Keep calm and act like you know what you’re doing

by David Holub

I received the Durango Arts Center’s latest program-touting brochure in the mail last week and, flipping through it, came upon a picture of myself in what may have been literally the most terrifying moment of my life.

The photo was from DAC’s 10-Minute Plays, which I’d performed in back in October. In the photo, I am staring into a clear exercise ball held up by my friend and co-star Sarah Syverson. I don’t know if the photo was taken in rehearsal or from one of the three weekend performances. If it came from Saturday’s show, what I suspect none of the 200 or so people attending knew in that exact moment was that, as I gazed into that ball, I was supposed to say a line. But when I called on my memory to say that line, there was absolutely nothing there. I’d forgotten how to talk. People had always advised me that, if I ever forgot a line during a performance, to simply paraphrase. You know kind of what you’re supposed to say, you know where the scene is going. Paraphrase. But there was no information in my brain; it was a complete blackout.

Not freaking the F out was the biggest acting job of my life.

It should be noted that this was my first time acting. Auditioning for the 10-Minute Plays was the first time I’d performed aloud from a script. My biggest fret going in wasn’t stage fright or projecting my voice or being believable. It was memorizing lines – and blanking during a show.

I discovered early on that no matter how many times I recited all my lines perfectly laying in the coziness of my bed, rehearsals were another story. Suddenly, there were these pesky stage directions. I had to hit marks and gesticulate and react to the lines of others. Remembering lines while also remembering how to – I don’t know, walk – proved difficult initially. I’d say, “How am I supposed to swing my arms when I walk?” And they’d say, “Like you normally do,” and then I’d do what looked like a robot impression.

What worried me greatly going into opening night was that, through all of our rehearsals, not once had I recited all my lines perfectly. Not once. Standing offstage, waiting for the cue from my costar Lisa Zwisler, I knew that the moment I walked into the lights, things would be set in unending motion for the next 10 minutes, like shoving off on a terribly long and stupidly frightening waterslide.

As far as I could tell, Friday’s show became the first time I said all my lines without any flubs. Saturday was another story. Which led to the moment in the photo.

In the play, my character was instructed by his loony therapist to peer into the ball to see his future but was unable to see anything at first. I was to gaze into the ball for about three seconds before I said the now-ironic line, “I thought I’d have more time.”

My blanking meant that I paused about three seconds longer than I normally would have, extra moments I could have lived a lifetime in. Turns out it was the perfect spot to blank. I’m still surprised I didn’t lose it in front of everyone.

Which got me thinking. Sometimes we want to look into a crystal ball; we want to know the future. Sometimes when we seek to discover where we’re heading and what might happen to us, there’s nothing there. It’s blank. We can’t see anything, and that can be terrifying. But maybe if we’re patient, maybe if we just give it a few unpanicked seconds, something will appear and our momentary angst and fretfulness and fear will dissipate.

David Holub is the editor for DGO. [email protected].


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