The 24-Hour Playfest was not only a success, but it proved to me that even under the most intense pressure, everyone does their best.
I arrived at the rehearsal space at 9am to begin work on the scene, which was written by Rachel Bublitz. Our director, Diana DiCostanzo, handed the fresh script to me, entitled “Brothers Who Lie Together.” The title alone raised an eyebrow. As soon as I finished reading the 10-page scene, I knew it was great. The scene is essentially about two brothers, who not only lie to get what they want from the other; but also included quite a twist that to me would be quite a challenge to undertake.
Diana ran through some basic exercises with myself and my scene-partner Rob Dario. And we then began the process of breaking down the scene and staging it. For some reason, I found it really difficult to keep the words down. By about 4p, I still wasn’t off-book, and mild panic was setting in. We had run through the scene numerous times, and even did line readings together. But I still couldn’t let go of the script.
So upon arriving at the theater about 4p, with a 7:30p show time and sold-out house looming, I believe I experienced, for the first time, a panic attack. For example, we had met at the theatre the previous night to meet our directors and scene partners. So, after a day of rehearsing, and in transit to the theater, I tried to remember where I had to go – and I couldn’t remember where the fucking theater was. I was aware of this lapse in memory, and slightly worried about where my mind was. Once we were in the space, and we began to organize our lineup and the evening’s details, I was still experiencing panic, and all I could do was remain in the hallway with the script, and madly repeat the lines aloud. Even Diana and Rob came to help me, and generously gave me all the support they could. But I still couldn’t hold on to anything. And that made it worse.
So I took a break and put on some headphones, if only for a few minutes. But even as house-opening approached, my mind was running in circles. And I wanted to run away. I wanted to leave. I just wanted i scream or cry or something. It was getting to be too much. When I asked about whether having a script onstage was OK, I was politely told that scripts weren’t allowed. So….
Our scene was the third in the lineup. So, I began to double down and repeat as much as possible. And I knew I was being hard on myself; it’s just that I knew that this shouldn’t be happening to me. I’m normally quite good at quick line memorization. But maybe with all of our distractions in today’s age, maybe this panic attack was a sign. But there was no time to analyze.
I was backstage. The show was underway. Diana and Rob both assured me things would be all right. It was, after all, only a 24-hour play fest. But everyone else has their lines memorized!! I told myself.
Scene number one finishes.
Number two is under way.
We’re next, I say to myself.
Breathe. Repeat. We’re next.
Second scene finishes and I throw my script down and give over to the fates and walk onstage in blackout. Scene begins. Rob and I are connected, and things are progressing. I notice a packed audience, with chairs also onstage, with people! Now, I can’t remember everything that happened, because maybe I was too in the moment. I know that I dropped lines. I know it caused us to skip bits. I know I tried to cover up the parts I couldn’t remember. But something happened near the end of the scene, in the final moments when my character, Owen, professes his love for his adopted brother. I heard dead silence, but as I stay connected to the text, I knew I was hitting the right notes; and I recall very audible gasps from the audience. So, by the time to scene ended, the audience, to me, was hanging on every word. And we had a very positive ovation.
I ran into the backstage area, where other actors were giving me immediate thumbs-up, and I bolted into the back hallway an ran back and forth several times. My body as going through some sort of weird vibration, and my heart was racing. Other actors in the hallway had looks with half-amazement and half-anxiety, as they asked me what had just happened. I couldn’t explain it, but with all of that absent-mindedness and day-long panic, something connected, and I made it through the scene alive.
The immediate feedback from other actors and directors were extremely positive. I felt horrible that maybe I botched the script and the writer would be disappointed that her work was not truly represented; that all of the directors’ work was all for-naught. And that my scene-partner would think me completely amateurish. But I was incredibly humbled by everyone and I just let it all go, at the end.
I knew I did as great a job as I could. In the end, this may be a case of much ado about nothing. Doing a play in 24 hours is quite an adrenaline rush, and I was so impressed by the work and support I saw among everyone.
Was it all worth it? Yes – and now I have better insight into how I work under pressure.