Relieved of Perfection

Part of the joy of being an artist in Cay’s studio is finding that you are “deliciously relieved of perfection.” These are not my words. I appropriated them from Sheilagh during the advanced class last Monday night. They are fitting though in that they sum up the experience of being in class week after week, putting up work for peers who feel more like family in front of a teacher who is also a friend.

It is true that occasionally Cay will instruct you that you should be “feeling her foot placed firmly on your rear” pushing your work a little deeper, stretching your limits a little further. Perfection though is never the goal. The goal is good work; on fortunate occasions the result is great work.

There is a phrase that Fred often uses during Drill class on Friday’s. It goes something like, “always strive to achieve greatness, and if you can even come close then that is a success.” Cay’s studio is a place in which actors get to pursue greatness while enjoying the freedom to try something new, to not be afraid of making mistakes.

Sheliagh’s insight came after the first rehearsal of her scene last Monday. The comment set the stage appropriately for several incidents of “imperfection” throughout the night, including a nosebleed and an overturned water bottle onto a table with two laptops.

The laptops survived, and the nosebleed put Jack and Kieran’s staging of one of the final scene between what might be the American dramatic tradition’s most famous brothers from “Long Day’s Journey into Night” on pause only momentarily.

Kieran and Jack in “Long Day’s Journey into Night”

In her scene from Donald Margulies’ play “Time Stands Still”, Sheilagh is called upon to portray Sarah, a world-renowned photographer recovering in her home from a recent brush with death in the form of a roadside bomb. It picks up in the middle of a conversation with her ex’s new significantly younger lover, Mandy, played by Caroline.

“How did you feel?” asked Cay when their first run was finished.

They are sitting together on the couch, Caroline wearing a flowing, flattering dress and her partner sporting a head wrap and an arm in a sling, both allusions to her injuries, looking every bit the world traveler.

“I felt okay…a little bit stilted” replied Caroline, which Sheilagh followed up confirming that she also felt stiff.

“My feeling is that each of you is working a bit alone tonight,” said Cay “so that the event of the scene becomes about your memories rather than about what’s happening between you.”

She continues onto a discussion about the nature of their relationship and the effect that Sheilagh’s injuries have on her ability to move around in the scene. Cay makes the point that Sheilagh seems to be imbuing the movement with more difficulty than she might actually need to, especially since the circumstances of the scene dictated that the injuries had been sustained several weeks before.

“I guess I thought the physical and emotional damage was less healed than it actually might be,” said Sheilagh.

“When you are working on a role with a lot of damage, often it starts large and then you cut it back, Cay pointed out. “Also, the natural process of rehearsal ages it in a way.”

Cay leaves it to the scene partner to decided whether or not they think they would benefit from putting the scene up again or to take it home and sit with the notes until next week, and Sheilagh says that they would like to give it another shot.

“Since we are deliciously relieved of perfection in this room.”

Sheilagh and Caroline in “Time Stands Still”

During the second run the scene partners apply their notes with success. Caroline puts her attention on Sheilagh, who dials back her emotional and physical wounds, allowing the scene to take place between rather than around them. In the final moment of the piece, the Sarah tells the story of her fixer, the person who she shared her life with in a warzone who vanished after the explosion.

“He was an engineering student—before it all went to hell. Taught himself American English by reading A Farewell to Arms over and over again. Carried it with him wherever he went. That and the Koran. He had a wife. Who was killed. And two little girls. Also killed. About a year into the war. A mortar attack on their apartment building whle he was at school. He was a lovely, lovely man. Funny. And he loved America. Loved it. Everything about it. Television.”

“What was his name?” Caroline asks.

“His name was Tariq.” Sheilagh replies.

“Okay, give me that last beat one more time, but this time Sheilagh, offer the name to her as if it is a gift” Cay instructs without pausing the scene.

They take the scene back a moment, and then at Caroline’s cue Sheilagh repeats the line.

“His name,” she says with a pause, taking Cay’s direction and imbuing the next part of the line with the emotional weight of a long lost friend “was Tariq.”