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  • Thomas Ward

Montgomery


Cloverdale Playhouse, Montgomery AL

I’m writing this from a hotel room in Montgomery, Alabama. Sherry is dozing beside me, resting for her show tonight. She performed it last night and then today we met our former teacher and current friend Susan Willis at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where we each got our MFAs. It’s the first time we’ve been back in Montgomery together in a long time. It is certainly the first time we’ve been back in Montgomery since the wheelchair. We went into the building and I started seeing ghosts of memories. I practiced this monologue here. We worked on that scene there. I did a rapier/dagger fight along this corridor. The three of us joined hands and took off down memory lane. Susan’s first thought was of working with my friend Davy and I as we were understudying pretty much every role in The Tempest. And we were. So we had to rehearse, and Susan helped us figure out how, starting over, changing roles, etc. She remembered when I had to go on as an understudy on the first preview of a Noel Coward play, before we’d had a rehearsal. I often tell anyone who’s interested that the most valuable actor training I’ve had might be understudying for those two years. It was good because it forced you to memorize like a fiend. It was good because you had to do things that were outside of your comfort zone. It was good because you had to set your ego completely aside to be able to fill another actor’s choices with life and spontaneity and nuance. It was good because it taught you to listen because your life depended on it.


I like talking about acting. I like teaching acting. I hope I get to do it again under the right circumstances. I’m available for coaching, btw.


Yesterday I was Sherry’s roadie and it felt good to be supporting her. I hadn’t gotten to be a part of any of her out of town shows because of work. I got to watch her rehearsal and give some thoughts here and there. I don’t watch it with an audience. I did once and that was enough. But watching it yesterday reminded me of something I particularly love about her show. She might tell me to take this down because it’s a spoiler, but she has to portray pain in the play in a particular place at a particular time. I’ve always thought about it or questioned it somehow and I can’t put my finger on why it sticks with me. I think it’s partly because she’s already in very real pain to some degree, all the time. She wonders if it’s dishonest or something, and that’s not what it is. It’s an acting thing. I think the moment sticks with me because even in the midst of very real pain, she’s able to act something that is alarmingly real, though not “really” happening. I think all actors pride themselves on playing external things naturally and believably. Uta Hagen created exercises about it. Pretend the cup is hot, pretend you get a paper cut, etc. In college I pretended to take care of an ingrown toenail. I’m edgy like that. I think if you’re a good actor you should be able to fool anyone into thinking you’re in a specific type of pain. The actor in me responds to what Sherry’s doing as much as the husband. Yes, it’s a true story. Yes, she’s in real pain and a real wheelchair. But she’s also fucking ACTING, man. And I use that word as the highest compliment I can pay. She’s on stage acting. Because that’s what she wants to do. And she’s good at it.