On Acting

This is the third piece in a series of three on the recent Gunfighter Nation production, LA History Project: Pio Pico, Sam Yorty, and the Secret Procession of Los Angeles. Enjoy!

I use to box (as in pugilism). I never competed, but I did spar. I remember one time, I was working out, and there was going to be a party at my gym in the evening. As I was getting ready to go into the ring, two 30-something ladies were hanging out behind me.

I could never do that. One said to the other.

I know, it’s just sooo brutal. The other said.

And with their voices in my head, I went into the ring and sparred for three rounds with Angel. I never let him get me in the corner by the way. He’d get a lot of guys in the corner, but he never got me there.

Those two ladies taught me a very important lesson about focus. Even if two seconds before I’m about to do something, I hear that voice that tells me no I can’t do it, I put it aside.  I can do it. I can (to quote the great Muhammad Ali) float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, your hands can’t hit what your eyes can’t see.

In addition to writing for Gunfighter Nation’s LA History Project, I acted in the show as well. This happened because I was in the right place at the right time. The writer of a short piece turned and asked me if I could act in his piece, and since I am trying to be more positive, I said yes.

I played the female Sam Yorty in an evening with several Sam Yortys. Sam Yorty was the mayor of Los Angeles during the Watts riots. My Sam Yorty comes onstage in a wheelchair and faces visions of death and an ideal Los Angeles, then dies.

I started off playing Sam depressed (always a solid fallback for me); then with the help of the writer, I took it to a more kinetic mean and angry place with dashes of Hunter S. Thompson, George W. Bush, and Peter Sellars in Dr. Strangelove thrown in for good measure. Along the way, I got a hat and sunglasses which allowed me to disappear completely and show a twisted, sickly, disgusting, dying character.  Ahhh, I was in acting heaven.

I do have a dark side. When I was in first grade, the nun said I had a bad temper. Now, I am a somewhat mature adult and keep it in check. I even drive around LA in a really mellow way.

When I was given permission to unleash hellfire, I knew I could do it. I could look out at the audience with hatred and anger and say, I hate this city. I could see the audience looking back at me, and I could hate them. I could be ugly and cruel and dying and disgusting. I could take it to that place and then roll off the stage and be fine. It’s just pretend. It’s okay.

We had six performances, so I got to die six times. The first night, I felt like I was operating from nothing more than guts. Then, I focused and listened to my fellow actors, and I started to understand the rhythms of performance of the piece.  

I think playwrights should try acting material they do not write. If anything, it will help them understand what goes into memorizing lines. It also got me rethinking about text word by word. How do words play in the mouth? To the ear?

Would I act again? Heck yeah. I really liked going to that dark place as an actor. Or maybe next time, instead of being ugly, angry, and mean, I could be pretty, happy, and sweet.

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