Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, June 16, 2005


In college I played Tolen in The Knack by Ann Jellicoe. The stage directions for his first entrance have the sound of a motorcycle roaring up outside and then Tolen swaggering through the door. This wasn't good enough for the director who wanted an entrance on an actual motorcycle. I'd never been on one.

So he found a guy who was willing to lend a Honda Superhawk to the production and give me lessons. I thought I took to it pretty well, but at dress rehearsal I plowed through four rows of folding chairs before coming to rest against the permanent seats. It would have been bad had there been an audience and I was willing to rethink the whole thing, but the director wasn't. He was in love with the idea. So on we went.

There were only five or six performances and I managed to get through them without killing anyone. It was excellent preparation, actually, because before the show I was thinking about nothing but not pancaking Sister Marita who always sat just beyond where I was to (theoretically) bring the beast to a halt. Once I did that successfully, I was a guy without worries. Which, basically, was Tolen.

I was thinking about that because it occurred to me that the theatrical notion of 'preparation' really isn't used in other walks of life. The idea is that you have to change from one person to another, from one set of circumstances to an entirely different world. You walk into the theatre as Jiggs McFeeney, but you walk onto the stage as Stanley Kowalski. To do this with some consistency there are any number of techniques which, if applied with with common sense, give you some assurance that the guy you walk onto the stage will be the one you spent a month coming up with.

It's never occurred to me to use any of this after I left the theatah. If anything, I do the opposite; I de-prepare. Walking into the office every day I tend to empty my mind and wait for the first anvil to drop. And if it doesn't drop directly on my head, it lands in my general vicinity.

You might say business is more like improvisation than staged plays, but improvisation takes at least as much training and preparation. I'm not sure how I would apply my training to my current position. Standing in the elevator muttering "I hate my mother, I hate my mother, I hate my mother" probably wouldn't help me avoid the anvils. Especially, I hasten to add, because it's not true.

So my question is; no matter what you do for a living, are there steps that you take, organized, disciplined techniques, to prepare yourself to do it? Or am I dreaming of having a form of control over my work life that is not there to be had?
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