Have you ever just had a complete brain fart in the middle of a sentence or thought? You can’t even comprehend where you left off to begin again? Unfortunately, something of this nature can actually occur on stage for actors and it’s one of the scariest moments. This post originated from a discussion held in the green room during the production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Want to guess why this happened during the production?
It happened to our beloved Vanya. Thankfully not during his diatribe in the second act but it happened at the opening of the play on the Friday night of our second weekend. I should explain that in most community theaters, a production runs only on the weekends for 3-4 weeks. After opening weekend, the actors and staff get a break until the following weekend–this break can sometimes cause a flux in performance level. I’m not saying this was the case for Vanya’s show stroke, but it might have played a part in the moment.
Despite these best intentions and efforts made by every one, mistakes happen on stage all the time. This comes with being human, you can’t avoid the potential moments where you forget (yours or others) lines, blocking, and props. These moments end up being a true test of an actors metal and worth–and not necessarily just the actor who stroked out, but those supporting them on stage. Vanya was saved by Sonia, who, by their consistent and dedicated rehearsal of the opening sequence, was able to feed him his lines and get back on track for the scene and the act.
This one of the examples that prove, to me, the importance of the relationships made by a cast, relationships that can’t be forced by a director or other staff. It has to come naturally through the mutual trust between the actors who become a cast and then, hopefully, becomes a family. Vanya was extremely thankful and appreciative to Sonia during intermission but to Sonia, it didn’t matter–she wasn’t just doing him a favor, she was doing her job. I think young actors sometimes forget that they don’t *only* need to memorize their own lines, they actually need to memorize their peers’ lines as well.
“Practice is for learning your part. Rehearsal is for learning everyone else’s.”
For me, this production has been different than others because, due to two actors having to be semi-replaced, the cast has actually had refresher rehearsals between performance weekends. This isn’t usually recommended as there is such a thing as over-rehearsing. However, when you have one actor who needs to meet a family obligation and another suffers an injury two weeks before opening… you make exceptions to ‘standard’ theater/performance ‘rules.’ The extra rehearsals were necessary to adequately prepare the actors who stood in for the original cast.
Did these extra rehearsals disrupt Vanya’s break and therefore prepared him for this mistake? Would he have made this mistake anyway? There’s no way to say. He knew the back and forth dialogue with Sonia the weekend before, all during rehearsals, and for the remainder of the performances that specific weekend. It was just that one night, that one performance–he lost it. As he said, he “just stroke[d] out on stage.”
‘Til next time.