Don't Play The Problem

by Padraic Lillis · September 18, 2014


Ashland is on their feet in the rehearsal room. I am grateful for the conversation with Scott Hudson after rehearsals to hear about the process. Scott has a commitment to specifics of the given circumstances that help the actors behave truthfully. Hearing them confront the circumstance of the play is a true honor.

An important part of the college collaboration project is the development of the playwright and the play. Equally important is the opportunity for students to discover the craft of acting while working on roles that are relevant to their life experience. As I hear about the students tapping into the emotional specifics of the events leading up to the play and finding connection to it I am so grateful for this project and the play. Acting is hard. Not a question. Finding the nuanced details of a character and connecting them to your personal experience is incredibly challenging. When I hear about the process of the actor playing Becky connecting to her character's fears through her real life experience I realize how this connection has to be easier to tap into than the circumstance of the aristocracy in The Cherry Orchard. The Cherry Orchard is a great play - but to connect to the nuance of a character's experience in a play has to be easier to start with someone closer to your life experience.

The play is giving the student artists that opportunity. They also have tremendous ownership of these characters. The actors are protective of their characters and from what I hear and read they have a commitment to honor them. When I say hear - I have had the honor of receiving a text or two to see if I can take a call during rehearsal to talk about a certain beat. The conversation sometimes is questioning the text or the given circumstance, but mostly it is seeking out another perspective on the need of the character. Most recently the discussion was about why Trevor, an 'out' gay man - would be in a relationship with a 'closeted' gay man. Why would he put up with that? What was wonderful was to recognize that in the text there were clues to tell us that that relationship was going toward the direction of becoming more public. That actually causes the character of Trevor more pain ultimately. It brought us to the conversation of the pain of not being able to mourn publicly with his friends and family. The given circumstances of the play are very thorough and tight. But the fun thing that was discovered in conversation is that it is up to Trevor to discover what he loved about Freddie to have him maintain a secret relationship with the love of his life. The conversation pointed out that love is truly personal and incredibly powerful - and it is the personal that connects the actor to the character.

Each of the actors are finding depth in all of their circumstance. Which tells me that Lindsay has fully loaded each of the characters with a need and an accurate detailed past that got them to the moment of the play. One is for the character of Pete to recognize that there is a depth in the reconnection with his high school girlfriend the night before the funeral. He cheated on his current girlfriend. Why? What does that mean? It could be minimized into just sex - but he discovered something much deeper about the need of the character. That act met a deep need of his - which isn't being met in his day to day life. This realization was excited because the actor and director didn't come to the conclusion that he is unhappy with his life, they looked at what need specifically wasn't being met. The detail of that fueled the behavior for the next beats of the play.

As I mentioned the actor playing Becky is connecting to the need of the character. Dramatically, early on, her role is very funny because the other characters don't like her. They make fun of her. She is trying to redeem herself from her poor behavior during high school. Listening to Scott talk about the rehearsal process reminded me of something very simple, but vital. Scott was reminding the actor to not play the problem and to focus on the action. They don't like you. They playwright has done that for you. You don't have to play that - the character is trying to fix that, not embrace it. It was a reminder to stay focused on action. In our conversation alone it made the opening seem much more alive and vibrant. 

It reminded me that theater often has is a good model for life. Don't play the problem. Focus on the action.

Talk with you soon.






More about the playwright in this article:
Thoughts on the College Collaboration: The Process and the Product
Playwright/professor Gino DiIorio was the Clark University contact for the College Collaboration Project. Here, after attending the post-project reading of the play in NYC, he reflects on the play development process used here, as well as the final product, i.e., Lindsay Joy's new play.
Day Two Clark
Padraic Lillis talks about the second performance of the Farm Project play at Clark University.
Day One at Clark
Padriac Lillis talks about seeing the first peformance of the Farm Project play by Lindsay Joy at its third stop, Clark University.