The Treats of Being a Repertory Actor
by Eric Lee
Eric is currently in his third year in the resident ensemble at the Commonweal. For this post, he offers his insight and perspectives on being a “repertory actor.” If you’re not aware of just what that means…read on.
I am now entering the final weeks of my rep schedule of performing in both Silent Sky and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Now what, you may ask, is the rep? Rep is short for repertory. Merriam-Webster gives two definitions that are useful here:
- a company that presents several different plays, operas, or pieces usually alternately in the course of a season at one theater
- the production and presentation of plays by a repertory company acting in repertory
The Commonweal Theatre Company is a repertory theatre company, and for a large portion of our season, an audience member can come and see the company perform two different productions in the same weekend. One of the possible treats this affords is the opportunity to perform two characters in two different plays at the same time, or “in repertory.”
Currently, Abbie Cathcart, Elizabeth Dunn and I are enjoying the opportunity of doing the rep between Silent Sky and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I imagine I was given the distinction of writing about my experience as I have the most extreme transformation between the characters in the two plays.
In Silent Sky, I portray Peter Shaw, a Junior Fellow in Astronomical Research in the Harvard Observatory, circa the early 20th Century. I get to wear a three-piece suit, and the costume certainly informs some of how my character inhabits his world. I’m also the only man in that cast, and so I take advantage of a fairly luxurious preparation for the show. On the other hand, in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, I play Mitch Mahoney, the reluctant Comfort Counselor, performing his community service. My appearance is, well, a bit less put together for Mitch. And that preparation affects me in an altogether different way.
The first question I generally get is a variation on, “Do you ever forget which play you’re in?” It’s actually pretty hard to get confused onstage, and definitely in this rep. The plays and characters are so very different, as are the circumstances the characters find themselves in. Plus, one is a musical, and the other is not, so that’s certainly helpful.
The memories that are built up in rehearsal are so deeply ingrained within the worlds of the different plays, and our physical observations, that it would be very difficult to suddenly find the other jumping into mind, or even worse, out of my mouth. The one time that it can be difficult is simply in getting to the dressing room, and remembering which play to get ready for. But one quick glance at the calendar and even that is remedied fairly easily.
One of the wonderful things the Commonweal affords us as actors is the opportunity to exercise our craft, and to stretch ourselves in new ways. And it is certainly tremendous fun to get to share the very different things we can do with the family that is our great and loyal theatre-goers. I am so grateful for all the support we receive for the work that we get to do here.