You wake up. The first thought in your head is of the play you're doing, if you're doing one. If not, your first thought it is how to get your next job.
I'm doing one now – Thérèse Raquin, on Broadway at the Roundabout Theatre, so I'll focus on that.
From your first waking moments, through coffee, yogurt, bathroom, exercise, shower, the play is with you. It's not constant, of course, not every minute, but it's like being a parent – just because your child isn't always with you doesn't mean they are not in your thoughts.
You go about your day – like anyone's day it's going to be mundane, wonderful, lousy, or some combination of all three. But whatever the day, at night you will find peace.
You will find sanctuary.
You will be home because, for a stage actor, the stage is your only true home.
It's the place you feel most comfortable, the place you feel most safe. Whatever your day has thrown at you, the night is your escape, your oasis, your vacation.
You arrive at the theater and your family is there. You are home. It's a tightknit family, like a traveling circus, because whether you be an actor, a stagehand, or a stage manager, it takes all of you to accomplish the nightly feat, it takes a village to raise a play.
This is your family – for now. Most of them you've known only for a short time, but the nature of the work provides an intimacy among you. All the work is about trust - and there is nothing stronger than trust. Many of these people you may never see again after the show closes, but for as long as you're on this planet you will be forever bound by this experience, but this union, and if you run into them years down the road the years melt away and the common bond remains.
You warm up, physically and vocally, but your prime objective is to empty your vessel. You need to empty yourself of your day – whatever its highs and lows, your personal day has no place here.
Here the play's the thing.
And that's the comfort.
No one can touch you here. The IRS will have to wait. The fight you had with your friend, lover, or family member will have to wait. Your mother will have to wait.
All your personal cares, woes, triumphs and disasters will have to wait.
Half hour before showtime is generally the call time, the time when all actors are called to the theater, though most come much earlier. Here you sit quietly, stretch mightily, vocalize loudly, listen to music, read – whatever it takes to achieve what you need on stage, to be simultaneously totally relaxed and totally energized.
The calls come from the stage manager: 15 minutes, five minutes ... Places.
This is the rocket preparing to leave the pad.
You have washed your face, brushed your teeth, put your costume on, and await your cue. You take one last relaxing breath and stride onto the stage.
For two hours.
And then it's over, and your real life comes rushing back – it's time to face it again. Your vacation is over. Each performance is like a birth, a life, and a death.
You're born every night. You live every night. You die every night.
And this happens every night.
And, most often, you do all this for little or no money.
You do it because you have to do it.
It's the only way.
And now ... Good night.
Jeff Still, originally from New Jersey, currently resides in New York City. He holds an MFA in Acting from The Theatre School, DePaul University in Chicago (formerly the Goodman School of Drama).
Jeff worked for over 20 years in Chicago, chiefly with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company where his credits include Mother Courage, The Dresser, and Orson Welles in Orson's Shadow, the latter of which he reprised at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Off-Broadway at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Regional credits include Vince Lombardi in The Only Thing (Madison Rep), Rothko in Red (Pittsburgh Public Playhouse), Salieri in Amadeus (Cardinal Stage) and Dr. Sweet in the world premiere of Tracy Letts' Bug at the Gate Theatre in London.
Broadway: August: Osage County, Lombardi, Bronx Bombers, Fish in the Dark, Thérèse Raquin. Off-Broadway: Orson's Shadow, Adding Machine, Our Town, Tribes.
Film/TV: Public Enemies, The Express, The Hudsucker Proxy, To Sir, With Love II, Law & Order.
He saves the best credit for last: he is Luke's father.