Big Smile, No Teeth: Jason Godfrey learns 5 stage actor secrets the hard way


  • Arts
  • Sunday, 11 Nov 2018

This past month I’ve been doing something I’ve never done before – I’ve been acting in a professional play on stage. The theatre show is in Singapore and is called Private Parts.

I play a TV host named Warren Lee who, after a golf mishap, ends up at a clinic where he befriends a few transgender people who changes his life, and he theirs. The play is a classic in Singapore because it raised a lot of issues and was ahead of its time when it was first staged in 1992.

The awesomeness of the play aside ... this is a whole new experience for me. Even though I have acted in lots of TV shows, the stage is very, very different. Here are five things I’ve learned from doing my first stage play.

Trust That The Lines Will Be There – Until They’re Not

My biggest fear heading into the play was how to commit a huge pile of pages known as a script to my feeble memory? After all, on TV I act out one scene at a time, often having to start and stop because my lines come and go.

Stage acting is really scary says Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey

But everyone involved in the play has told me that after the intense rehearsal session, I would be able to trust that the lines would simply just be there. And the lines are. Until they’re not. And when they’re not there? They are spectacularly not there. Gone. Mind drawing a total blank as I repeat the same word over and over hoping something will jog my mind into coughing up the line.

Luckily, this has only happened to me a couple times. But we’re only halfway through the run, so who knows.

Stage Actors Are So Talented It Actually Hurts To Be Around Them

I always sort of knew this but had it really emphasised as soon I showed up for the first day of rehearsals. Most of the stage actors aren’t just actors. They’re musical theatre people who can sing well enough to win any cheesy TV talent show, and dance well enough to be in a professional crew.

Being around these kinds of people is a constant reminder that I can neither dance nor sing well enough for anybody to even request I do those things. Most times people see how badly I dance and sing and never ask me to do it again. Which is probably the best thing for the world in general. I feel like every time I dance or sing, an angel dies.

Stage Quick Changes Are How Quick Changes Should Be

As a former model, I am well versed in the art of the quick change – that is, swapping outfits as fast as you can to make another appearance on the runway. But in fashion the clothes are precious. You have to whip them off and on but they must be pristine afterward.

In plays, the dress shirts are fixed with velcro where ordinarily you would have buttons, so I literally tear my shirt off between scenes. Which is exactly the way I’ve always dreamt of doing quick changes. Ties and bow ties are pre-done and on buttons so they just snap into the collar of the shirt.

Ah, the stage quick change is superior to the fashion show quick change in every way. If only luxury brands didn’t mind sewing velcro into their pieces so models could be even lazier.

You Can Sort Of Go On Auto Pilot

I’ve always heard people say that, after a while on stage with the same show, they just drop into autopilot. And to a certain extent, I guess you can do that: Going scene to scene trusting that all the repetition and conditioning is enough for your subconscious to keep you spitting out the right lines at the right time with the right intentions.

But I guess this goes back to the first point: You can go on autopilot until there’s a catastrophic failure with autopilot and you’re left on stage wondering what you were supposed to be doing.

Stage Is Scary

It’s nerve-wracking to get up in front of a group of people and proceed to act your heart out. It leaves you really vulnerable. But it’s a great experience. It’s terrific to get a great response from an audience and rewarding to soak up the applause after the show.

And for as scary as a stage is, it’s also exhilarating probably because it is so frightening.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve learned so far but the play is only halfway through its run. I’m about to head back out there. Wish me luck, and pray that I don’t drop anymore lines.

Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at star2@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co.


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