Waking the Sleeper
ANTHONY P. REALE

Through the tiny window that serves as my vantage, I see my niece and nephew hatefully staring at each other, arguing over who has the more valid claim over inheritance rights. Despite the fact that my plan is a marriage between the two of them that will fortify my family, they still contradict each other. From my hiding place, I can hear that Astolfo, my nephew, wishes to supersede Estrella — the elder cousin — through the loophole of his gender. Despite Astolfo’s assured tone, it doesn’t take a genius to tell that Estrella would rather take a long walk off a short pier than submit to Astolfo’s plan. Tiring of watching my heirs tread water, I adjust my ruff (a garment roughly the size of a satellite dish that sits on my shoulders) and throw open the door to my hiding place, stepping into a blast of light and trumpets that announce my arrival.

Anthony Reale in "Life is a Dream" (Source: Jean Yvonne Tyson/Anthony Reale)
A scene from Whitman College’s 2019 production of Life is a Dream

As wonderful as this sounds, I must confess that I have no actual niece or nephew, nor do I have the opportunity to have music announce my entrances on a regular basis (although that has now become Life Goal #1 for me). I am playing King Basilio, a role from Pedro Caldéron de la Barca’s play, Life is a Dream. Estrella, Astolfo, and I all attend Whitman College, an almost offensively small liberal arts college in Walla Walla, Washington, an even more offensively small town. Life is a Dream is the final play of the 2018-2019 Harper Joy Theatre season. I am a senior English/Theatre double major, and this is my final play at Harper Joy.

Anthony Reale in "Life is a Dream" (Source: Jean Yvonne Tyson/Anthony Reale)
The author as King Basilio in Whitman College’s 2019 production of Life is a Dream

All of these factors inform my performances when I step onto the stage to perform this role. I originally auditioned for this piece mostly because I wanted the slightly narcissistic last chance to perform on the Alexander Stage — Harper Joy’s biggest stage (did I mention that I’m also a tour guide for the theater?) I find it baffling that my time at this theater has already ended, because it feels like I wasn’t paying attention for five minutes, letting four years suddenly slip by without warning.  You might be wondering, “Anthony, does this affect you when you interact with people in your cast?” My answer? No. I’m the perfect cast-mate and I have never done anything wrong in my life.

In all actuality, I have found myself more liable to snap at younger performers when they make noise backstage or don’t follow the arbitrary standards to which I hold myself. As a person who self-identifies as somewhat paranoid, I am constantly trying to figure out if people like me and if the person who I identify as the authority figure respects me. If I make a joke and the authority doesn’t like it, I head back to the drawing board to devise a new way to make sure that I am known as trustworthy yet fun. It’s the stereotypical story: boy meets boss, boy is scared of boss, boy spends an immense amount of time and brainpower attempting to show the boss that the boy is reliable and carefree (but not too carefree!)

My movements are a series of twitches, accompanied by widened, darting eyes.

But let’s go back to the king. Right as I begin my seven-minute monologue that is my entrance into the show, I peer out over the audience. This Sunday’s matinee audience is sparse, peppering the darkness with confused faces. As I’m speaking a line about movements of the heavenly bodies, I notice a woman who has fallen asleep. To be honest, the sight of this woman throws my concentration: how could she be sleeping during this show? It’s so exciting! It’s full of action! It’s written poetically! (Okay, I get it — it doesn’t exactly move fast with the built-in asides and other breaks in action.) But! People should pay attention to me! The king is speaking!

Anthony Reale in "Life is a Dream" (Source: Jean Yvonne Tyson/Anthony Reale)
A scene from Whitman College’s 2019 production of Life is a Dream

My only thought during this moment resembles something a cartoon rat would chant during a remake of Sleeping Beauty. Wake her up! Wake her up! Accordingly, my acting choices become more insect-like and odd in order to attempt to jolt her from her peaceful REM. I notice my head begin to tilt more and a nasally voice take over the majority of my speech. As I write this, I worry that my tone doesn’t accurately convey the strange nature of this departure from my regular process. Don’t get me wrong; this is quite uncommon for me to experiment drastically during a performance. I usually form a system for performance once we’re far enough along in the rehearsal process (I’d say about a week or so from opening.) To continue changing drastically after that point puts excess strain on me and — in my opinion — my fellow performers.

