character; and the Vocal and Movement training I received from the Hilberry to back it up.
Accents come easy to me, they always have. But I DARE you to try to speak in a cockney accent and jump right into Scottish and then jump back (while spinning across the stage to boot!). It’s not so easy. The voice training we get in the Hilberry involves learning where the accent “sits” in your mouth. Is the tongue flat or raised during speech? Is the upper lip stationary during speech? We learn that an accent isn’t simply saying words differently; it is changing the shape of the mouth so that the words NATURALLY come out differently. Once I found my “placement” for each accent, I was able to stop thinking about it and focus on the physical demands of the show. Which, by the way, are numerous.
Running, jumping, bouncing, hunching, dancing, squatting and, for yours truly, a backwards layout somersault. These are just a few of the physical demands of the show. Working on keeping myself centered and keeping my “Core” engaged was one of the biggest challenges of my Hilberry career (Pilates were the bane of my existence) but it has helped me in so many ways that I don’t have the space to write here. I have chronic back problems and, by doing a few simple exercises I learned during my time at the Hilberry, I have been able to stay grounded and centered and (knock on wood) relatively pain free during this entire process.
With a show like this one, there is a lot of leeway to create some pretty outlandish and eccentric characters and Travis (the director) has kept 70-80% of the crazy things I’ve come up with in rehearsals. Now, if I know I can come up with something funny, and that no matter how crazy it is, Travis might keep it in the show, then I am going to feel safe to create. It’s funny, talking about safety in terms of creating comedic bits, but you’d be surprised how quickly inspiration can disappear when a director makes it clear that he’s not interested in your input.
All the training and creativity in the world adds up to NOTHING if an actor doesn’t feel safe in the space. Luckily, this was not the case in The 39 Steps process. Travis has been nothing but supportive and I believe it shows in the product. So, Silent Friend, I suppose there’s nothing left for me to say besides the obvious. Come see The 39 Steps at the Meadow Brook Theatre!
Rob Pantano, Former Hilberry Company Member, 2007 – 2010