The Lie of ‘Never change who you are.’

The Lie of ‘Never change who you are.’

Protean Personality
Protean Personality (Photo: FeatheredTar)

One of the core, central beliefs by which I live is this: that all human beings are malleable. That I, and all of us, are capable of change, of growth, and of discovery, of making fundamental shifts in our worldview and in how we relate to others and ourselves. I’m a junkie for self-help books, websites, and audioguides ranging from C. S. Lewis’s Christian conundrums to Marc and Angel’s motivational posts to Morty Lefkoe’s limiting beliefs to Steve Pavlina‘s open discussions on everything from worklife to domination-submission. To anyone with an eye for how a person can improve.

In my own, personal story (elaborated on more substantially here), the single most important moment in my life was a time when I was in church, ten years old, with tear-filled eyes, my head down at my knees. At that time, I said to God, ‘I don’t like who I am. Help me become someone else, someone better.’ After that day, I looked to the people around me and observed what I admired about them, then sought to instill those values within myself. Courage. Humour. Honesty. Openness. Community-mindedness. Counsel. Extroverted exuberance.

When I tell this story to people – my origin story, essentially – the most common reaction I receive is this:

Well, you shouldn’t ever have to change who you are.’


(If you know me in person, you know it’s exceedingly unusual for me to use such strong language. If you don’t know me and don’t consider this word as ‘strong language’, please replace it with a suitably surprisingly bold word of your choosing.)

Don’t change? Bullshit. I say, change who you are. Constantly. Discover the very core qualities that make you, you, and on a deep, gut level, grok them, understand them, and then decide whether or not you want them as a foundation for who you are. Reevaluate. Over and over again. Everything from how often you smile and laugh, to how you spend your time waiting in grocery line-ups, to what you believe is fundamentally true about human beings, to how you interact with strangers, to what makes you afraid, to how honest you are, to whether or not you’re as good a friend, lover or acquaintance as you could be… constantly identify ways to grow, prune, build, and level. Then do it. Change.

Be the Change

It’s not surprising I entered the world of theatre. Here, I can wear the skins of people with different intentions, worldviews, tempos, and rhythms to my own. Sometimes while exploring a character I’ll find an aspect of them that satiates me on a deep, gut-level – a whole-body grokking – and decide to try to hold onto that aspect for myself. Iago (see here, here, here, and here) helped me explore the intensely gratifying thrill of untethered ambition. As Donald (The Boys In The Band), I discovered the honest love behind unconditional loyalty. As William (William vs The World), I spelunked into the dark world of how a person can use self-delusion to shield oneself from loneliness, and into the desperation that kicks in when those illusions disappear. Malvolio (see here, here, here, and here) taught me how to use heartbreak as a powerful driving force, and performing improv taught me to trust not only my own gut instincts, but also those of whomever with whom I am sharing a moment. Over and over again theatre has helped me continue to shape and mold the very nature of who I am, cutting into the marble, adding slops of wet clay, drilling and firing and smelting and blooming.

One of my other core beliefs is this: I respect anyone who is trying to better themselves, be they an addict, my mother or even a former serial killer. We can all be better than who we are; we are all works in progress, always. That doesn’t mean we are not good, honest, eager, excellent people in the here and now. What it means is that we’re human. Malleable. Full of hope and opportunity.

Whether you want to or not, we all change. It happens. No one remains the exact same person throughout the course of their life, or heck, throughout the course of a year, or a month. What we can do, however, by admitting our protean possibilities, is direct that change for the better, be that through eliminating beliefs that are hindering, through shifting your perspective of yourself and of the world, through adopting new practices and personality goals such as honesty and openness, or through pursuing an innumerable other opportunities to grow, weed, cut, feed, nurture, and breathe.

There are many reasons someone might tell you to never change who you are. Perhaps they’re worried you don’t feel self-worth in who you currently are. Perhaps they worry you’ll trip up somewhere along your personal journey and get lost. Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll become someone other than their expectations of you. Perhaps they worry you’ll leave them behind. Perhaps it’s just their way of saying ‘I love you for who you are now.’ But I would add to each of these that anyone who tells you to never change who you are, refuses to see how amazing-brilliant-marvelous your future self will be.

Keep consciously changing,
Andrew Wade

Addicts and Isolations


Warning: This post gets a little personal. Just so you know. But I think it’s valuable to work things out in a public setting, and perhaps you’ll find something you relate to.


My whole life I have been afraid of my body taking control of me. It’s time I focus on being whole, instead.

