John Cameron Mitchell

John Cameron Mitchell

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 20 1998 3:30 AM

John Cameron Mitchell

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       Woke up with a sore throat again but slept and decided I was well enough to do the show. It turned out to be a great one. The audience was cautious at first, but I didn't care. I didn't have the energy. Strange, how sickness can focus. Fatigue makes you sloppy, but illness is an emergency. The tiny energy supply must be economized, channeled into small, achievable tasks.
       The task for me as an actor is focusing on what I am seeing or imagine I am seeing at any given moment in my performance. I didn't study much acting and have pretty much created my own visual process. When I prepare a role, I break the text down into units, or "beats." For each beat, I will prepare an image that I can summon on cue. For example, when you tell a story about an old lover, you will see this person in your head, and if you're concentrating on the memory, you will find your voice, body, and emotions reacting automatically and unself-consciously. If I can come up with the perfect visual image--sometimes a memory, sometimes a product of my imagination--at the correct moment in the performance, then I find my body, mind, and heart will react equally unself-consciously and realistically. Sometimes the reaction will be wrong for the character or the piece, and the image will have to be changed. Sometimes the reaction surprises me but is still appropriate. That's when things become interesting. That's what happened at this performance. It was a nice blend of craft and flow. There were a lot of surprises. I improvised more than usual, which I really find nerve-racking. This time it was liberating.
       That's why I wrote Hedwig. I wanted to get a little rock 'n' roll and do it in my realm of the theater. Not like Rent or Tommy--Broadway fake rock. We have the band onstage as part of the action. I learned some things about singing last night, too. My throat was raw, so I skipped the fancy effects (fake raspiness, difficult notes) and economized. I think I sang better than I have in weeks. I remembered that my favorite artists are economical--Egon Schiele or Gena Rowlands, Peter Sellers and Robert Altman at their best. They completed their emotional and intellectual tasks with only that which was necessary--no more, no less. Sometimes the task is complex, and a painter will require two dozen colors for the simple figure of a child. But two dozen colors was exactly what was necessary to create that child.

John Cameron Mitchell is a New York based actor, writer, and director whose credits include Six Degrees of Separation, Big River, and The Secret Garden. He is currently starring in Hedwig and The Angry Inch, the hit rock musical he wrote with composer Stephen Trask.