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Making an entrance. Or, If you're only in one scene, you'd better do something memorable.

posted by Daniel Kreuger on Mon, Apr 13, 2009
in Backstage buzz , Our shows

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I must be out of my mind.

The stage directions for the beginning of my character's scene are as follows: "James, a bare-chested, bloody and bruised man, hangs upside down from the ceiling..." And let me tell you, in the Roda Theatre, that is one TALL ceiling.

But I did know what I was getting into. Sort of. I'd read the play a few years ago, and was lucky to see it performed on Broadway, upside-down hanging and all. It's a great scene, and I felt like I was up for the challenge. After all, if you're only going to be in one scene, you might as well do something to make the audience remember you. But I have to confess, in my entire career as an actor, I have never performed a scene upside down. Even offstage I've rarely spent more than a minute or two with my feet where my head should be. But when you're offered a role in a show as cool as this, little details such as the fact that you'll be hanging upside down for roughly twelve minutes sort of fade into the background. I figured I was ready. How hard could it really be?
 
Two weeks before our first rehearsal, I received a phone call from the production manager. "So, I just want to make sure you've prepared for the hanging as much as you can before we start. Have you ever spent much time upside down, like in gravity boots or on an inversion table?"  
 
"Um, gravity what?" I said. "Not really, but I'm pretty active and stuff. I think it'll be okay."
 
Turns out, there's quite a lot to think about if you're acting upside down for several minutes. From that first conversation I gathered that, among other considerations, I would have to start being very careful about what I eat, and when, on days that I'll be hanging. More recently, without going into too much detail, I learned that spicy foods and coffee, although delicious, are not my friends right now. Plenty of water and plenty of sleep, however, are.

Another thing I was told to prepare for was the fact that, when upside down, your mouth moves differently. Gravity is pulling your muscles in the opposite direction from what they're used to. And in this play, if you didn't guess from the title, we're Irish. Being a California native, my Irish accent is the product of practice and several sessions with our dialect coach. It's one thing to sit around a table and learn the sounds, the placement, and the inflection of a dialect, but when you're flipped completely over, your voice comes out drastically different. It was time to start practicing.  But how?

Thirty seconds at a time.  

In one corner of the rehearsal hall, a rig was built. And by a rig, I mean a rope hung from the high ceiling, some pulleys and carabiners, something called a swivel, and two ankle harnesses, the kind that are used for bungee jumping. We decided that the best thing would be to ease into the hanging slowly, starting at about four minutes, and then adding thirty seconds or so each day. So every day in rehearsal we would run the entire scene on the ground (with me seated on a comfy ottoman), and then "string me up" for four minutes of the scene, then four and a half the next day, then five the next day, and so on. Some days it was not as important to run the scene, so I would come in to rehearsal, put on the harnesses, hang, and we would literally just chat for eight or nine minutes, just to get me upside down for thirty seconds longer. It was actually quite pleasant.  But what about days off?  And how to train for two-show days?

 
Enter the inversion table. This is a device that people use in their homes to hang upside down and stretch out their backs. I suggest looking it up online. It's pretty crazy and seriously fun, and I know for a fact that some Berkeley Rep staff tried it out before they delivered it to my house. I also have to remain ever-vigilant to keep my curious roommates off of it. Basically, you strap in your feet, lay your back flat on the table with your head against the headrest, and let your body weight and gravity flip you slowly over backwards. Using this, I can practice at home, with the added bonus of being able to do ab exercises on it! (However, I must be doing them wrong, because I see no noticeable improvement). 
 
With all of this practice, I was beginning to feel very comfortable upside down, like Peter Pan in some sort of seriously messed up version of that story. We were making it through the entire scene inverted, and even adding some extra hanging time, to reach our goal of twelve minutes. Being upside down was practically second nature, and the height was certainly never an issue.
Then we moved into the theater, and everything changed. 
 
[To be continued...]

Comments:

I'm stoked that you answered this question, Daniel! From watching bits of rehearsal, I've been wondering about this. . .

Pauline Luppert | Mon, Apr 13, 2009


This is hilarious Daniel, awesome blog!

Elissa Dunn | Mon, Apr 13, 2009


Having just seen the show, I am eager to have the next chapter of this blog. Most of the conversation I had after the show was about how amazing Daniel was in being able to not only hang upside down for so long; but then pretty much have get up right away and walk off.

Janice Simonds | Sun, Apr 26, 2009


Part two of Daniel's blog can be read here:

http://blog.berkeleyrep.org/2009/05/making-an-entrance-part-2.html

Enjoy!

Megan Wygant | Wed, May 20, 2009


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