Tiring of watching my heirs tread water, I adjust my ruff (a garment roughly the size of a satellite dish that sits on my shoulders) and throw open the door to my hiding place, stepping into a blast of light and trumpets that announce my arrival.

But after this woman fell asleep in the performance, I promptly throw that thought process out the window. How could I not? I see the opportunity to wake her up as a new challenge for the six-and-a-half minutes that I have left in my monologue. The king is more severe now, using vocal choices that place softer, lulling speech next to grating moments of shouting. My movements are a series of twitches, accompanied by widened, darting eyes. To be honest, I’m not sure how much of this was conscious. Sometimes the body makes choices for the brain, and I think my brain was too focused on lines to do anything but follow along with what my body’s choices became.

As I reach the next section of the monologue, I figure I would have an easier time bringing this audience member to consciousness, as this was the section of the monologue where I describe the eclipse under which my beastly son was born. If I didn’t wake her up during this section, I don’t think I could be the one who could take credit for waking her up during this performance. I only hope that the rest of the audience wouldn’t notice that I was delivering a seven-minute portion of the show directly to one person. It’s easier for me to imagine that they were all silently rooting for me to succeed, so I do. With the final plumbing of my shock tactic depths, I release a high-pitched guffaw after a line about my son’s potential prudence in the face of his savagery. I scan the audience, looking for the sleeping figure, and find no head bowed. The woman had awoken!

The sheer joy that I feel about this nearly knocks me off my feet — metaphorically, of course. Honestly, my concentration feels blown; I spent the entirety of this monologue with an objective different than any I had worked with before. My focus — normally preoccupied with fending off an internal, nervous, and high-pitched voice that attempts to convince me that I don’t know my lines for the entirety of the show — paid so much attention to this audience member that I blocked out the regular problems that I have during shows. I don’t think I’ll purposefully use this tactic again (unless someone falls asleep again). It is nerve-wracking to put such restrictive blinders on during a show, but intriguing that it can allow the attention I normally pay to my choices to remain intact.

Anthony Reale in "Life is a Dream" (Source: Jean Yvonne Tyson/Anthony Reale)
A scene from Whitman College’s 2019 production of Life is a Dream

In performances, I can only hope for the audience to express some sort of reaction to the play as it happens, whether that be laughter, tears, or the occasional audible gasp — which I value greatly for its rarity and catalytic tendencies. Walking onto the stage for the first time in a performance (even if you’ve done the show thirty times in the last month) always makes the actor engage with the unknown factor of theatre: the audience. You might think you’re the best Hamlet to ever have performed on stage, but if your audience thinks you’re trite, your dreams of being Sir Patrick Stewart will subside faster than the ocean preparing to unleash a tsunami of bad reviews. Normally, I hope to garner responses from audiences. They’re the ones whose reactions I haven’t heard in rehearsal, so I want them to surprise me! Hearing someone snort isn’t something that breaks my concentration; rather, that’s what I want. Then my attention is on trying to evoke similar reactions while still staying in character and following my original, broad choices.

My focus […] paid so much attention to this audience member that I blocked out the regular problems that I have during shows.

To be honest, waking up the sleeper was the best part of that matinee. The audience was a common matinee audience for Harper Joy: blue hairs, the occasional student, and a handful of children, all quietly observing. Regardless of the subdued watchers, there are small successes to be had: experimentation can happen during these quieter audiences and discoveries can be made. I for one discovered this insect-like king that I had missed during a larger audience’s tenure. The sleeper, despite being a source of stress backstage, should be thanked for the opportunity to test the limits of my character. Thank you, sleeper, for happening to need some shuteye during this matinee. Basilio and the show have been bettered because of you.

All photos by Jean Yvonne Tyson


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