The body is a scary place, not the least bit because it’s where we feel our fear, in the rising of our hair as goosebumps send our follicles reaching to the heavens as though at gunpoint, or that sudden, sickening, nauseous, heavy thud at the back of the stomach, or up and down shivering legs and quaking knees. No, it’s scary because there’s such a lack of self-control and awareness.

Right now, blood is coursing all throughout my body, and I can’t even feel it. If an air bubble were to build in one of those channels, I could be dead in a minute’s time. Or that loving embrace shared with a sweetheart that I know is causing chemical reactions in my brain that are in some ways equivalent to a heroin addiction, so that without my control or, possibly, desire, I might be chemically pulled toward that person for who knows how long. Perhaps forever. The fat cells that actually secrete somethings that cause a person to be even hungrier. The thousand dangerous points where a misplaced punch could end my life.

There is the flipside of this, of course. The lack of a need to actively coordinate and control my breathing and pulse, for example, is much appreciated. Just taking care of that would take up rather a lot of my time. And though we are fragile, we are also incredibly resilient.

English: Human body external features
Human body external features (Wikipedia)

Still, for most of my life I have detached myself from my body, from that moment in grade four when we went over anatomy for the first time. A graphic chart of tendons and muscles and ligaments and organs, of danger and secret rivers. A queasy attempt to feel them inside me. Shudders.

The day I stopped running with abandon and scraping my knees. Never felt all that safe running on wet concrete ever since.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where I was allowed sips of wine or beer at special family gatherings like Christmas and Thanksgiving, which demystified alcohol for me, and allowed me to know that I wasn’t the type to become an alcoholic. I trusted myself on that front. But I did not trust my own willpower (or my body) enough to try marijuana until I was 24. And even that was with one of those, oh, not bongs, but whatever they’re called. And I’ve only tried that perhaps three times, in very safe situations. Because I didn’t want the chance of something triggering, and then being controlled by my body. And while this next fact is to many of you probably TMI (too much information), in order to explore the topic fully I should admit that the first time I masturbated wasn’t until I was 17. Because I didn’t want to become some horndog boy controlled by his body. I wanted to be me.

Honestly, there is a lot to be said for detachment, to feel like one’s head is a conquering crab atop an inert granite slab of a body. Puzzle solving and analytical solutions. An ability to calmly enter situations, debates, and problems that cause others to yell, scream, run and hide. I’ll pick up the spiders. I’ll put on that harness and scale the wall. No superstititions. Stability. Intelligence.

So yes, a lot to be said for detachment. But not a lot to be felt. For some people, this isn’t such a problem. But me, I’m an actor. I’m someone who wants to be in loving, romantic relationships. I’m someone who, now, at least, wants to be fully human. Not some clever floating head, but a grounded, emotional, grokking individual.

Malvolio and the Countess
Malvolio and the Countess (Wikipedia)

This is part of the reason why I was drawn to acting in the first place. Here, on the stage, in the script, are all these characters who deeply feel and yearn and reach. This is why Shakespeare is so fantastic, because his characters speak and feel honestly and openly. The jealous ambition in Iago, the crushing betrayal in Malvolio, the naive love of Lysander. I’ve always wanted to play the role of the lover onstage, because, well, it’s lovely to love someone. But to a typically detached person, it is also so very satisfying to rage injustice, to hate someone, to scorn someone, to grieve for someone. In the twinned poles of acting, where one side is sheer and incredible imitation without sensation, and the other an out of control trainwreck of overwhelming, cascading emotions, I have spent most of my life in the former’s camp, while envying those rolling about the floor in tears.

Not envying too much, mind. That would require too much connection to my body. I’ve described myself before as sometimes feeling like a stuck pickle jar that just won’t open. Which can sound tragic, but when you are that stuck pickle jar, it is an annoying but not at all overwhelming sensation. It’s more of a feeling that something is missing, like you’ve left the house and you’re on the bus, but you know you’ve forgotten something at home.

Figure 15 from Charles Darwin's The Expression...
Figure 15 from Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. (Wikipedia)

Then, a year or three back, I made a conscious and vocal decision to find a way to more deeply access my emotions. Partly, I worried if that depth was really there. I did research on sociopaths and autistic tendencies. Someone loved me more than I loved them, and I didn’t know if I was even capable of equally caring about them as they did, me. I was concerned. But not distraught. That would require too much connection to my body.

I recall breaking up with someone and being overwhelmed with sadness in that moment, one of only three times in my life that I can recall being so taken with grief, and even as I was breaking two hearts, a fair chunk of my brain was cheering because that moment showed that there was indeed potential for me to be an emotional individual. To be swept away by the tide of a moment.

