Tis a Gentle Man Here
Hey Christina. Hey Kate. I’ve been conversing with the two of you in my head for a couple of weeks. Turns out I did a show. Turns out neither of you showed up to boss me around, so I had to wing it.
Opening weekend I repped my last three towns:
I wore them under my costume.
It was Twelfth Night outside with a 90s edge.
I did Sir Toby.
You’ve seen pictures I’m sure. And lord above but the cut is all with Twelfth Night isn’t it?
This cut is a lot like your short cut Kate, very lean and chooses to strip most of the venom from Toby. Which is the way I think I like him. It also cuts a lot of the foreign language gags which leaves a lot of space for it to stay ensemble comedy.
So, honestly? It was a raft of problems from jump.
Not capital P Problems just… more hills on the route than normal. To wit:
- It’s my first show here in town and I got a bad case of new school-itis.
- It’s been a while since I had to have a full show in my head and my brain is less elastic than it was of yore.
- When one doesn’t know the rest of the team there are no shortcuts.
- There is nothing biographical underpinning Toby to motivate anything.
- Toby is a very weird clown.
In re: 1
The joy of operating in the community space for more than a year or two in any town, even if you’re not working with the same brand name, is that there’s just about always a friend in the room. Starting over starting over means building new relationship in every direction in the room and no social rest between the work. Having even a designer or a stage manager or one ol’ mate in the room means someone to help contextualize you for everyone else. And to be blunt, I can use a little contextualization. You want the cool kids to like you and it takes a long time to even figure out who the cool kids ARE when you’re trying to land pickled herring jokes.
In re: 2
I covered the text issues already but I was about a week behind pace the entire time and it was stressing me out in a very real way. You can’t just promise folks that don’t know you that it’s going to be fine. One’s resume isn’t the person showing up utterly and completely unable to deliver “Back you shall not to the
house, unless you undertake that with me which with as much safety you might answer him” in a way that might some day resemble English. You have to ignore the panicked looks in scene partners faces and stick to 4-5 full line runs before and after until it sinks and pray the team is there when you’re ready.
In re: 3
Rep company shared vocabulary and habits are such a great cheat for skipping steps in the process – especially when the arc is as team heavy as the Team Maria scenes are in Twelfth Night. Instead it’s learning the rhythms and choices of a half dozen new people and trying to decide collectively on the fly how you’re going to approach the scenes. My text issues lead to a lot of it being pretty late in the process, but we were able to determine early on that regardless of what the choices ended up being no one on Team Maria was pulling punches in terms of commitment to bits. So when I caught up, that combined with a less wordy text and a fairly young team, we were able to make a lot of the action in our core scenes very physical in a way that an older cast weighed down with more word play would have had to avoid.
This also made for more of a party drunk Toby than sad alcoholic Toby.
+5 to us.
In re: 4
Things we know about Sir Toby Belch:
- Uncle of Olivia
- Likes Alcohol
- Ends up married to Maria
And that’s pretty much the lot. Grounding Toby in discovering the next gag, finding the next drink, or after Maria convinces him that he loves her, showing off how clever he is to Maria is thin but makes him surprisingly relatable. Relatable enough that I don’t know if it’s the best way to go because it really weakens the “is Toby too mean to Malvolio” argument if Toby is just a good guy who’s a little too loud and Malvolio tries to run him for it. Afterall Maria writes a letter that gets Malvolio tossed. She IS a beagle true bred. But Toby may need to be a little bitchier.
But not mean I think… Kate like you and I talked about with Jacques whatever else he may be they brought him along – they like him. For whatever ever else Toby may be, folks barely even complain about him. So he has to stay north of that likeability line.
In re: 5
In most of the cannon the clowns are power forwards. They are big and strong and they have muscular text and soliloquies and a second layer of depth and they score their own jokes and wreck shop and finish with a little pathos.
Toby is not that dude. Toby is a point guard.
Toby spends the entire show spreading the floor, distributing set ups to a team of clowns that land their own jokes and subplots and for his quality work supporting 4 other clowns he gets a ring from the most capable of the women in the show (sorry not sorry). It’s something that I’m well suited for as a performer but it is a very weird energy to tap into.
For Falstaff there is a very real relationship with the audience to feed off of and a secondary audience of Poins, Bardolph and Peto to gas him up. With Toby there is a constant energy outlay to fuel others but nothing structurally to bounce it back.
But until I come up with a better metaphor, I’m going to refer to him as a point clown.
If you’re going to struggle more than you have in a decade have a good team waiting for when you catch up.
Team Maria had my back the entire time and when I finally showed up it clicked really beautifully. I managed to shed fake age off the character and be only old and not comically old for no reason and our portion of the show got to be it’s own sort of joy rather than malice and mean-spirited japery. Young Falstaff in love as best I could manage the math. It wasn’t me at my best but it was a good enough start and I didn’t get fired.
They did NOT play Possum Kingdom during intermission. Nobody is perfect.