Photo by: Jack Yates/Pictured: Josh Walden and Cary Vaughn
The Boy from Oz at Theatre Memphis until March 29, 2015. Call 901-682-8323 for tickets.
Unless you are a mime, playing a drunk, or Marlee Matlin, it is imperative that a stage actor’s dialog be understood. Proper pronunciation requires years of practice with enunciation and articulation, and on stage, an actor has only one shot before a live audience to get it right. Unfortunately, even us delusional, locally semi-accomplished stage actors can occasionally screw this up.
My line was simple: “It’s not the flu!”
It’s spoken near the beginning of a moving scene of a show in which I am currently performing, and my responsibility was to carry my audience into an emotional journey through convincing execution. What happened, instead, can only be explained as a mini-stroke. This mini-stroke made it appear as if my character was deliberately mocking Asians.
The moment I loudly snapped, “It’s not the fru,” I recognized my terrible mistake.
A good actor would let it go and continue with his or her dialog as if nothing unusual happened. The audience would have most likely ignored it, briefly wondering to themselves, “Did he just say ‘fru'” (if anybody would have asked me about it later, I would have denied it). But am I a good actor? Probably not because in a quarter of a second, I realized 3 things: an understudy was playing Little Peter that day, Little Peter’s dad was in the audience, and Little Peter’s dad was (and still is) Asian. The guilt I felt for unintentionally mocking this nice, talented kid’s dad took over, making me correct myself and thereby highlighting my error with bright lights, flashing arrows, and blaring horns. “It’s not the fru – flu!”
I flawlessly executed those words dozens of times in rehearsals, and the ONE time I screw it up is when one of the only Asians I know in the tri-state area is in attendance.
Maybe I should either retire or see a doctor. This isn’t the only mini-stroke I’ve experienced for this show. During tech week, my inspirational lyrics, “What are the odds against tomorrow being his day” became a confounding space-time riddle as I belted, “What are the odds against tomorrow being today” (what does that even mean?!). And the weekend we opened, I mumbled through my line, “You have to rebunem-remember the look in mine” like I just had major dental work.
I have only nine more performances in The Boy from Oz, so I’m hoping these mini-strokes are out of my system. I’m also hoping I don’t arrive to the theater Thursday evening to find the local Asian community picketing the show.