I’ve recently spent five weeks at Canada’s National Voice Intensive, run in part by the brilliant David Smukler. When we begin the program, we put into words what we believe our ‘dragon’ to be. I said I was afraid that there was a ceiling to my growth as a person, some barrier I would never be able to cross, blocking the world of pow’rful love.

One activity had me shouting out a line to ever increasing distances. After getting the placement in my mouth just right, and feeling the breath, I found I could technically boom it out there, but… but I knew there was so much more within me, like I was only using two of the eight cylinders to my engine. So much more potential for my voice. When Smukler told me that the other cylinders would come with (and forgive me if I’ve misunderstood) real emotional intent, my first instinct was utter surprise. Apparently my first reaction to great emotion is to cringe inwards, to hide it, rather than to communicate it out to the heavens.

In university, I tried to access emotions like a man at the gym tried to access muscles – with isolations. Need to be panicky? Alright, I’ll focus my breath at the base of my spine. Need to be all lovey-dovey? I’ll try to place my breath and concentration at my heart. Intellectual? The back of my neck. All very specific, and for the rest of the time, my breath would sit up at the top of my lungs, assured that there was always an ocean of breath below, which was never actually being accessed.

Possibly the biggest technical thing I learned at the intensive was that breathing out fully is the only way to fully allow the new breath to enter. I can be confident that even at the vacuum point, there will still be air enough in there.

But even though that’s a technical statement, it’s the first step in feeling as a full-bodied person. I am not a head attached to a body. I AM a body, with a head brain, a gut brain, a heart, and yes, even a libido.

To grok something (a verb out of Heinlein), means to me, to understand something with one’s whole body. To feel it as well as grasp it intellectually, so that the feeling and the knowing come together to be this one felt, active knowledge, this… grokking. I want to grok life. To grok love. To grok my characters and their situations. To grok myself and my situations. And that won’t happen unless I allow myself to be a physical, intellectual, emotional, whole-bodied person who breathes from the lake within me and allows every new breath to be a wonderful, gutfelt discovery.

Hopefully some of these sentiments resonate with you on your own journey. Thank you for reading.

Andrew Wade

Twelfth Night Post-mortem – Gratitude vs. Ego


Photo by David Lowes
Photo by David Lowes

It has been two weeks since our theatre went dark on Twelfth Night. Two weeks since the last audience cheered and clapped and sang All You Need Is Love alongside us. Two weeks since that eye-sparking performance-high that comes with a job well done and well received.

The post-show crash is well known among theatre folk – that time of feeling down after closing night. For weeks, we were filled with the energy of hundreds (thousands, even) of people filling us with their eager desire to be entertained, to be empathic, to feel, to understand, to believe.

Photo by David Lowes

My own post-show crash resulted in a fairly significant case of sniffles, but I chalk that up more to a closing night party with much alcohol, followed by a somewhat cold 5am walk home. 🙂

I find it hard to leave an amazing show, and a great role, behind. I did with The Wiz, I did with Iago, and I do now. I still want to stand up and be Malvolio, night in, night out, for months longer, but I don’t have that opportunity. Today, I need to inhabit other characters. With two weeks left in the school year, I have characters in a directing scene, in a vocal masque, in my own written plays, in movement pieces (group and solo), in a karaoke musical project, in a dance piece alongside a chorus, orchestra, and singers… all these individuals need to breathe and flow through me now, so here I am, writing a post to say goodbye to my dear friend, Twelfth Night. There will never be another production like it; such is the ephemeral state of theatre.

Photo by David Lowes

I honestly haven’t known quite how to deal with the success of the show. I try to focus on gratitude in my life, on being grateful for what is offered to me, and with this role, wow! Such extremes, such choices, such comedy, and to be given the final scene of the play, to be made a focus in the final moments… I am so blessed. Really, I am.

I’ve had a woman walking her dog stop me in the street to tell me how much she liked my performance. I’ve had strangers at parties, after I introduce myself, sheepishly say “I know; I saw you in Twelfth Night, you were great”. Heck, I’ve had CBC Radio say I was ‘A Malvolio for the ages’. I must say, all these compliments, they’re flowing right over the top of my gratitude reservoir… I don’t know how to hold them properly.

Photo by David Lowes

As an actor, I am self-employed and always looking for new employment, always needing to prove my abilities to others. Which is an interesting challenge. So with the reaction from his show, I’ve also been dealing with the careful balance between letting people know about these accolades and not bragging too much. I admit, I have occasionally gone too far.

