Walking into the kitchen area before rehearsal start I hear Anton and Andrew earnestly discussing Mel Tormé and Ernest Borgnine. I enter in the middle of the conversation, so am unsure what angle they are pursuing, though I splurt my coffee when Anton – outraged – bemoans the fact that Tormé looked like a potato. I love sneaking in on Anton and Andrew’s conversations. It’s always a surreal lucky dip, and I always learn something. Later, Yvonne and Andrew and I discuss the concept of monogamy. None of us are sure it’s healthy – in that so many people seem to struggle in monogamous relationships, and seem unhappily boxed into the rules. Jealousy and such. It’s not easy. Being human.
We work though from the top of the play, in excruciating detail, pulling the monolithic L’s up and down, swiveling with millimeter precision to allow for the elegant scenic choreography that’s become Alan’s (our) trademark. It truly is a dance, and we who are not dancers have to work with a completely different acting process than the usual feeling-around-through-intention-to-find-out-what’s-‘real’ saga. With Winter Guests the stage presents itself, and the characters need – to a degree – to ‘fit’ in. Yet we are also developing the staging as we work, so the characters are halting because their environments aren’t built yet. Terra incognita. I love this way of working – have come to love it – as I have always found ‘method’ acting slightly … icky. However, there are times when the winter guests process feels like a Rubic cube, and we get stuck. Having to retrace our steps, and see not where we went wrong, but rather whether we missed an opportunity. It is hard work today. Are we doing the right thing?
Late in the afternoon Alan mentions ‘head-rush’ as he gets up to adjust a sequence on the floor. I notice he looks very serious and wonder if he’s angry – but that would be unusual for him. The air in the room we work in is thick and the light rather unforgiving – not indirect, which most of us favour. Brutal office lighting can kick the concentration in the crutch.
Nearing five (when our day ends) we seem to have ended in a Gordian knot – unable to figure our way from scene three (the airport express) to scene four (Cape Cod beach). The work is exacting and the actors are losing lines they knew only a few minutes ago – we’re clearly all tired. Quite abruptly, and quietly, Alan tells us the head-rush has not passed, and that he has a strange sensation in his left arm. We assume low blood sugar, and feed him honey (which he can’t abide) but his conditions worsens. An executive decision is made to call an ambulance. When I describe his symptoms, the emergency operator tells me to stay with the patient (who is surrounded by half a dozen calm, concerned and loving company and family members), and that an ambulance is on it’s way. Alan does not argue, and this I take as a sign that he is very poorly. Yvonne puts him into the recovery position, and I take his pulse as I speak to the emergency operator. I guess we have all seen enough American movies to know what to do. Thank god. Notwithstanding his ashen face, and very slow pulse, Alan is able to whisper to Andrew “Take pictures!”.
We live in a wealthy socialist country, and three highly trained paramedics arrive within minutes of our call. They are calm, skilled, kind, and efficient.
We felt rather forlorn when Alan was driven away in the ambulance. Yvonne was with him. It’s amazing how – in situations like this, you can end up feeling one profound, dominant and overwhelming emotion: love.
Alan is in the hospital now, for observation. The tests results are all ok, but they are keeping him in, because his pulse is low. He’s actually a very healthy man, and has an unusually low pulse anyway. Maybe it’s lower than normal this time. 
We will work on text tomorrow, and perhaps visit him in the afternoon. I have no doubt our lovely Alan will be back in the room in just a few days.
Puts things in perspective though. All the noise and rubbish recedes. On days like this.
Almost the end of the week. We are fewer today, and no one slept well last night. I mentioned to Dag O our stage manager that having cake on Fridays is really a spiritual bonding ritual for any self respecting theatre company, and he went and bought us a big marzipan cake for our afternoon tea! He knew what to do, under these circumstances. The strong Autumn sunlight warmed and brightened the break room, and we gravitated there for the day’s work. A large table, fruit, coffee, (cake), and miniature models of the L’s for us to play with. We were going to simply run lines, but the instinct to dig deeper into the text was there for the whole group and this we did. I was struck by a line in the play: “ … the character might think she’s a higher life form, but she’s enslaved by her own story … the narrative is the higher life form, she’s just a carrier.” We’re all Ripley. The L’s are the Andromeda. Again the rhythm of the scene dictates how you play it. With Alan and Andrew’s script, if you over-act it, or play the wrong tempo, it feels horrible in your body. You just know you being a shit actor. The text won’t let itself be performed badly, it punishes you if you do that to it.
We’ve got a lot of lines to learn and with Alan away for a couple of days, we want to have as deep an understanding of the text as we can so that when he gets back there’s something with meat on the bones to put on the floor. I play a character who spans in age from 34 to 76 in the play, as does Andrew. As we aren’t using prosthetics, wigs or makeup we realize (with faint horror) that we’re actually going to have to do proper acting. We watch cartoons on the internet for a while. Vintage Disney. Well it is American.
PS. Alan has been given the all clear but is having some tests to be on the safe side. He sends chirpy texts from his hospital bed, and we expect him back in our arms again on Monday.
PPS. I was mistaken yesterday. Anton and Andrew weren’t talking about Mel Tormé and Ernest Borgnine. They were talking about Mel Tormé and Michael Bublé.
It’s such a fine line.
- Andrew: I can’t listen to Frank Sinatra – he’s too representative of an agressive patriarchy. I prefer Michael Bublé …
- Anton: Well if you want to avoid the patriarchy you should try Mel Tormé. He looks like a a potato …
Alan’s back! He was given a furloe from the hospital and came into rehearsal. It seems all is very fine on the health front, a glip, a glitch. Talk of ‘taking it easy’ is all well and good, but many an artist knows it’s an odd grey-zone. Sometimes being back at work is a good thing. Again fine lines.
So after days of clunking struggles with the set, Alan suggests – muses almost – that we try something completely different. The room brightens. The mood shifts, we get the toy model sets and try new combinations, then make ‘em real on the floor. Clear lines – Torkel’s observations about light and shadow absolutely crucial to the new choices being made. Stripping bare, letting the characters, the situation, the light – move the story. Scary to not have (many) props, and I’m reminded of my first days at drama school when I never knew what to do with my hands when I was acting. What do real people do with their hands in real life? (Fiddle with their mobile phones actually, but that’s not an option in a winter guests show. THANK god).
At three o’clock Suzie, Yvonne and I demand cake. We eat it without plates or forks, and it’s naughty and tastes very very good. We all agree on this.
On Monday we will continue. Alan may have to leave at some point in the day to have an MR scan. We’re not worried.
He came in pale. By the end of rehearsal the colour was back in his cheeks. We move into week two on a good note.
 Footnote / Editorial note:
To anyone immediately worried about my state of health, I can reassure everyone that my minor lapse this forth Thursday in October was simply the case of being super fit(!) I’m a great fan of cardiovascular activities, but with a resting pulse at 34bpm, my doctors advice me that running “half-marathon’s” home from work on a daily basis is perhaps pushing it too far. Oh well…
Alan Lucien Øyen
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