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When I announced that I would appear as an actor in the premiere of George F. Walker’s The Burden of Self Awareness some people reacted with surprise. I suspect that the most commonly asked question in media interviews this year has been, “Why did you cast yourself in this show?”
I have been an Artistic Director for 12 years, but I’ve been an actor since childhood, beginning with the pivotal role of Santa Claus in the Kindergarten Christmas pageant at Brighton Street Public School in Guelph, circa 1968. Since then I’ve spent nearly half of my twenty-eight years of professional theatre career as an actor. But it has been three years since I actually stepped into a role and it is enormous fun to return to the stage. As a young actor I was undeniably attracted to the freedom of expression and the attention of friends and family. However, as the filter of age and experience settles in place, the real attraction now is the discipline of the form.
There is a great comfort that comes with repetition in an artistic practice. The story strengthens with each pass and the actor’s appreciation for the subtext deepens. In this case familiarity breeds not contempt, but admiration for the complexity of the writing. And when we moved into the theatre this week and began adding the technical elements, I was delighted to take stock of the whole process once again from the stage rather than from the director’s chair. It is a much different relationship to the play and all of its technical elements when you are in the eye of the storm, instead of observing from the weather station. Not an entirely accurate metaphor, but you get the picture.
This rehearsal process has given me the opportunity to work with some of Ottawa’s finest actors and I am grateful for the experience. We are a week away from opening and I certainly am nervous, but also comforted by the depth of artistry around me. The script is a demanding narrative that reveals itself in very measured and deliberate steps, but feels like its spinning out of control at times. And the role that I am playing is unlike anything I have ever tackled. Just like real humans, George F. Walker’s characters behave irrationally, driven by desires that can take hold without warning. I am very eager to see how the audience’s participation influences the show. I hope that you all enjoy the production.