Contrary perhaps to popular opinion, actors don’t tend to have great senses of self-respect or healthy egos. I am also a writer. We certainly don’t. It’s easy to get down on oneself in theatre, because every performance, once done, cannot happen again, and there is always that doubt of whether or not the next performance will work. With writing, it’s much the same way – who knows whether I’ll be able to write another half-decent thing again? So when compliments come along, it’s important, in my mind, to hold on to them. To really listen to them. So I write down a few of the best compliments I’ve received. I keep them to look at in my darker moments. And I keep a wall of thank-you cards and warm fuzzies.

There’s a balance between celebrating compliments – being grateful – and being egotistical. And the necessary act of promoting oneself honestly, as an actor or as a writer, may sit somewhere in the middle. I find this a hard balance to keep. That said, I don’t put much stock in a fear of my becoming that egotistical actor with a superiority-complex, because already I can feel the doubts settling in, especially as I graduate, on whether or not I’ll ever get to play such an amazing, sparkling, fantastic role again, with such a delightful, supportive cast.

Photo by David Lowes

Fortunately, I’m also a playwright, so I have a bit of power in what roles are possible for me. But this show will never happen again. Not with these people, not with this amazing cast and crew, this fantastic direction, this artistic style, this music.

Twelfth Night, I’ll miss you. And while I don’t need to forget you, I can’t dwell on you, either.
New adventures need my full attention.

Photo by David Lowes

Prior Twelfth Night posts:

Twelfth Night – Losing the Stage Business
Twelfth Night – Finding the Fun

Twelfth Night – The Art of Comedy

Twelfth Night – Review Recap

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Where my characters live.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, 2004

As I walked to the bus stop today, a certain song came on my mp3 player  – Florence Vallieres’s “Bouge Pas”, and for whatever reason, I found my mind and body roiling with Iago’s seething anger at being betrayed, my breathing convulsing in waves, determination striking my eyes.

This then switched to Peter’s (from Romeo and Juliet) scared meekness, to Trigorin’s stance, to Lysander’s bravadoed strut, to The Wiz’s moral certainty, to Bottom’s wide apace, to Le Beau’s giddy toes, to the isolation of a creepy kid I played in grade nine, to Marvin Heemeyer’s smug sense of superiority… and it occurred to me…

Though I may not remember the words I spoke in each role, the individuals themselves whom I have portrayed, whom I have birthed in conjunction with the text, still breathe within me, still expand the borders of my personality. And for that, I am thankful. Grateful. And for that… I am filled with a desire to play every kind of strange and extreme individual, from the lovestruck to the broken, so that I can build a a more complete and wide-ranging me.

Pretending to be other people in order to expand myself.

Andrew Wade

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Why I act – reflecting on A Streetcar Named Desire

Portrait of Marlon Brando, "Streetcar Nam...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ll warn you now – this post involves some navel gazing.

I just came back from seeing Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre‘s strong production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and while I’m up in six and a half hours and really aught to get some sleep, I left the theatre with the play’s two (developed) male characters – Stanley Kowalski and Mitch – pacing about in my head, and with an uneasy feeling rippling through my bones. Stanley and Mitch are two very different people, the passionate, primal animal, and the meek momma’s boy. My reaction to Mitch wasn’t surprising – I found myself relating to him, to the quiet soul who gets his hopes torn by Blanche’s desperate lies. How I connected to Stanley, though, now that made me scratch my head a little – I envied the man.

If you know me in life, you know it’s no stretch to say that I am typically a more reserved sort of man. I can be prone to outbursts of theatricality, but catch me on any given moment, and I’m probably content in a silence with a ponderous look on my face. I am a man who does not swear, who volunteers at church, who hasn’t broken any hearts or had his own crushed much in return. I feel awkward even typing ‘I am a man’; there is a lot of Mitch in me. As for Stanley…

Well, I can only think of one moment in my life when I have been a Stanley Kowalski, and that was the most terrifying half-second I have ever experienced. Ask me in person and I’ll tell you.

Some days, some moments, I do get that urge to throw a dish across a room, to shout the truth to a liar’s face, to grab a woman by the shoulders and just kiss her, dagnammit (without asking five times for permission first). But I can’t do it. I’m trying to think of reasons why I can’t, like that I don’t want to be that kind of man or some other noble reason like that, but honestly? Allowing myself moments like that would scare me beyond what I know. It takes a great, deliberate relaxing of my safeguards just to let myself punch a pillow (on the couple of nights a year when I choose to do so). Don’t get me wrong – I’m no powderkeg fervently shouting ‘Serenity Now’ to myself just to stay sane – I just choose not to get angry when difficult situations arise.

