During the production process of Dead Man’s Shoes, we’re posting a number of journal entries from folks working in different areas of the show. Here are some thoughts from Aral Gribble, the actor playing Froggy in the show.
For those of you who haven’t seen the show…why not?! Also, before I go any further, you need to know that our production of Dead Man’s Shoes is framed as a play within a play, performed by a troupe of actor’s straight out of the Wild West. What you probably don’t know, because almost no one does, is that early in the rehearsal process, my brilliant director, David Wolber, introduced the idea that the story of Injun Bill was actually a real story from the life of the actor playing Froggy (me). Now, the reason most people don’t know about that little fact is that after the initial introduction of the concept, little was done to flesh it out. So it’s not something that I think the audience would ever pick up on, or does it need to be, but to me, it is everything. Actors can never “BE” anything. They can only “DO” something. Acting is, well, active. So sure, as Froggy, I try to appease Bill Picote, I try to comfort the pox-ridden Sheriff, I try to disarm the hardened hotel owner, Martha, but behind it all, is a nameless actor, trying desperately to continue the legacy of his best friend. By telling this story, my friend continues to live…and this has had a profound effect, not only on my character, but on me as an actor. The only moments you might see this nameless character is during transitions, when I’m moving a barrel or resetting a bench. At the start of the play, these transitions are fun, playful, and lighthearted. The fourth wall is broken, and I’m able to connect to an audience that is starting to get swept up in and fall in love with our story. But as the play turns a corner, and the fate of my friend creeps ever closer, the audience disappears. I am no longer a traveling actor, hoping to entertain and enrich the folks who’ve been kind enough to show up. I become a helpless bystander, watching the dominoes fall towards the play’s inevitable conclusion, wondering what I could have done, why I did what I did, and desperately wishing that for just one brief moment, I could see my friend again. That’s not easy to live through every performance. But I love it. Famous actor/director Constantin Stanislavski said, “Ideally an actor should be carried away in his part, by the subconscious (as long as it carries him in the right direction). But it’s impossible to control the subconscious without destroying it.” So even though I don’t plan on feeling anything when I start each performance, by the end I have been frightened, excited, fallen in love, faced my own death, but most importantly, re-lived, for just a couple hours, the most important friendship of my life. So i just want to thank everybody: the writer, the director, the designers, the production team, the AMAZING cast, and the audience, because this incredible roller-coaster ride would never happen without them.