Photo Credit Anna Johnson
Matt Pavik (right), and fellow PAE Alumnus from "Two Gents", Erich England
Falstaff’s Follies: A Summer in Review
Hello Everyone! My name is Matt Pavik and I am the actor who played Falstaff in Henry IV part I last summer. I talked with many of you over the course of 7 weeks of performance, and I answered a lot of questions during that time – how did I learn all those lines? Was that my real hair and beard? Was I wearing a fat suit? How did I get the role? What was the process like? Can I have your phone number? (no, I am not single, sorry folks). Knowing that this newsletter does a “Year in Review” article I thought I might throw in a “Year in Review” from a personal perspective, to give you a glimpse inside the world that is Portland Actors Ensemble…
I get an unexpected email telling me that I have been invited to callbacks for Portland Actors Ensemble’s summer season because of my work in last year’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Skipping right to callbacks feels good. I take a moment and feel like a real, professional actor.
But right away I have a moment of “OH CRAP!” because one of my best friends is getting married in July so I would need a week off … there’s no way I can get a part if I am gone those days. I email the company and say Thanks, but I don’t think you can use me this year.
One week later:
I get another email. It says to come to callbacks anyway. I think to myself that maybe they need lots of spear-carriers and non-speaking warriors for the shows. I resign myself to a small part but feel good that PAE still wants me.
Callbacks, March 14th:
I know many of these people. They are my friends and co-workers from other shows and around town. They are all coming in with a clear idea of what parts they could become: “I am reading Goneril,” “I am here for Bardolf.” I feel a little weird because I don’t know why I’m here.
And the day goes on and on – I am in the building from 1pm until almost 8pm. Acting may be one of the only professions where you’re expected to wait 7 hours knowing the whole time you’ll probably be turned down. I read a total of 3 scenes, two for Falstaff, which I know I won’t get due to my friend’s wedding conflict, and one for Edgar.
Several Weeks go by:
One of the best attributes an actor can learn is patience. For long stretches of time NOTHING HAPPENS. Even when you are in the middle of a show, there is a lot of waiting. It is now April 20th -- more than a month after callbacks. But today I get a an email: Matt – we would like to offer you Falstaff. We will work around your friend’s wedding.
WHAT?!?!?!? I take two deep breaths. Thank you, I accept.
I find out later that the role was initially offered to another person (who is a wonderful actor, and whom I deeply respect) but he turned down the role, so they asked me. I really don’t care that I wasn’t their first choice—this is AMAZING and SCARY. Falstaff is one of the most coveted roles in the Shakespearean universe. It is normally played by someone 20 years older than I am, and between my age and my time conflicts I couldn’t envision a possible scenario where I would get to play this role. People wait lifetimes to play this Falstaff. But OK – now, let’s get to work.
2 days later:
My lady-love has sent a Facebook message out to all our friends about me getting cast as Falstaff (reserve your calendars, it’s free in the park, bring wine). I get a call from my friend Stacy, the one who is getting married. Stacy rarely calls so I freak out- Are you OK? Is Jason (fiancÚ) OK? Is Pockets (my nickname for her son) OK? What’s going on?? She very calmly asks me why I am willing to miss the preview of my show for her wedding. She tells me to skip the wedding, stay here and do the show – she and Jason have decided to honeymoon in Oregon for a week in September. No more conflict between real-life and show!
First read-through of Henry IV. I just finished my spring finals at PSU two days ago, went camping to clear my brain, and came to rehearsal tonight fresh and relaxed. I have been reading the script every day for 3 weeks – not trying to learn the lines yet, just trying to soak it in, to get a feel for this Falstaff guy. He is supposed to be really funny – but is he stand-up comic funny? Does he know he is funny? Do you laugh at him because you feel sad for him? I have been trying to wrap my head around this for weeks now, and finally I get to say Falstaff’s words out loud with other people.
The reading goes well! All of the actors are prepared and ready for their parts. People have a grasp of what their characters want and need. The cast is generous – allowing other actors to try new things as they discover new layers of meaning in these beautiful words.