But when I’m onstage, I can explore these other sides of the human condition. My performer’s thrill doesn’t come from a nerve-racked adrenaline of stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of strange eyes; nowadays, if I’m nervous before a show, it’s because I don’t feel confident with my lines or I’m about to use a prop or setpiece I’ve never rehearsed with before. No, my thrill, my energy, my high, comes from seizing onto a chance to take on those characteristics I don’t let bleed into my own personality, be they the absurd flamboyances of an over-the-top gay Le Beau, the malice of an Iago, or the passionate cry of a Stanley Kowalski.

This is not the only reason why I act, but it’s the one that came to the forefront tonight.

Right, now I’m up in less than six hours, and I have 28 kids to make astronomy crafts with in the morning. Thanks for reading.

Andrew Wade

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Othello Day 4: Post-Closing Second Thoughts

Andrew Wade as Iago
Andrew Wade as Iago. Red eye-liner and whiteface.

All projects have at least three steps – pre-production, creation, and evaluation. Gather resources, use them, think about the effectiveness of what you’ve just made.

The third stage is where all the damned insecurities can creep in.

Tuesday night was the final night of our scant four evening run. Four nights, ~300 audience members, ~1,800.00$ raised for the Victoria Shakespeare Society. The biggest role of my life thus far. Over in four nights. I could have played him for months.

And what a marvelous experiment it was, to prove to myself that I COULD play such a significant role, Iago, the character with the third most lines in all of Shakespeare (still a lot, even in our ~2.25 hour long production). The character Samuel Coleridge describes as having “motiveless malignity” (which is not a very easily playable consideration for an actor). Such a hugely physical, and even, yes, sexual role, to stir up Roderigo‘s lust for Desdemona and Othello‘s epilepsy over Cassio‘s supposed actions. And by and large, according to the audience reactions and my own overall impression, I pulled it off.

My wonderful stage manager, April Fortin, on several occasions remarked that while all our patrons enjoyed the show, most of the comments she received consisted of complimenting how unsettling, two-faced, and, yes, evil, my performance was as Iago. Several people commented on how great they found it that I could twist into such hatred, then resettle myself and turn around as honest, honest, Iago, friend to all. One patron said I was better than the Iago that played at Bard on the Beach.

I’m listing all these compliments to build up my ego for what I am exploring next: the second thoughts.

But Andrew, all those comments on your portrayal being evil – Surely that meant you were missing the humanity of his character? After all, don’t all villains believe what they’re doing to be right?

Well, yes, and no. Iago specifically acknowledges that what he is doing is Villainy (“Hell and night shall bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light!”), is devilwork (“When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, as I do now”), is evil. But I do think he believes what he is doing is right, just that he absolutely acknowledges that what he is doing is both right and so very, very immoral. My Iago really did feel everything he is putting Othello through, really does feel he lost his wife to this savage thing the moment she and Othello copulated together. So I don’t feel I played the mustache-twirling melodrama side too much, though there is certainly a glee he feels when his cunning plans come into effect. Plus, with make-up like what you see next to this post (yes, that’s me), there’s no getting around it in the design of the show.

But, Andrew, what about that line you misinterpreted, where Iago’s mention of “my lady” refers to Desdemona, not Emelia, his wife? Doesn’t that ruin your whole motivation, remove the proof that Othello had slept with her? How dare you continue performing with a mistaken line reading!

Faith, that was not so well, but I maintain that Iago still felt everything he puts Othello through, even on the mere suspicion, even if it is never proved. And yes, I could have changed how I was performing that scene, but I actually like the miscommunication, with he and Othello referring to two different people. I’m not sure what a difference changing that meaning would make for the audience.

Weren’t you playing against a white Othello? Does that make your play racist?

(Note: I never said second thoughts always made sense. They just linger.) Quite right, our Othello was white, which is why our design pushed everyone else into white-face and black clothes while he wore furs with tribal make-up. Does this ruin the integrity of our production? No, certainly not. The important aspect of Othello’s character is not that he’s black; it’s that he’s an outsider who gains power, a military man with a savage bent within him. Sure, we had to edit a few lines, and a few others make a little less sense, but I don’t feel bad that we went ahead with the show even after no black people auditioned (Victoria, BC, Canada has a very, erm… white theatre community). It’s a powerful show that deserves to be performed, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

But, Andrew, couldn’t you have found better blocking? I’m sure you weren’t getting lit right for some of those scenes, especially when you chose to roam about the stage.

