Whit Leyenberger is the actor I know. I know no one personally with his level of skill or his drive to make that craft their own and for that I respect him. There is an almost foolhardy bravery to trying to be a professional Shakespearean actor in New York City. He has the tenacity to not be consumed by the tournament-style meatgrinder of theater and I think he will thrive. Tonight he performed as Sir Tobias Belch in a hit and run production of Shakespeare’s 12th Night.  In a hit and run product, the cast members have memorized their parts but have not rehearsed, meaning they’ve never said the lines to one another.  If a character is directed by the script to use a prop, they must choose from items the audience has brought and strewn about the stage.  If violence is called for, a pillow is used.  Finally, for each error made a character gets a point.  If he or she gets three points in one scene, they must wear the cloak of shame (a large piece of display board with the text “IDIOT” on it).  Each character furnished their own costume and one prop, and Whit’s prop was a 24 case of Yuengling. PA pride.

I went to New York City with Whit’s mother and I had some time to kill before I met up with a friend of mine so I walked around Time Square as it seems like I’ve been doing forever.  The place was littered with tourists, current company included, and a group had the most agog face I think I’ve ever seen.

From 2013-01-05 Time Square

There were stilt walkers and people in costumes and people hawking tickets and scarf vendors and the dozens of flavors of people that make this chunk of Manhattan its own thing. I’d like to spend a day here doing a panoramic shot every hour. Each one would seem a different place.

The show started around 7 and the theater was packed. The ticket sales doubled the Accidental Shakespeare Company’s last show and people had to be turned away. The show was a riot.  I snapped away during the show and for the first time in my literary life, felt I could follow what was happening on stage without previously knowing the plot.  Whit drank seven Yuenglings in the course of the show and I think that helped prevent the second act from dragging. The lead was nearly flawless, Whit, the Fool, and Malvolio less so. The comedic timing and usage of stage magic was excellent and the presence of a tampon and condom as proffered props proved appropriate.

The rest of the pictures:

Acting is a craft that I don’t quite get, but tonight’s show got me a little closer.

From 2013-01-05 Hit and Run of 12th Night

After the show Janine and I walked across the street for dinner at the upstairs of a restaurant where the cast and audience were drinking downstairs. I got a caesar salad and Janine barbecue spare ribs much to the confusion of the server. She settled the check, again to the confusion of the server and I waited for a call from Whit’s mother saying that we were leaving. This call never came and I rebooted my phone just in case. My homescreen loaded and I saw that I had missed two calls and four texts from about 30 minutes ago indicating that Whit’s mother didn’t know where I was and would be leaving in a few minutes. By the time I called she was well on her way back to PA but she offered to pick me up from the Trenton Train station the next morning. So for now I was stuck in New York City because I hadn’t received a call from someone located at most 25 feet from me for most of the evening.

Janine departed, the cast departed, Whit and I departed, and Facebook informed me that a friend from San Francisco was in town. We made arrangements to get breakfast the next morning and serendipity shined on my accidental lay-over.

Whit and I made the long walk back to the subway and he talked about his craft. His bravery is astounding. Actuarial science is entirely meritocratic. There are exams, you pass them, you get paid more. You write papers, they are found true, you advance, you get paid more. Acting seems to have no analog. While famous actors tend to be good, good actors are by no means famous. Casting directors are fickle, union politics are byzantine, and this is woven in with the capricious preferences of the public. Whit works hard at his craft and can identify what he thinks is improvement in himself but the lack of a tie between effort and reward would drive me crazy. I guess that’s why I’m not a professional artist and still look with a little envy at the peaks of his professional life compared to mine. At best I have beaten back suffering for a few people for a little while, he can claim to have inspired.