Friday, May 8, 2015

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Thirty actors showed up at the Coastal Repertory Theater early December, 2005  for a reading of the script for Inherit The Wind, scheduled to open February 3, 2006. We sat around a large room each reading our part led by our Director Roxane Ashe. I played Mr. Bannister, a juror.

The play opened on Broadway, New York in the mid-fifties. The movie premiered July 7, 1960 in London and in November in the USA and was based on the Scopes  "Monkey Trial" that took place in the 1920's. A Tennessee schoolteacher was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, a state law that prohibited public school teachers from teaching evolution instead of creationism.       

Drawing intense national attention in the media, a reporter, played by Gene Kelly reports two of the nations leading lawyers battle head to head. William Harrison Brady, stage name: (In life, William Jennings Bryan,  a three time nomnee for the Presidency, a staunch foe of Darwinism and a biblical scholar. Mr. Bryan was one of America's most renowned public speakers) was played by Frederick March in the film. For the defense, Henry Drummond, stage name: (in life, Clarence Darrow, a controversial, highly successful attorney and friend of Mr. Bryan) was played by Spencer Tracy in the film.
Famous 3 bats on shoulder pose

The play derived it's name from Proverbs 11:29 "he that troubleth his own house, shall inherit the wind."

I immersed myself in the character and intensely studied the twenty lines I was to say.  My fear was that I would forget my lines and make a fool of myself so I rehearsed repeatedly.  I recorded the lines on my tape recorder and played it over and over again, in my car and at night before going to sleep.                                              

Having been a professional photographer for close to thirty years, I was used to working alone.  The experience of working with a team, a group of talented, experienced actors including two accomplished youngsters was a new experience for me. I was becoming part of the theater family. 

Cobb won this luxurious car for
winning the batting title in 1911 with a 420 BAV.
Our first day off script the cast was expected to rehearse on stage sans script. This made me nervous. I knew my lines but did not know what to do or where to go on stage as we rehearsed a picnic scene. With twenty actors on the set, filling our plates with food (potato salad) and tasty grapes that rolled around on the paper plates we were given.

 Holding a plastic glass with lemonade and the plate with grapes made me nervous and fearful I would spill the grapes on the stage. I ate the potato salad fast, following the directors instructions to eat, eat, she said, you're at a picnic. I was fearful of having to say a line with potato salad in my mouth.

Inexperienced as I was, I was lost and in a hazy fog as I walked aimlessly around the stage. Fortunately, our director, Roxane Ashe, a beautiful blond woman with years of experience behind her as actor and director told me politely but firmly "not to wonder like a lost soul around the stage, stay with Don, go where he goes" and I did.

Roxane, the rest of the cast family including the two young boys all knew that I was inexperienced and in over my head. With their understanding as well as Roxanne's, all went well. I loved being a part of the theater family and fell in love with performing on stage.

I asked Paul Smith, the lead actor in the cast how he memorized hundreds of lines. 
"By driving my wife crazy" he said, "walking around the house repeating my lines. Repetition, repetition, repetition is the key", he said.

I asked the two young lads, one ten, the other twelve if this was their first show. The two young veterans of the stage laughed at me. One said it was his seventh and the other said it was his thirteenth performance, he thought. I asked them for their advice as they were so experienced. They both said, "have fun and study your lines, repetition, repetition, repetition", they advised.

The show opened on Friday evening February 3, 2006 to a sold out house.  We received a standing ovation from the appreciative audience. Stacy Trevenon, theater critic for the local newspaper wrote of the show, "The best elements of direction, done right, an outstanding cast and an eye for detail helped do justice to a timely story out of American social and legal history."

It seemed to me that all of this appeared to be part of a master plan preparing me, providing me with the experience i would require to play Mr. Ty Cobb in the coming nine years.

Cobb quotes:  Every great batter works on the theory that the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher." Source: The Tiger Wore Spikes (John McCallum, 1956)

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