This is more for me than anything else. But here are a variety of quotes that struck me in a John Lahr's profile of Janet McTeer in The New Yorker.
She wants to be known for the parts she plays, not for who she is. As she told the Daily Telegraph in 1996, “When I take off my stage makeup and walk out of the door, my obligation to the audience is over.” To me, she said, “There’s a reason I live in the Maine woods, where nobody knows what I do for a living. I think you can be better if someone who’s coming to see you perform has no idea who you really are.”
“I was incredibly self-conscious about the way I looked.” The year she was fourteen, she grew seven inches and had to bandage her legs to ease the growing pains. “I was half an inch taller than the boy I liked. I remember I was doing my piano practice, and I started sobbing. My father couldn’t cope with it. He gave me a tot of whiskey and ginger until my mother came home.” But the moment was a kind of emotional watershed. “After that,” McTeer said, “I stood up tall, and I never slouched. It was a sort of act of defiance, really. And, when I went to college, I realized that my height was an incredible tool. I could really use my body in a way that I felt was theatrical: you can stoop, you can be big, you can be galumphing, you can be nineteen-thirties and elegant. You’re much more malleable.”
McTeer sees acting as a form of jazz—a performance in which each player makes new music from a familiar tune. “I want to see live theatre,” she told me. “I want to not quite know where it’s going—so, when you see performers, you feel like they’re inventing it as they go along, rather than doing something that’s polished.” Once, she sat in the audience at what she describes as a “controlled, grownup, well-presented play.” Afterward, a man in front of her turned to his companion and said, “Wasn’t that marvellous! Gin and tonic?” she recalled. “I thought, I never want to be in that play, to do something easy that doesn’t challenge you. The idea of being in something competent—well, watch television.”
Coleman [McTeer's husband, on the night he first saw her] wrote in his journal, “She slips through air like a harbor seal in an icy green sea.”
In “The Dressing Room,” a poem about this first encounter with the inner workings of McTeer’s craft, Coleman bears witness to her shape-shifting from ordinary citizen to extraordinary performer:
She throws her head
back and guzzles a Diet Coke, turns up the
volume on her stereo and curses, howls
sways her weight from one foot to the other
the room getting smaller and smaller
and the air suffocating
“Janet feels a connection between fearlessness and great work,” Rourke said. “In the rehearsal room, in performance, she drives herself to the edge of what frightens her, and jumps off.” Working at that level of intensity requires reserves of energy, especially in a play like “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” which places enormous demands on the actors’ verbal dexterity and mental focus; sometimes McTeer pushes herself too far. “I hate being tired for shows,” she told me. “I’m not one of life’s great sleepers. I work quite hard at sleeping.” She believes, she added, that “you have to be fitter than the play you’re doing.”
McTeer follows a vigilant regimen. For a very physical show, like “The Taming of the Shrew,” she spends the afternoon before an evening performance at home. At three o’clock, she has a salad and perhaps does some reading. At four o’clock, using “my Paul McKenna hypnosis tape,” she said, she naps for half an hour, then for another half hour lifts weights and takes a hard spin on an exercise bike. After a shower, “I’d hum, get my voice started warming up, and I’d bike to work,” she said. While playing Petruchio, she never looked in the mirror, but for Merteuil, she said, she’d “maybe put on a face mask, check my nails, because I want her to have nice nails, nice moisturizer.” She explained, “You’re as vain as your character.” She also always listens to music before a show: baroque for Merteuil; for Petruchio, “anything loud.”
McTeer’s characters may change and her routine may vary, but one part of her ritual stays the same. Before every performance, especially when she’s tired, on matinée days, “just for a second,” she peeks out at the audience, “to see people’s eyes.” She tells herself, “That person wants to be moved, that person wants to be excited, that person is here to see a bit of magic. All right, I can do this.”
The posters should start showing up around town.
The show is blocked (with the exception of a page and a half at the top of act II--don't ask).
We have a couple weeks to polish before tech begins.
The Keller house is coming along (it makes the rake look steeper than it actually is--not that you can tell from the photo).
The rake is built.
I think it looks so cool, and it's not even finished.
We were able to rehearse on the stage yesterday.
I think we're about 2/3 done with blocking.
Bit by bit, putting it together.
I'm going to be part of the 2017 Actors' Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center next year!
It's a bundle of exciting plays and an excellent troupe. See for yourself come January 2017.
Here's my track:
I aim to share some of the process on the work in the coming weeks/months.
Three of these plays will not have a director (Merchant, Scandal, and Coriolanus). The troupe will put it together as an ensemble. Shakespeare's day didn't really have the role of director that we do today. That's a relatively recent addition to the theatre world.
We'll also "go rogue" when it comes to costuming those plays.
Our rehearsal schedule is a bit on the "very little time" side. And we're performing these plays in repertory.
I did the Renaissance Season in 2014, and it was mighty fun and mighty challenging.
Amidst my other duties of directing All My Sons, grading projects, and working on some auditions, I'm in this lovely creative incubation stage where the plays and roles are swirling around in my head. I'll probably get a jump on memorizing (particularly Menenius) soon.
More information about this exciting season can be found on the American Shakespeare Center website.
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