9 IN THE MORNING
Who wouldn’t want to explore the inner landscape of a character’s world, and then perform it 44 times in one weekend?
"As “Woman,” Alex Webster is appropriately bewildered, although she never goes so far as to be melodramatic or over-the-top in her portrayal. There is a balance between what we hear in our heads as her inner thoughts and what we hear with our ears as she speaks aloud that is intriguing and disorienting."
-Shane Strawbridge, Lubbock Arts
A character is exactly equal to the sum of its parts, unless this character exists in a Jacob Henry play, in which case they are a human being with a set of vocal folds creating sound and intermingling with multiple lines of prerecorded thought played back into their own ear. They are infinitely greater and more alive than the sum of their measurable parts, and Jacob’s thesis play, 9 in the Morning challenged the entire team to investigate into what makes us more alive, greater than the sum of our parts, and how can it function in theatre.
Jacob created a project which would bring audiences close to the actor: inside their head. Now, this is not in the Disney style of Inside Out, a precious cartoon, but who hasn’t wanted to know, “What were they thinking?” before a character made big life decisions?
Through Jacob’s script, we were able to divide the thoughts into chains of patterns and break down the script into beats, or sections of action. Once we understood the flow of the script, then there were even more questions to ask. Many contemporary modern acting training methods ask us as actors to “hack” the characters’ logical thought process. Elinor Fuchs’ Visit to a Small Planet even discusses that, “In most dramatic worlds there are hidden, or at least unseen, spaces...What are their characteristics of space, time, tone, and mood?”
Defining the characteristics of space, time, tone, and mood of the human brain was our challenge. Our adventure was only 11 pages long, so we took to the task in an efficient hustle. With director Christina Proper, Jacob as the playwright, and me as the sole actor, we asked tedious questions about Woman’s world:
Who is she?
What is her occupation?
Who is David?
Are they actually together?
Why doesn’t she remember parts of her life which seem so important to her formation?
What is happening mentally physically, spiritually, and emotionally during these ten minutes?
Why can she remember some things, like David getting coffee on Saturday mornings?
What actually happened in the accident? Is the accident like what she remembered, or is she recalling another moment in life?
How long after an accident can your body feel like it’s hungover?
Through using other questions in Fuchs’ essay, along with techniques from the Gister Method and Declan Donnellan’s The Actor and the Target, we made hypotheses about this character’s internal world. Once we made a few suggestions, it was time to try them out.
Beginning the trial and error process of rehearsal, it felt not unlike a science experiment. The information I had was the actual script, what my character believed to be true, a recreation of the accident for physical reference, and a vague idea about how my own personal thoughts work.
To record the series of thoughts, often overlapping, we recorded multiple tracks. We created a linear timeline within the script, and then we were able to record in pieces from there. I had two tracks of recording that spanned the entire show, and then I went back and recorded memories, overlaps, and flashbacks to moments with David. All of this gave me an idea of the Woman’s internal life in a way I’ve never experienced a character.
Following our recording sessions, I received working tracks from Jacob. He gave me rough drafts of the recordings where he experimented with mixing them in different ways. I could essentially treat these sounds like a click track playing in my ear. While I didn’t say much on stage, my job was to create imagery for myself, and therefore the audience. Having my thoughts played back in my head during rehearsals, I was able to go back to Fuch’s questions about time: How fast are things happening? What is their quality, mood, etc? The repetition of rehearsal was just as necessary as the repetition of performance. The way that the imaging process happened felt more timed, not unlike a score. The entire piece became a song that my brain lived in and my body walked through.
Coming into the performances, I knew exactly the job that I thought I’d do: perform the same piece over 40 times and give each audience the best performance I could. My real job was knowing my body well enough to be able to function at its peak and do its job well. I needed to know when I needed food, water, a restroom break, a breath of fresh air, etc. The coordination of these elements made the approximately 7-minute break very precious, but never too short.
The repetition of performance gave me the opportunity to finesse the imagery that occurred in my head each show. I was able to go into great detail about what I saw, when I saw it, and how it affected me. Keeping my body, mind, and soul available through warm up and progressive relaxation was the best way for me to stay “alive” and receptive to the stimulus I received through the earpiece and through my image work.
While I was going through the performances, I created a table to track what was happening and make notes about significant moments for me. I rated my physical, mental, and emotional health, and then had a column for notes about that information or interesting thoughts. This table will eventually be used in my research and is below for your perusal.
This table tracks my mental, physical, and emotional health on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being optimal/great, and 1 being unsafe/very poor. This table is featured in Jacob Henry's Thesis Research notes.