Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Gatton Signals

Imagine being in a play, standing onstage, in front of a hundred…or a hundred thousand people, and not remembering what your next line is.

I wouldn’t think about that if I were you…you’d only get depressed.

Being on stage, pretending to be someone else, is such a high, why doesn’t everyone wanna do it? I have always suspected the fear of “going up” on your lines is a major deterrent to participation.

It’s an understandable fear.
But it so rarely happens.

It happened to me once, and that once was before I was ever cast in a show. In the eighth grade I was asked to introduce my friend who was running for Student Council President of Bryan Station Junior High for his campaign speech to the ninth graders. I moseyed to the podium and announced to my upper classmen; “I seem to have forgotten what I was going to say.”

I collapsed and died on the spot, blocking the podium, and requiring the County Coroner to be called to determine the cause. My candidate lost his election, turned to drugs and dog-fighting, read way too much Bukowski, and eventually voted for Nixon twice and would have voted for him again if given the chance…a wasted life.

Ah-h-h-h! None of that really happened except losing the election.

What also didn’t happen is; I never have gone up on my lines again…after well over a hundred shows (knock on wood).

In all those shows, I have only ever been on stage twice when another actor has blanked out. Both of those events were presaged by the eyes of the suffering actor immediately doubling their size and shedding the ability to blink. Think of deer in the headlights. It’s an obvious tell. It’s a look that screams; “I don’t know who I am, or why I’m here, or why I have this great seat to watch this show, but you Buster, are now on your own.”

It’s a tough moment for all concerned, but I find it kind of exhilarating. I mean, all bets are off at that moment. I can now take this evening any direction I please. It’s like being Billy Taylor on the piano and Chet Baker turning to you and saying; “Take it.”

Oh-h-h-h-h!
My goodness!
Here we go!

Whoa.
Calm down, Rog.

Thankfully there are alternatives to Roger rewriting the evening in bad iambic ramblings on the fly.

There are the Gatton Signals.

I give my friend Joe Gatton full credit for this onstage survival semaphore system because that’s where I learned it. Joe himself attributes (blames?) it on another actor. But I’ve never heard of nor met this legendary critter so the laurels fall to Joe.

The signals are precise.
– If an actor looks pensive and places his finger on the side of his nose, he’s saying; “I don’t know my next line.”
– If an actor looks down and, starting at his forehead, runs his fingers through his hair, it means; “I’ve forgotten what play we’re doing.”
– If an actor raises both arms above his head and pumps them repeatedly, he’s screaming; “I don’t know who I am, or why I’m here, or why I have this great seat to watch this show, but you Buster, are now on your own.”

The third signal is dire and usually followed by the actor in question abruptly exiting the stage, forfeiting his right to ever “lunch” again in this town, and leaving his colleague to sort things out or, in my case, to turn the drama into a personal and bizarre cabaret presentation.

What fun!

It plumb evades me why everyone doesn’t wanna do this.

Game-Stopper!

The word “improvisation” in the theater sends me cowering to the nearest corner.

I leap away from the word, hissing like ol’ Christopher Lee when facing a crucifix.

It’s irrational, I know.

It seems to me that improvisation in the theater usually means one of two things.

I love the first meaning. It is the air I breathe in rehearsal. When I am immersed in the script and the character and the moment; when I am listening and alert and listening and watching and listening; every gesture, every glance, every inflection has the immediate potential to send us spinning into places we’ve never been…maybe places where no one has been. Sometimes when we reach those places, we find the character we’re searching for. Sometimes we find bits of ourselves…which may be the same thing. It is thrilling and addictive.

The second meaning though…
…is theater games.

Theater games are disguised as “fun” and “team-building” and “warm-ups.”
They can involve balls and circles and imaginary boxes.
Notice please, they don’t as a rule involve characters or scripts. I sign on for characters and scripts…not imaginary boxes.

Theater games tend to be just that; games. They usually decay rapidly into competitions won by the clever and the funny. How that furthers our explorations of MacBeth plumb evades me. I’ve yet to hear MacBeth described as clever or funny.

(Insert various grumpy comments here. Any will do. “Get offa my lawn!” is trite but appropriate enough.)

I mostly despair of any good rehearsal time lost to theater games.

Mostly…
There are special moments, however…

Once upon an evening, I was involved in a particularly useless “warm-up” game before a rehearsal. The cast formed a circle with one member in the center. The person in the center had to chant; “I’m (state their name) and (state some fact about themselves).” At that point, every person in the circle for whom the fact stated was also true had to abandon their spot in the circle and assume another spot. The center person would try to poach an abandoned spot and whoever was left out would be relegated to the center and would repeat the process.

Whee!

Most of the chants proceeded along the lines of;

– “I’m Jane Doe and I went to the movies today.” (scurrying and giggles)
– “I’m John Doe and I drive a Chevy.” (scrambling and guffaws)
– “I’m Becky Doober and I like pizza.” (chasing and chortles)

All very helpful when ferreting out the subtext of a Sam Shepard script.
You can only imagine the utter hilarity that filled the room.
Ri-i-i-i-ght.

This jocular exercise continued until a middle-aged fellow (no. not me) found himself in the center and chanted;

“I’m Joe Doober and I’m a convicted felon.”

The silence of the group…
…was of the soul-searching, exit-locating variety.

The stillness of the group…
…was as profound as a sudden wish for invisibility.

The director broke the meditative moment by chirping;

“Well, that’s enough for tonight. Let’s get started. Set up for Act I.”

Resolution, 2019

Resolution, 2019

1. I will not be distracted.

I will sift through the daily barrage of “Hey! Look at this!” and try to keep my eye on what’s important.

I will decide what’s important; not President Trump, not CNN panelists, not Rachel Maddow, not the Fox channel.

I will sift through the daily barrage of “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

I will shine the brightest light I can on the smoke-and-mirrors-enshrouded “man behind the curtain.”

I will not be distracted.

I will decide what’s important.

What’s important?

– The man lies. What he says is brazenly not true; consistently and to a malevolent purpose.
– He mocks the afflicted. It’s recorded on video. There’s no spin here.
– He cheats…on his spouses, his charities, his contractors, his investors, and his country (bone spurs?).
– He attracted and hired and continues to listen to Stephen Miller.

These are the important things we know.

Russian collusion, being under an unnatural sway to Russia (and perhaps other countries), cheating on his taxes, and leading his campaign manager, personal attorney, and his children into criminal careers may also prove to be important.

Khashoggi, Puerto Rico, Pruitt, Zinke, DeVoss, Flynn, Carson, Mnuchin…

This are enough for me. I want someone else to be president.
I will not be distracted.
I will resist.

I think one resolution this year will have to be enough.