Monday, February 22, 2010

David Vining - SECRET ORDER Blog

“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in giving health to men” Cicero

We are approaching the end of the second week of rehearsals for Secret Order – until now I’ve been so focused on rehearsal preparation and learning my words that I haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and blog about the show. Tonight I find myself with a little breathing room and will put a few thoughts on paper. My head is full of so many thoughts about the play, the character, this particular company of actors…but I’ve decided to write tonight about how I look for pieces of the play and the character within my own experience, as a step towards fully identifying with the character I’ll be performing.

Once I had been cast in Secret Order and first read the script, my imagination was primarily excited by the idea of the possibility of a cure for cancer. The quest for a cure starts off the play and permeates it. I started thinking about what it would be like to be involved in that quest at such a high level, to devote one’s life to it—to experience the incredible excitement of each incremental step in the the right direction and the devastating disappointment each time a promising line of scientific inquiry dissolved in failure. The character I’m playing, Dr. Saul Roth, Chairman of Toxicology at Hill-Matheson, has been deeply involved in cancer research for over 33 years. At 67 I (Saul) have certainly had more than my share of disappointments, but I am still eager to do daily battle with the disease. It’s the passionate hope that a cure is possible that keeps me from being able to retire and leave the battle to younger colleagues. It may be a little confusing to anyone reading my blog, but I (David) often refer to the character I’m playing in the first person, as part of my acting process—until the “I” of me and the “I” of him create a blend that has the ring of truth. I (David) think I (Saul) have the Cicero quote above nicely framed and prominently displayed on my office wall.

In looking for ways to relate to all the emotional ramifications of what a cure for cancer might mean to the characters in the play, I’ve been thinking back to my youth, when both polio and smallpox were still deadly diseases that killed, crippled or disfigured thousands and thousands of people every year. If you are near my age, you may remember, as I do, the terrifying effects of a local polio outbreak. It seemed like there was an epidemic every summer when I was a boy in the 1950s—since the disease attacked children and was spread by them, small towns in the U.S. and Europe would sometimes have signs at the city limits refusing entry to anyone under the age of 16. Public swimming pools were considered particularly dangerous, and were closed immediately if a polio case was reported. All of us had some friend, relative or acquaintance who had either died or become crippled by polio. And smallpox, although mostly under control in the US by the 1950s, was still a major killer in many parts of the world; since my family lived abroad much of the time, we were often in areas where smallpox was still a real threat and I certainly remember seeing lots of terribly scarred and disfigured faces. I vividly remember the relief and joy we all felt when Jonas Salk’s amazing vaccine became available in 1955; equally amazing was the incredible announcement in 1980 that smallpox had finally been globally eradicated. I (Saul and David) have very powerful emotional connections to the horrors of polio and smallpox. It’s why I became a doctor in the first place. Remembering the excitement and exultation I felt when those two Goliaths were slain, just try to imagine the reaction of the world when the cure for cancer is found!

I’ve written about this at some length to share a little bit of how I start to build a bridge to the character and his world. I enjoy playing roles that require research; but wherever I can find personal connections that allow me to identify with the character I seize on them, because they are so rich—they are short-cuts which deepen my understanding and help me inhabit the character with conviction and passion.

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