For a show being put on in a non-theatre designed space, without a tech rehearsal, where the lights were still being put up with half an hour to go before the first performance, I think we did pretty darn well, thank you very much. I actually got quite a kick out of the improvisational element of moving to find the light on my face for certain moments, and I appreciated being kept more in the dark for some of my roaming asides.

Aren’t you worried about Iago creeping into your real personality? You were rooming with him for a couple of months, after all…

Well, I did type ‘damned’ near the beginning of this post, but no, I’m really not worried. I feel quite centred in myself. In fact, if anything, I’d say being Iago helped me better connect my body to my emotions in general, day-to-day life, and I certainly discovered the benefit of proper vocal warm-ups before doing anything exerting on that front.

But… but… but… you’re not talented, you… stupid… person!

Okay, insecurities, I can see you’re running out of steam, so I’ll let you go now.

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Othello Day 3: Kissing Ryan Levis

French Kiss
Image via Wikipedia

The intensity of performance mounts.

Our third performance of Othello felt like a blessed release of pure energy. I reordered the clauses on a few sentences, true, but hit all my objectives, and therefore all my lines, surprised audience members, possibly surprised my fellow actors, and found a few lines completely anew, as if I hadn’t really been speaking the words before. I connected. We all did, and I fully expect to come out of tonight’s final performance with a few bruises…

My co-actors and I have really been feeding off the energy of the audience and each other to the point where the chokeholds are becoming less hold and more choke, the nails digging into the neck, the stage kicks making strong contact, the yelps becoming half-acted, half-real. And you know what? I don’t mind at all.

Yes, there is a safety limit, beyond which we should take a breather and reconnect to the non-contact stage-combat techniques, but I don’t feel we’ve hit that limit yet. A small bruise on my arm that produces a gasp from the audience suits me just fine, considering our limited run. If we were performing eight times a week for a month, perhaps I would change my tune, but we have just one show left, and I want us to give it all we’ve got.

This brings me to the kiss. You see, there is a point in Othello where Iago recounts to Othello’s jealous mind a (fictional) story of Cassio and he sharing a bed. (Digression: I am choosing to go the soldiers-sharing-a-bunk read of the scene, rather than the Iago-and-Cassio-are- bisexual choice some actors make. My prime motivation for Iago’s hatred of Othello is the fact that Othello once wooed and slept with Iago’s wife, Emelia. I feel this motive would be weakened if Iago also slept around. Without that angle, for Iago to destroy Othello’s psyche with jealousy is poetic justice… or at least a powerful, powerful push toward malice.) In Iago’s story to Othello, Cassio, in his sleep, exclaims his love of Desdemona and seems to believe himself to be in a bed with her, as he grips Iago’s hand, kisses him hard, places his thigh over Iago’s thigh, and cries out “Cursed be the day that brought you to the Moor!”

In rehearsals, I had shied away somewhat from what this scene needed – I had first just said the lines to his face, then moved on to kissing his hand, then, in the final week of rehearsals, kissed his cheek hard… I knew what my instincts were saying, I knew what the scene needed, but would not allow myself to take that extra step and make the scene really come alive… until the final rehearsal, until performances. From that last rehearsal onward, I have planted that kiss firmly on his lips to the great shock of all, and boy does Othello react in horror to that, and boy does Iago, when he is done his line, wipe off his lips in disgust, and boy does the audience gasp and laugh in equal parts at that one powerful moment.

I gave into the intensity of Iago’s intentions, to what he knows must be done, and created a hugely memorable moment for our audience, and heightened the power of the moment tenfold.

When I graduated high school, I worried I acted too large, too big, too strong; how naive I was. When I trust my instincts and go the distance, great things develop.

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Othello, Day 2: Acting when Blanking

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othe...
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I am an analytical man; I like to examine a problem from all its angles and determine a solution. In theatre, this leads to much quick pacing and minor hair-pulling the moment I get off a stage where things have gone wrong.

Our second performance was a strange night for theatre; it was the day of Canada’s gold medal hockey win and the olympic closing ceremonies, so we were peached by the attendance of our smaller crowd of ~40 people who emerged to see the show.

As an acting group, our energy seemed quite low – the dreaded second performance of any show always seems to bring with it a lessened enthusiasm for some reason, with less punch behind the lines and less spring in our steps.

This was also the performance where I completely blanked on two of my lines – two hefty paragraphs, rather, in two separate scenes, one before and one after the intermission. I can’t remember ever losing lines to such an extent in a performance.

