From actor Pearce Bunting: On sucking the air out of the room…


Week 3, business as usual - I’m hiding away, gargling with warm salt water, waking up in a cold sweat, drinking more water, hearing ship’s horns in the night, reading James Joyce and comic books and westerns, memorizing lines, wearing a groove into the sidewalk between my apartment and the theatre, eating raisins, and farting a lot.

And now we get to play on our boat.

We have a gangway, a top-side, a companionway, a drying room, and living quarters. We have bunks and benches and a table with a pole. 

And we have a list-to port.

(2 weeks into rehearsal and we’ve already gorra fuckin’ list!)

We climb around and investigate. The first thing we do is start sending sound from our bodies into the wood and into the tile floor and the metal and, of course, into each other. We feel it escape from the sides, up the companionway, into the rafters, and we try to direct it from every bit of our bodies into the seats. We say our dialect-soaked lines, drowning in the vowels and paddling for the consonants. We improvise conversations with each other while we move in the space, talking to each other with our backs, our hips, our bellies, our heads, but never with our eyes. We get frustrated. We say what we’re feeling. Then we go home. So ends us and the boat - first contact.

Earle Gister, my 1st year acting teacher at drama school, once told our class (I’m quoting loosely here), “Actors don’t realize that when they walk out on stage they’ve already done 90% of the work - they’re living, breathing, human beings - we believe that - they don’t have to prove it. The last 10 %?( his top hand sliding over his bottom hand in a plane-taking-off gesture)… cowboys and Indians."

Believing and playing - it’s simple, right?

And having a real boat to play on REALLY makes it simple, right?  

But I’m smart, you see - I’ve seen a lot of great performances in my life and I remember how they felt and my EGO will do ANYTHING to help ME help YOU feel the great performance that’s already happening in my head. Even if it means being so big, I turn a two person scene into a monologue or, as Blanka suggested I was doing at one point this last week, sucking the air out of the room.


It’s one step forward, two steps back for me, constantly. Every day I dive in, mostly good on lines, banging it out, chiseling away, wearing myself down until, finally, I stop thinking and actually listen and answer and believe. We walk away feeling good and then that night I’ll go home, work on my lines, start getting ideas in my head and the next day I’m back wrestling with myself all over again. I watch my cast mates work and I see how the exercises we’ve done with Jean-René give you freedom, if you want it. If I can let go of my need to know what every second is going to be before it happens; let go and LIVE in my body and voice, trusting all the exploring I’ve done, and books I’ve read, and videos I’ve watched and music I’ve listened to, and, yes, all the good thinking I’ve done, my breath and voice will support me. Whatever I need to think and express as my character will be there. But I won’t know what it’ll be until it happens. Until I let the other person in. Last night, Blanka said to Brian and me as we worked on the first act together, “It’s really quite simple," and it is. You see, when you get past all your best laid plans and start living together with somebody in a scene this way, without all the trying, the audience wants to listen too. We play cowboys and Indians and it means something.

One night last week, Ilya, our assistant director, read aloud to us from the memoirs of a Grimsby fisherman. Like all the other accounts we’ve read, it’s short on the romance. You can smell the coal smoke and the fish, feel the fear and smell the flop sweat of the narrator, a young Grimsby lad taking his first trip on a trawler, as he stands on board having no idea where to go or what to do, getting yelled at by the captain, and wanting to cry because he’s trapped on that ship and surely headed for Hell.  When Ilya finished, everyone got really quiet, once again stupefied by this reminder of trawling life. Unbeknownst to my cast mates, though, I started to panic because I had actually tricked myself into believing that for the past 3 weeks I WAS a fisherman. I thought I’d been building a man like that, from that world, and here we are at the end of week 3 and what the hell was I thinking? I had convinced myself that I was this big, tough, hairy-assed deckie but now I’d been nut punched with the realization that I’m just a little boy in dance tights and slippers, singing a hornpipe. Maybe.

Ah, the insanity of an actor who really wants to get it right. Well, actors aren’t trawlermen and trawlermen aren’t actors. This isn’t a documentary we’re making here - it’s a play, a brilliant, huge play, inspired by the men who fished, deep water, but ultimately about life and fate and survival (among many, many other things).

Part of me IS a big, hairy-assed deckie and I’m learning, for the ten thousandth time, that if you know and trust your power and the people you work with, even if you feel really small compared to what you’re playing, you get bigger as you go. And that in theater, great writing uses you and delivers you.

Cowboys and Indians, yippe ki-yay!

Read Pearce's previous post


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