Last Night

While her plays are in development, Gallant will show them to fellow playwrights, but she insists “it’s not until I put my work in front of an audience that I can really get a feel for it.”

Daily Texan, DT Weekend, January 24, 2008. I’m not sure I totally believed that when I said it to the Daily Texan writer during a phone interview about FronteraFest last week but it sounded good and writerly. But last night it proved itself to be true.

The theatre was sold out, I only had about 6 friends in the audience but they’re among the most supportive people I know, the ones I knew I’d still be able to look in the eye afterwards, no matter what. My call time was 7pm but I wouldn’t be going on till around 9pm as my piece was the third of five. This meant a lot of standing around and engaging in conversation with the other performers who I’ll probably never see again. And lots of trips to the bathroom and fiddling with hair and make-up to pass the time. And smoking cigarettes even though I’ve quit and am running a half-marathon in less than two days.

I watched the first piece from the wings. It wasn’t a comedy. The second piece was a monologue about a guy’s failed and flawed suicide attempt, I was only half-listening because I was trying to ‘get into my body’ – it’s an actorly thing, where you’re supposed to stand still and check in with yourself and notice how your body is feeling, etc. I noticed that the mild twitch in my leg was developing into a full blown shake so I decided to stop and focus instead on how damn cold it was backstage.

Then it was me. My opening scene went well, I really like this character, she got laughs where I thought she might she get a chuckle and then more laughs where I really wasn’t expecting them. And then the brain chatter started, oh god do they think this is a comedy, they’re going to hate the next scene, what if they laugh when I’m trying to be serious, and on it went. I also realised that one of my props had been misplaced, which made for an awkward transition across the already awkwardly shaped stage. Onto the third character, a transgendered 13 year old girl and the audience was laughing again. I’m very protective of this character – when I did the first version of her at my Fresno workshop I got strangely upset when someone referred to her as a ‘trannie’ in what I thought was a derogatory fashion. I know she has some funny lines, but were people really getting what I was trying to say? The last few scenes were fine, despite losing my way a couple of times and dropping a few lines. But I knew it was coming to an end – surely this isn’t a good way to feel as a perfomer? I think I have to accept that I’m a better writer than performer, or at least I seem to enjoy one a lot more.

There was some nice feedback from friends and audience members during the intermission, including one person who praised me on the excellence of my accent. I hate having to disappoint people by telling them that I really am British and not just a brilliant fake. I stayed and watched the rest of the show, though not really watching as my brain chatter was on full alert reminding me of all the things I could have done differently, better.

Today I feel horribly flat. I didn’t make Best of the Week, which really hadn’t been much of a consideration up to this point. But it would have looked good on the fliers for the Winnipeg fringe. I promised myself leading up to this that I’d see FronteraFest as a starting point, the first opportunity to see how it sounded and felt to be onstage as these characters. So why am I so concerned that it didn’t sound and feel perfect?

In the midst of this wallow-fest, I got an email from a friend who was in the audience. I’ve never before received such a thoughtful and generous critique of my performance, from someone who ‘got it’ and saw things in it that I hadn’t even recognised. Thank you Elizabeth.

I’ve got my acting class again on Monday night. No letters this time. The class philosophy is knowing yourself and not having to do everything perfectly, in fact it’s about learning how to do things wrong and make mistakes. I hope I do well in it.