• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Down to the Wire

Preparing for opening night.

June 9, 2013

The play I am in opens in a few weeks. We are in that state of building, contagious panic I remember so well from my youth, when everyone is convinced that we will never be able to pull this into a coherent production by opening night.

We are not as solid in our lines as we expected to be by this point, especially those of us who are (ahem) on the older end of the spectrum. We are still struggling over our characters' motivation for certain lines and actions. And scenes that should crackle are limp.

One of my most important scenes, a seduction that threatens to turn violent, was in the third category the other night.

I haven't done a serious sexually charged scene since I dropped out of this business in my 30s. I have taken part in improvised romantic/seduction scenes, but I have always played them for laughs, as I tend to do with anything that makes me anxious.

And, boy, was this making me anxious. I wasn't totally easy with scenes like this when I was young and adorable—insecurities always surfaced about not being attractive enough, or, if that wasn't a problem, about things getting out of control.

At 61, I don't worry much about my gorgeous, gifted, and kind thirty-something partner losing it over my incredibly hot body. But my mother's voice, telling me how awkward and unattractive I am, is never totally silent, and it started blaring full force whenever we approached this scene.

Fortunately, I no longer need to pretend to a confidence I don't feel, especially in this respectful, supportive group. So when our director commented that the necessary sexual chemistry was absent, I said, "It's me. I'm blocking because it feels embarrassing and creepy."

"Great," she responded. "Use it. Sally [my character] feels embarrassed and frightened and weird to be attracted to this young man, yet she's compelled. If your hands shake when you hold him, that's good. Use it all. Just don't hold anything back."

We went for it. Suddenly, it was all there—the heat, the fear, the embarrassment, the need to appear distant and in control one minute, angry the next, to cover up the building tension. When we finished there was applause. People commented that they had not been able to breathe until we broke character.

I don't know how all this will translate in the finished production. But as our director said at the end of that rehearsal, "This is why we do it—you don't get rich and famous from productions like this. But there are these moments of truth and beauty, of awe."


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