Had it been one line, I may have dismissed it and simply resolved to go over the line in more detail the next day. After all, we managed to hide my first slip well enough, with myself improvising minor Shakespearean quips while waiting for my scene partner to figure out his next line and work it in. We went off the track a little while, but hopped back on, and  the audience seemed none the wiser.

Had it been two paragraphs in the same scene, I might have worried somewhat about my connection to that one moment, and delved further. But these were two different scenes, two different emotions, same sorry scene partner (my bad, Ryan). And the second blank wasn’t so aptly handled.

No, that time was a calamity, a definite blank, where I kept in character but had absolutely nothing to say, and for what felt like five minutes, but was probably fifteen seconds, I stared at Othello, helpless. And Ryan Levis’s eyes throbbed with “say your f***ing line. SAY YOUR F***ING LINE.” I don’t swear, but his eyes were darned profane.

My only salvage was to lean over to him as if whispering in his ear… so that he could feed me the beginning of my line by whispering in mine.

And so, backstage, with cast members telling me not to worry about it, I set about the mental ordeal of determining why this was happening. After all, I’m trained! I’m a professional, dagnammit! I had warmed up my body, warmed up my voice, read over my lines, rehearsed the fight scenes, gotten into character, into Iago‘s body, what else could it-  Ah. Right.

For such a complicated endeavor, so often acting comes back to basics. Why was I blanking on my lines? To paraphrase a sentence, sure, that may perhaps just be a memorization issue. But blanking, that situation where all words are stopped from your breath like a cork in the esophagus, where the scene disappears and sweat creases along your brow and the whole darn room is as silent as a dead toad and the other characters become other actors, staring at you with strained hope… that’s not memorization at all. That’s losing your objective.

In the scenes where I had blanked, I hadn’t focused on my objectives, on what I wanted in the scene, so when the lines stopped coming, there wasn’t that drive of why I am saying what I am saying that brings the next line on.

Amazingly, my non-theatre savvy friends in the audience didn’t realize anything had gone wrong, though a professional actor friend of mine, had. So for most people in the crowd, they had witnessed a dramatic pause, nothing more, and apparently had nothing but praise for my performance. Whew.

When I auditioned for this show, I decided to take it as a great learning challenge – the largest role with the most lines I have ever undertaken. Believe you me, I’m learning.

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Othello, Day 1: Creating an Active Audience

From the Library of Congress: *TITLE: Thos. W....
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Our opening night had a tremendous turn-out, over seventy people there to see the show and raising ~450$ in donations for the Victoria Shakespeare Society.

Energy ramped up considerably, to the point where the fights were verging on real, with myself finding it difficult to breathe in a couple of strangleholds, and I was also stabbed in the leg with a sword (left but a slight mark).

What this building energy resulted in for my acting was, surprisingly, that while I hit all my lines, specific words disappeared from my lips; I must have used at least 20 synonyms throughout the night, with lines switching from, for example, “What, shake you at that?” to “What, tremble you at that?”. But every scene was hit, and hit well.

It was also the first night we had ever used the lighting; we hadn’t been able to put them up for our rehearsals! But I naturally move to where the light strikes my face, so all was well there.

What really struck me (other than the sword) about the evening was my audience interactions. I must confess, I get such glee from acting as Iago and surprising audience members by, say, throwing them a cloak to hold, sitting down beside them and watching a scene, hiding amongst them, roaming behind their backs. It fills me with a radiant energy that carries me for hours.

This isn’t all self-indulgent, of course; I find it helps a play immensely by creating the nervousness of an actively-listening audience, keeps them on their toes, knowing that more is possible here in this space than, say, sitting in a movie theatre. That at any time I might, heaven forbid, interact with them. GASP!

It also sets up the stage as being Iago’s territory. This is far more his play than anyone else’s, and he speaks directly to the audience a great deal, keeping them as confidants to his plans and ploys, as friends for his wicked jokes. It is only natural to extend that branch further.

So if you plan on attending on Monday or Tuesday, be wary – I will not be acting at you; we share this play together.

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My most difficult role ever?

Cruise jumps on the couch during the taping of...
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Iago is stretching me to the brink. All the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years – concentrating on the breath and my objective, how to use an unusual theatre space and project my voice in a room that cuts against your volume… but the primary hurdle I’m facing is lines.

Iago speaks A LOT. As in, seemingly a third of the play is Iago, talking. For our cut of the script, anyway. And we’re supposed to be off-book by now, but I am far from it.

