I love actors.
Intellectually, I respect, admire, and am endlesly grateful to editors and dramaturgs; producers, directors, and stage managers; providers of sets, costumes, sound, and lighting; composers, musicians, and, of course, playwrights. When it comes to gut-level, groupie-like adoration, though, I have to confess: I love actors.
For a long time, I thought I was writing small-cast, simple-set plays because theater groups tour to young audiences and crafting tourable scripts makes sense. But watching in-house productions of my plays, I realize I've been writing exactly what I most like to see: intimate theater, where nothing distracts me from the language and story, and as little as possible separates me from the actors.
Vivid memories spring to mind: I treasure the delicate nuances of emotion playing across Gena Bardwell's face in A Woman Called Truth at the Coterie in Kansas City. I delight in Richard Henson's endearingly blissful innocence in The Wise Men of Chelm at The Open Eye in Roxbury, New York. I marvel at the Seem-to-Be Players' ensemble, inventively shape-shifting into villagers, livestock, four winds, and a troll princess in Once, in the Time of Trolls in Lawrence, Kansas.
Double-casting has its economic avantages, but it can also make theatrical magic. Good actors can convince me of anything, and I am more than willing to let them do it. I'll swear that's not the same actor I saw just five minutes ago, when she was 40 years younger—or a rooster! I'll even forget that I've written the script myself, revised it umpteen times, and watched half-a-dozen productions. Good actors come bearing a play as their own personal gift, not altered beyond recognition, but invigorated, fresh, and new.
All too often, actors are written off as questionable talent flawed by oversized ego and volatile temperament—"We got the brains; they got the bone structure." But I want to go on record here as having countless times benefitted from prodigious acting talent enhanced by intelligence and generosity. Most recently, two small armies of actors rode to my aid in developing a stage adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma. Assembled by Mark Gidcon at the Vandivort Theatre Center in Springfield, Missouri, and Judy Matetzschk at the Zachary Scott Theatre in Austin, Texas, they took on untried drafts of the script, suggested and endured a multitude of changes, and breathed miraculous life into what had been words on a page. Enthusiastic, committed, courageous, thoughtful, prepared, and unpaid, they then thanked me for the privilege.
Good hearts. Magical people. Thank you.