Tonight's opening night for the Neil Simon play I'm acting in, Jake's Women. It's a hundred pages long and I'm on stage for every word that's spoken. [At one point my character goes offstage for thirty seconds but, since everyone left on stage are mere projections of Jake's imagination, nobody speaks until I return.] As you might have guessed from the title I'm playing Jake. He's a New York writer troubled by the ghosts of the past, his inability to trust and some intimacy issues. The rest of the cast are all women of various ages, from various stages of his life.
It's a monster role, a huge learn and quite a feat of memory. I've been in shows before that were longer, or where the language was much harder to get across. It's the sheer scale of Jake's Women that's daunting. That, and the fact I have long passages were I talk directly to the audience. Fortunately, I'm not the sort of person who suffers much from stage fright. But with such a challenging part, there's always a certain amount of performance anxiety to overcome.
When I doubt, I always remember a wonderful piece of advice from the film Bull Durham. Written and directed by Ron Shelton, the movie is ostensibly about life behind the scenes at the minor league baseball team in the Carolinas. In truth, it's really about adult relationships, growing up, learning accept yourself and rituals. It's also about sex. Yes, I thought that might get your attention. Even if you hate sports, I still recommend Bull Durham - especially on Saturday nights.
The female lead is Annie [played by Susan Sarandon], a woman who chooses the most promising player each season and takes them to her bed. She teaches them about life and making love. She imparts a lot of wisdom, particularly about matters of the heart and other body parts. Her advice about performing in bed is equally applicable to performing on stage in a play. "It's simple, honey - just concentrate and relax." Sounds counter-intuitive but, trust me, it works.
Just concentrate and relax.