In my struggles, I am trying old and new methods. The old method of making sure I know what it is I’m saying, and why I’m saying it, still works. But I’ve also assembled cue cards per scene-ish part to help me through this (and potentially be cheat sheets before I go onstage, if need be), and I tried what is apparently the Tom Cruise method of recording one’s own voice reading the lines, and listening to that while reading the lines. This was potentially dangerous territory for me, the guy who needs to stop looking for ‘the right way the line sounds’, but I was willing to try anything to get these lines in my head.

Then I met with a former professor of mine, Ned Vukovic, who mentioned that he used to record all his cue lines. So I recorded myself saying everyone ELSE’S lines, turning the microphone off while I read my lines. I have been listening to the readings on my mp3 player and working to fill in the spaces with what I need to say. Thus far, it seems to be successful!

We’ve also just started this week to have a stage manager to get quite upset with the many times I call ‘line’, until I need to just go grab my script. I committed one of those actor errors, last Saturday, where my scene partner and I realized we didn’t have any of our lines down for some reason, and were left parroting half-sentences given to us by the stage manager for what felt like an hour but was probably ten minutes. I knew what was best for the rehearsal was for me to go and get my script, and my scene partner to do the same, but the whole experience was a slow torture, and I felt like that was exactly what I deserved.

Note to self/everyone: There’s never any need to torture yourself like that. We’re all working together to create something powerful, and negative masochistic feelings only get in the way of that. Accept what is what, and move on!

I’ve never had to learn this much before, and opening night is on the 27th. I am determined to be ready. I know Iago’s soul, I know his relationships, I know his motivations, I know his gut, and I know his libido. Just need to get the words.

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Playing it angry.

Illustration of Othello and Iago
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Two weeks ago in my Peer Helping microskills group, I was asked to create a character to roleplay for this week – an angry individual coming into the Peer Helping office (where we do counselling work). Other helpers had been wondering what to do in such a situation, and asked for some experience.

Being the theatre student, I agreed.

Now, I’ve been trying to limit my mindwork this past week to necessary schoolwork and Iago, because those are the top priorities, but this angry individual kept coming back to me. I made him someone whose relationship was growing more distant, his girlfriend spending less time with him, and while she wasn’t cheating on him, he had just found out she had lied about where she had been, the past weekend, and he didn’t know why she felt she had to do that. And he was afraid that if he brings up the issue, that would become the break-up talk. But if he doesn’t bring up the issue, then he can’t trust her, and without trust, what does a relationship have, really?

So, stuck between two awful streets, he’s left to ponder the inevitability of his losing the woman he loves. Why wouldn’t he be angry? And while he’s not violent, there are hints that he could impulsively lash out, like cornered creatures do when there’s no good option left.

So I performed it, improvised his love for his Marie, his anger (complete with F-bombs), his tense physicalization, his defensiveness, his pain. And it got me to thinking about my own relationship with anger.

I used to be an angry person. AKA – grade 5 and earlier, I was downright miserable, much of the time. But I had a transformational moment, dramatically and intentfully changed who I was over the course of a couple of years, and the anger faded. Sure, I’d still get frustrated from time to time, but no volcanic activity. Well, not much.

I can think of two definitive times in my life when anger took control of me. One, was a punch to the shoulder. Another time, in grade 12, I grabbed someone by the throat and shoved them down into their seat. Yeah. Me. I know. Only two times in the past 20 years, but they are enough to make me, well, fear anger, and try to avoid it as best I can. So this exploration was interesting, to say the least.

(for the record, immediately after the throat-grabbing incident – which really was like some outside force had taken control of my body for that split second – my knees nearly gave out and I apologized profusely, terrified at myself.)

But I can play that angry individual, if I choose to. Because I know that side exists within me, even if I don’t ever let it come out. Because, as a good little Christian, I believe that there exists in everyone the possibility of committing the very best good deeds, and the very worst evils. I look to imitate the best of us, and I sympathize with the murderers, because, with a few different, terrible choices…

Villainous thoughts, Roderigo. Pish.

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I am… IAGO!

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I have been cast in a student production of Othello! As IAGO! Absolutely thrilling and terrifying and everything inbetween! To get to play one of the great villains of Shakespeare… a challenge to say the least.

So – how to approach the largest role of my life? Well, one step at a time. We perform on the last two days of February and the first two days of March (in the Student Union Building here at UVic), so I’m giving myself until about February 10th to try and learn my lines, so I have time to focus on just the character. This means I need to be learning, at the current script cut, around 28 lines (in the script copy we have) a day. Hefty. Wish me luck!

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