Today I auditioned for a part in a play. My audition consisted of a brief monologue, one I spent about 10 of a planned 15 hours preparing this week, and about which I felt solid if not exceptionally confident.
Yesterday I fell ill, suffering through an all day rehearsal with chills and aching muscles, and today I woke with congestion and a wet cough, and a feeling of hypoxia.
The audition went, I felt, very poorly.
The experience, in hindsight, serves me if nothing else as an illustrative reminder of a basic truth:
You can’t act when you can’t breathe.
A few lines into a first attempt at my monologue I stopped and asked to start again. I was encouraged to do so.
My second attack was successful in that it ran its full course, but otherwise was a mess:
I lost lines I literally knew backwards, often needing to pause in order to recall my next line or beat. And when I did find my lines I had no connection to the movements I had developed in preparation – I would catch myself frozen, or out of expected form and I would attempt to adjust but the adjustment would be a new unconnected movement, causing me to watch my own body and ask “why is my hand doing that”?
By the end of the piece and my “thank you” I felt faint. Why, because I’m sick?
Yes. But more specifically, because my heart rate was up and my lung volume reduced. I would run out of breath after short phrases rather than full thoughts, and the air I was getting I was using to force my way through.
The only way to compensate would have been to take longer, “unnatural” pauses, in more frequent, “unnatural” way.
Thing is it wouldn’t have been unnatural to take all those breaths and pauses. That choice would have saved my performance.
My delivery would have been slow and out of keeping with my conception of the voice I wanted to express, butI would have been acknowledging, and living with, my new needs, my new reality, rather than forcing myself to pretend at the reality of my healthy body which I’d had in preparation. The auditors would have seen that I was sick, seen how it was affecting me, and also seen me connect that sickness to a full expression of my words.
I would have delivered my monologue in an altogether different voice or character or physicality than the one I’d prepared, but that new delivery, whether the auditors dug it or not, would have been true and natural and focused outward instead of inward.
You can’t act without breath.