I had a callback yesterday for My Illustrious Wasteland, a really fun scifi rock musical that is slated to make its premiere at the New York Musical Theatre Festival this Fall. And it felt really good.
I rocked Piece of My Heart and then read from the script, getting lotsa laughs. But the thing that was interesting was that the comic bit I had planned and worked on with my coach didn't quite work. When I pushed for the laugh, it didn't happen, but when I stayed true to the character and just let her flow through the words, the laughs came very easily, and it was such a great reminder: Let go of the schtick and go for the meat of what the character wants.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in great bits. There are things that almost always work.
Exhibit A: The pie in the face bit that Jon Stewart recently did on the Daily Show.
A pie in the face almost always works. Likewise, the pratfall. But it's gotta be well timed, usually in rehearsal, and often with the guidance of a good director.
When I played Kandy in Kaboom, I had to come onstage in drug-addled ecstasy, and it would never have worked if I didn't go full-throttle for it, so I threw my body and soul into it every time and always got a laugh.
In Johnny On A Spot, my character Barbara was a conniving Southern belle in the 1940's who could've gone head to head with Scarlet O'Hara. The temperment of the play and the character could've soured real fast, because she was a bit of a homewrecker, but I almost always brought the audience over to my side, not because I "played" them, but because I was truthful with the character's passionate pursuits, and everyone loved her despite (or because of) her outrageous behavior.
Good directors have helped me "time" the comic bits, and I've discovered that when I get to perform in a piece with longevity - heck, even if it's just 2 performances - I've found what works, by listening to the audience and staying true to the character and her pursuits.
When the audience clicks into the vibe of the piece and the character, you practically breathe together. It's a rhythm, an ebb and flow, a really delightful dance.
It makes me think of a recent trip to the beach with my sweetheart. We couldn't wait to go swimming, even though the waves were probably 9 feet tall and seriously gave us a run for our money. Yet no matter how many times the waves dashed us to the rocky shore, we both laughed and dove back into the water, body surfing through the wild waves for a really enjoyable ride.
And it was only when I let go and felt the natural rhythm of the ocean that I was really able to gauge how to move with it.
I feel that comedy is like that. Every piece is different. Every writer is different, and they will write each character with a unique perspective. For that matter, every actor is different. We all have a unique sense of humor and it is delightful however it comes out.
I'm really enjoying finding my groove in all this, knowing when to "drive" the tempo/pace/energy, and when to let go and just go with it. Love love love this process!