To Steal or Not to Steal
Having just written about coming back to my hometown and seeing both the past and present everywhere I look, I thought it might be fitting to turn attention to the fact that this is my second time performing in The 39 Steps. You see, right before I packed my bags to come to Herndon, I had just wrapped up a very successful production of The 39 Steps at the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. So, I am getting a double dose of déjà vu.
Like my return to Herndon, much in this production is wonderfully different but there are comical ghosts from my previous experience haunting the NextStop stage.
The first big change is my role. I am playing one of the Clowns in this production, playing up to 25 different characters. Last time around, I got to take a shot at Richard Hannay, which allowed me to play just one character. Both theatre spaces are wonderful spaces, but they are completely different—NextStop being more broad, and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company having more depth. Believe it or not, the kind of stage you are performing on dictates a lot of how you stage it. And these two major differences, along with a beautiful range of other variances, keep me feeling fresh in this production. There are new characters to work on, new staging to learn, and wonderful new actors to work with.
But remember the old adage. And having experienced the wonderful clown work performed by Billy Chace and Justin McCombs in the Cincinnati Shakespeare production, I am proving to be a master thief.
Don’t get me wrong- my belief is that if you are going to steal a “bit” or actor choice from another performance, you have to then own that “bit” or choice as if you came up with it. It has to make sense to you. It has to be in your bones. Otherwise, you are just copying. And trust me, when it comes to comedy, you can’t just carbon copy “bits”. The audiences can smell that out. Copying is easy. Stealing is work.
So when it came to crafting my Clown characters, I had to be careful. Chase has facial expressions and looks that are solely his masterwork. McCombs has such a precise timing to comic delivery that I could probably work out into a mathematical equation, but could never attempt to make my own. But there are some moments and choices that have haunted me since our first read at NextStop. And I have found that if the ghost wants to stick around it’s better to invite it in for a cup of coffee than to try and exorcize it. So, in those cases, I am not ashamed to say I stole outright from them. Not every moment, as I said. But there were some real gems that I would have been remiss to not carry over into this new production for a whole new set of audience members to enjoy.
And if I do my job right, you will never be able to tell.