Opening night jitters, acting preparations, and what it’s really like to make it to the Great White Way were the focus of a panel of actors at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus on June 17.
“Making My Broadway Debut,” brought together Broadway actors Carrie Coon, Shalita Grant, Richard Kind, Dee Nelson, Jonny Orsini, and Keala Settle, for a free-wheeling discussion about both the business and the craft of acting.
Kind, who won a 2013 Drama Desk award for his role in the play The Big Knife and who had reoccurring roles on the television shows Spin City and Mad About You, said that he always feels a tension between performing in plays, which he loves, and performing for television, which is less fulfilling but more lucrative.
“It is my happy place to be, it’s just that in New York you can’t always do the kind of theater that you want to do if you have three children and have to pay [New York] rent,” he said.
Asked whether they’d ever had to change their acting styles in order to make the transition to Broadway, Settle recalled how she worked with director Neil Pepe, moving from playing eight different bit characters in Pricilla Queen of the Desert into a lead role in Hands on a Hardbody.
“I was resorting to all these comedic shtick bits that I’d made a living off of up until that point, and I remember Neil reeling me in verbally, and saying ‘You don’t need any of this,’” she said. “It was a two-year process of learning simply how to be. And it still blows my mind every day. Doing that, for me, was the hardest thing in the world.”
Kind compared live performing to shampoo, because “one need only put a little in their hair” to get a lot of lather.
“It’s so concentrated, [presenting]the life of someone in two and a half hours. The life is right there, and you have to be there every second,” he said. “In two and a half hours, you go through a relationship, while, in a movie, it might take you six weeks to get through that relationship.”
Befitting a craft whose existence is predicated on being performed live, panelists focused on the myriad ways that audiences sabotage performances. Kind described how he once tracked down and berated a theatergoer whose phone had gone off four times during the performance. Settle said she’d once yelled at someone who was filming a show with an iPad. All the panelists greed that February and March were tough times of the year to perform because so many people in the audience have coughs.
Grant said she nearly forgot her lines when she was interrupted during a recent performance of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Her line was “Beward of Hootie Pie,” and someone in the audience yelled “Hootie Pie!”
“I’m like, ‘I can see you, AND I can hear you’” she said. “You aren’t really part of what I’ve got to do . . . why do did you just do that? And do you know, my next line? I don’t even know anymore!”
According to Coon, breaking character to chastise an audience member is not as easy as it might seem.
“We’re concentrating hard, and what we’re trying to do is create something magical and transport you,” she said. “When that gets interrupted, we have to start over. That’s what’s so frustrating.
“To berate somebody from the stage doesn’t necessarily pull you back to the experience, so it’s a really fine balance on how to handle that.”
Still, Kind said being an actor is worth all the trouble. Although adults may have laughed as much as 100 times a day as a children, he said that we only laugh two or three times a day as grownups. Acting connects us to that past.
“There may not be laughter, but there is [always]an element of playing a game,” he said.
“Who wouldn’t want to do this?”