Yesterday, Chris and I watched a wonderful two-person play, "The Story of My Life." It's playing at the Berkeley Street Theatre, produced by CanStage and stars one of my heroes, Brent Carver. Carver is one of my heroes because he chooses his work: when he won the Tony award on Broadway, he could have allowed work to choose him. Instead, he appears in shows big and small (this one is very small), and mostly in Canada. He is also deeply marvellous to watch.
Chris and I were particularly interested in how he and his co-star, Jeffrey Kuhn, worked together on stage. Today we talked about the skill of disappearing. It's not about merely being inconspicuous by standing as frozen as the furniture. It's more about being so completely engaged with the person who is centre stage that you become an extension of his/her work. During one particularly key piece, I watched how Carver supported Kuhn. Seated behind Kuhn as Kuhn sang, his body language subtly echoed the singer's - where Kuhn had a foot tipped against a prop, Carver's toe tipped upwards. He rocked so gently that it was impossible to tell if he was urging Kuhn on or being pulled in his wake.
Conventional wisdom has it that standing still is the best way to disappear on stage. That's only a start - a negative solution that stops one from doing anything distracting. The more subtle answer is Carver's - to be so much a part of the work that you reinforce it even when attention is somewhere else. It's the same strategy soccer players use when they are 'off the ball' - and it's the quality that often distinguishes the best from the rest.