My best friend Brooke is doing a production of Stage Door. Earth-shattering news, I know, but stick with me. B is 36 years old, has an MFA in acting performance, teaches theater at one of the universities here, and is a staggering talent. She’s designed for classical work, but has the skill to do contemporary – so long as the role is sufficiently epic. There’s no hiding B in an ensemble and she’s usually pretty ho-hum about doing ensemble work. But there she is, in Stage Door.
B had a plan for her theater goals in her 30s. She wanted to tackle some major classic roles. She wanted to expand her repertoire in contemporary work and in intimate plays. She wanted to overcome her fear of performing in musicals. She wanted to self-produce at least once and she wanted to direct at least once (outside of acting, she’s a costume designer and so doesn’t often get a chance to direct).
As a result, she’s played Portia in Merchant of Venice, she played Hamlet (with the added challenge that this Hamlet was a woman character, “Hamlette” so to speak), but her Holy Grail of Kate in Taming still eludes her. She portrayed Vanda in a production of Venus in Fur, which opened doors to the region viewing her as something more than just a Shakespearean, and she was cast in multiple roles in a huge production of Into the Woods where she stole the show as Milky White.
Her character acting chops were getting a good workout. In a lot of ways, she was ticking off the list of goals she had set, but still working or waiting for a few more. The theater-makers in the area got a broader notion of what she’s capable of beyond creating lovely costumes. She’s got a reputation as a very accomplished actor adept at creating original performances and she now gets far more consideration for far more things.
But Stage Door. . . a chestnut from the 1930s that, even with the help of Kaufman’s wit, is a rather slim piece. It has something like 22 women and 11 men in it, few of whom are particularly well-drawn. B is cast as the one who is always sitting behind the piano and occasionally has a quip. That’s it.
But if you asked her where this fits in with her plan? Well, she’d be honest and say, “It doesn’t. This is something I’m doing because I feel the need to DO something. It’s the thing that was there in the hole in the calendar I had open and I’m waiting for the next big thing to materialize. That’s it.”
Stage Door for B is outside of the plan, sort of “extra-plan”, if you will. I mean, she’ll get something out of it. A small, supplemental paycheck. The chance to meet a few new young actors and work with a director she’s never worked with before. She’ll be working with a theater company that has a solid track record, produces a lot and regularly, and has a good reputation. But mostly, she feels the need to be involved with the work of performing, even if the work isn’t as interesting or stimulating as she may like. Even if it doesn’t serve her larger plan. If she’s feeling up for some work and work is offered, she’ll do it. Because that’s the compulsion for a lot of performers.
I wonder if small films being slipped into an opening in his calendar serves a similar function for Richard Armitage.
After The Hobbit wrapped, he spoke of wanting to do smaller films (with no prosthetics!) and the indies he picked up served that function. Even if they never see the light of day, the fact that he’s working on them is often noted by producers and casting agents.
The goals he claims he achieved with his move to NYC seemed to be part of a general transition plan: substantial roles in American television, perhaps. Cast in a play with a significant NYC theater, another. More experience with comedy in general. . . maybe. More time in live theater, probably. Do more audiobook narrating with more notoriety. I’m just guessing, but those seem like line items that have been checked off the list recently. There are still a few goals eluding him, I’m sure.
But the Brain on Fires thrown in there? They seem so, well, random. Possibly because they are exactly that. Random. Something that comes down the pike at precisely the time he has an opening in his schedule. Not part of the plan. Extra-plan. And if he has a compulsion to work more than to sit and wait for whatever, he’ll snap up the work.
I also wonder if he’s in another transitional phase. He’s a few years out of The Hobbit, he’s re-oriented himself in American TV and independent film, established himself as a talented stage actor, and . . . now what? Maybe he’s at the place where he needs to sit down with his agents and create the next five year plan, taking into account projects he may want to produce himself with the up-in-the-air status of Berlin Station (is he in season 2? And if he is, will there be a season 3?).
And here’s the thing for me: I know that in the entertainment business an actor can create a five-year plan, but so much of that is out of his control. There really isn’t as much choice for working actors as people seem to think. He likely doesn’t have 20 offers to peruse. His agent might be able to focus on a medium, or perhaps focus on opportunities with interesting producers or companies with a solid track record. But Richard’s choices may not be as specific as even he’d like.
If he wants a certain amount of security and financial flexibility (to be able to do a play again, for instance!), he’ll take a goodly portion of the work he can take and expect to do larger “in-plan” projects down the line. Maybe even produce his own project eventually.
But in the meantime, it may be the disease of the month or 18-year-olds and their robot dogs. It’s Stage Door, trapped behind a piano and delivering the occasional quip and waiting for the next project to come along.
* * * * *
The words from “Wait for It” (my favorite song in Hamilton) just came into my head:
(Listen on Spotify)
“I am the one thing in life I can control/
I am inimitable, I am an original/
I’m not standing still or running late/
I’m not falling behind/
I am lying in wait.
Wait for it.”