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The Sounds of Silence

April 9, 2013

In my first two roles of 2013, I have had a cumulative six lines, totaling 25 words. All of these came in the show I am doing now, a production of “Frost/Nixon” in which I am in the ensemble. In the earlier show, a Samuel Beckett piece, I stood on stage, motionless, with my back to the audience for 30 minutes.

These have been interesting experiences, and have been a bit of a respite for memorization as I prepare for larger roles in upcoming shows. I try to get something out of every role I attain, and these roles have been no different.

Standing silent, without even being able to see the audience or the other actors on stage, totally still, was not the most exciting work, but I found I enjoyed it. It became almost meditative, as I found a spot on the curtain I was facing to focus on, and as the actors — angels debating the fate of my character, frozen in time — repeated the same lines each show. It took on a level of ritual. It also helped me get some sense of my body and the patience I can find in it. I am a nervous and fidgety person, so this was helpful.

In “Frost/Nixon” my experience has been different. In that production, I am on stage for about half of the show, and interact to some extent with other actors in two separate roles. I am not a surrealistic statue but two characters, albeit ones who say little. This again has relieved me of some of the fear of forgetting lines, but has helped me to focus on how to act with my body and to express subtlety with it — a shrug or a nod, or even a frown or a tightening of the shoulders. I honestly do not know how much of this reads to the audience, but I have gotten something from it.

The show I am in, and the performance I am in, is always at that moment the most important work I have done, since it is the only work I am able to impact at that time. I cannot undo or improve past performances or improve ones yet to come — when I am on stage, even if standing still, I can do nothing more than make that moment the best I can. I am not a “control freak” but I can be a bit of an obsessive, and acting has helped me to really understand that all I can ever do is my own best work. I cannot alter how others are acting or performing or feeling — on stage or in the audience — save by the quality of my own performance.

Sometimes the role I am in at the moment has few — or no — words. But I still make all I can of it.

Peter Sig

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