Contributed by Marcus Dargan
The last time I performed on stage as an actor was exactly two years ago. It was the lead role in the New York City premiere of Son of a Preacher Man at The Riverside Theater. Before that, the last time I appeared on stage was four years prior in Harlem Repertory Theatre’s Ain’t Misbehavin’. Why such a big gap in my performance history? Over the past decade, I realized that I do love acting; however, I have found it to be too emotionally draining for me.
I come from a very critical upbringing and acting sets off an extreme anxiety. Every night before a performance, I have to build myself up from scratch. After a performance, despite positive feedback and reviews, I am immersed in my thoughts for days, wondering if I am still “good enough.” It is an endless cycle throughout the entire production schedule, which I don’t quite experience as a director.
I have also never been self-aware when it comes to my mannerisms and movements on stage or in real life. It’s like my body has a mind of its own. Watching videos of past performances, I find myself doing a lot of things in character that I had no idea I was doing. It makes me very uncomfortable to know that I am so uninhibited, especially on stage in front of a sea of people. The whole performing in front of people thing is just too exhausting for me.
Earlier this year, I received a call from producer and director Dominique Denman and she once again offered me the role for the upcoming revival of Son of a Preacher Man for one night on Friday, August 1. I hesitated, but gladly accepted the role. I had to rationalize with myself that maybe my performance wasn’t that bad if she is calling me back again. Either way, it is a dynamic and relevant piece for which I share deep connections with. I found it a blessing to once again be asked to be a part of this show.
We were somewhere in the first couple of weeks of rehearsal. We had not put the work up on its feet yet and were still performing table readings. I looked up from my script and observed Duane Burress, Jr. reading, who was cast as my younger brother. Duane is my former acting student, who has since gone on to study at Professional Performing Arts HS and University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He has also performed in a number of productions I’ve directed in the past.
I’m sitting there, watching Duane read and a thought hits me, “Why doesn’t he play the lead?” At the time, I didn’t know if it was a response to my performance anxiety or if I was looking at it purely from a director’s eye, even though I wasn’t the director. Something about him playing the lead just seemed right. So, I scribbled a little note on my script and slid it over to the director, Dominique. She gave me a classic “What the #$&! are you smoking?” look.
At the end of that rehearsal, we chatted about it briefly and decided to audition Duane for the lead. Shortly after, she offered him the role and he accepted. I was offered to assistant direct, which I took gladly, without hesitation.
This seemed to set off a chain reaction. During the following week, without being aware of the recent cast change, other actors in the show began to receive offers for substantial gigs that conflicted with our production schedule. As we were so early in our rehearsal process, Dominique graciously released them and we recast as needed. Within a couple of days, we were looking at a whole new cast.
These past weeks, while working in rehearsal with our new cast, sparks of creativity, imagination and artistry have been flying all around the room. Initially, I believe we all planned to approach the script as we have in the previous production, but all of this new life has brought on a fresh energy with greater depth and exploration of the characters, script and its themes. Son of a Preacher Man was a compelling show two years ago, but already, we can see that this production will be more powerful than we imagined.
I now realize that it was not my performance anxiety, but obedience in listening to God, the Universe or some higher power of Theatre to relinquish the role. My action became the catalyst within the Universe that set off the cast changes, infusing the rehearsal process with new blood and subsequently promoting the production to the next level. This does not take away from the contributions and performance of previous cast members who are still actively engaged with the production in other ways. Sometimes, it just takes an unexpected shift to allow for greater things to happen.
I often advise artists to read Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist. It is a tale of fiction that shows what can be acheived when one is connected with the Universe and follows the omens placed before them. Fantastic things happen, beyond our own thoughts or reason. I am extremely happy in my role as assistant director and even prouder of the work that the cast, especially my former student Duane, is doing in this production. You will not want to miss it.
Son of a Preacher Man
August 1, 2014
Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew
263 W. 86th St.
Broadway and West End Aves., NYC
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