I have SO MANY WORDS!! Someone tells me that Falstaff has the most lines of any Shakespearean character and I believe them! As an actor, I really like to get off-book (all my lines memorized) by the third week of rehearsal. I don’t think you can really start ACTING until you get the script out of your hands. Third Week? Didn’t happen. Fourth week? Still didn’t happen. Today – something finally clicks in my brain. Lines are staying in my head and coming out sounding like I know what I am saying.
Rehearsing in Laurelhurst Park gets us used to being outdoors and LOUD. In wonderful Laurelhurst fashion a Crazy Person decides to join the cast onstage. She yells (louder than we can) while we’re saying our lines and proceeds to interrupt the scenes to let us know that “Women are Satan” and “Shakespeare is Gay” and “Actors don’t know how to Act” and various other Pearls of Wisdom. Ah… outdoor theater at its best.
Also – I am still having trouble getting all the words to come out. I seem to forget a different small section every night. We open on the coast in 4 days. AAAARGH!!!!
Opening Show at the Oregon coast. A little colder than we were hoping for, but a nice turnout. A small child decides to ride his bicycle through the middle of the second to last scene (him: “My mom told me I could park my bike over here.” Me: “Zounds, I think he would prove the better counterfeit”). It is an auspicious opening followed by some grilled meat on the beach. Not a bad day.
I am noticing that we have “regulars,” people who come back to the show over and over at the different parks. Craig is there, of course, but Kate and Heather start feeding me fresh baked ginger scones. I will see them every weekend this summer – and they always greet me with pastry. A new maxim grows out of this: the way to an Actor’s attention is through his stomach. We strike up a friendship over the summer, and since they are teachers, I talk with their classes after one of the shows – an impromptu Q&A for students.
Lynchwood – the smallest of the parks, and the only one where I still have a voice after the weekend is done. I like this park – it is intimate and it feels like the audience is able to follow us a little more. A group of teens from Reynolds High attends the show – they want to see live Shakespeare because their school is doing Much Ado About Nothing in the fall. After the show they pick my brains for tips, and I give them the best advice I can; “Shakespeare’s words are as close to perfect theater as people can get. Trust the words. Learn them deep down into your soul, and then get out of their way and you will be great!”
It is 11am. I am standing in a downpour. It has rained all night and all morning with no sign of letting up. The stage manager and I try walking in the acting area on the Reed lawns, we slip several times in spite of her hiking boots and my “non-slip” Crocs. Will this be safe for swordplay? Stephanie makes the call – No Show. It is unsafe for action, costumes, and most importantly Audience (nobody wants to see a wet sword slip out of an actors grip and impale an audience member). This has almost never happened before in our 40 year history so no one is sure what to do. Actors are called. Artistic Director decides to stay and tell audience reasons for cancellation.
By 1:30 it is a bright beautiful day. Everyone feels bad about cancellation, but for both actors and audience safety was the motivation, so I don’t feel too bad. I would rather put on the best possible show WITHOUT worrying that I will kill someone.
It’s the last show. I take my last bow as Falstaff. This has been a long, strange journey. From not knowing what I was doing at callbacks, to standing in front of a crowd made up of fans and new friends. I wonder if I can ever recapture the magic of this summer and realize that I can’t. I know I will work with my castmates again at some point, but so much of what makes a play happen is the real life of the actors and directors and stage managers and audience and what they bring to the show at this point in our lives.
We finish our show, pack up the set and the costumes, go get one last drink together as an ensemble, and then fade back into our real lives. I have homework to do (already!), others have to walk dogs and squeeze children, some to walk children and squeeze dogs. But we all move on a little richer for sharing 7 weeks with you.
Because that is the real secret of the theater – it is not about the words or the actors or the sets or lights – it is about the audience. Without people who are willing to sit and listen to words filled with wisdom and emotion and laughter and pain, none of this could happen. As we drink our last toast at the bar that day, I raised my glass to you.
You will notice there are many things I didn’t talk about – my hair that was colored Grey and then faded to Blonde. Hauling the set around in a rickety trailer that kept trying to drift lanes on the freeway. Eating at the Pig ‘N Pancake at the coast (always a good choice). Killing Ken Potts every weekend while he is the one making sure the swords are safe. There are lots and lots of stories for each and every show and not nearly enough time or paper to tell them all. Instead of waiting for stories, get involved and BE the story- we’ll be waiting for you.
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