What it takes to be ‘Fully Committed’
summit daily news
Think about the various voices streaming through your head in any given day (come on, admit it; you gripe about things – maybe even silently yell inside that head of yours – you swoon with gratitude and tell yourself how great this or that (or he or she) is, you get stressed, elated, frustrated, confused).
Now imagine having to act out 40 different voices – each with its own distinct personality – on stage. Oh, and don’t forget the various physical mannerisms. Add to that ongoing dialogues, in which you must switch from one personality to another in less than a split second, in order to maintain a conversation. By the way, did we mention you’d be doing all of this in front of a paying audience, who’s expecting to be entertained?
This is the task Christopher Willard, artistic director of the Backstage Theatre, faces for the next five weeks with his one-man show, “Fully Committed.”
The crazy comedy depicts a day in the life of Sam, an out-of-work actor who’s earning money as a reservationist at Manhattan’s most popular restaurant (think Breck’s hottest restaurant during Christmas vacation, and multiply the demand by, say, a thousand). You see, this Manhattan joint is booked solid, and so is Sam’s reservation line: Desperate callers will stop at nothing, including bribes, threats and histrionics, to score a prime reservation.
His answer: “I’m sorry, we’re fully committed.” Still, there’s the senior citizen who expects her AARP discount from the $200-a-plate meal. There’s Mrs. Watanabe, who wants a 7 p.m. lunch reservation. There’s Veccini, an Italian mafia leader. Willard’s even talking to the Sheik’s right-hand man. He answers the screaming phone as if he is batting down whack-a-demons at a video arcade, while at the same time battling his own private-life dilemmas: His lonely dad wants Sam home for Christmas (a day, like many of us, Sam’s scheduled to work), and he’s competing against a rival actor for a choice part at the Lincoln Center.
This is not the first time Willard has subjected himself to multiple personalities; about seven years ago, he performed “Fully Committed” at the Avenue Theatre in Denver for a three-month, sold-out run and also presented it at Lake Dillon Theatre. A year ago, he staged it for a one-night fundraiser.
But now that seven years have elapsed between playing the show in an extended run, he realizes how difficult it is to converse with each character fluently and with ease, as if they have been talking to him all his life.
“I’m a little older now, and I’ve been surprised by the amount of energy and stamina this show requires,” Willard said. “I wouldn’t say I had forgotten how demanding this show is on an actor, but it’s taken me a little more time to gear-up to the required level of controlled chaos that makes the show so much fun. The story demands forward momentum, and you have to, excuse the pun, fully commit to the journey if you want to realize the payoff by show’s end.”
Last year, it took him about four days to call up the lines. But this year, he’s been working on “On Golden Pond,” so he wanted to get that “out of his system” before re-learning his manic lines. He’s even directing “Fully Committed” himself, using mirrors and videos to study the physical gestures of characters and playing back video to chart his progress. In the past, he had the owner of the Avenue help define his characters, which provided a solid foundation. Still, it’s quite a challenge.
“It’s 45 pages of nonstop interaction – with yourself. You hope to hell the other ‘character’ feeds you the right line, otherwise, things can get very interesting very quickly. It can be one of those “anything can happen” shows if an odd corner gets turned during the performance.
As playwright Becky Mode poses the question: “While juggling scheming socialites, name-dropping wannabes, fickle celebrities, and egomaniacal bosses, can Sam manage to look out for himself” – and can Willard manage it all?
Seeing that Willard’s a two-time Denver Post Ovation award-winning actor, we’re betting he can.
“Thankfully, the characters have only deepened over time,” he said. “They’re like old friends that you get to re-connect with. Despite their faults – and they have many – I love them all … any character that doesn’t treat Sam like dog doo is tops in my book, but I like the bitchy characters, too. They’re a thrill to play.”
Plus, the story hooks him.
“It’s a terrific story about the triumph of the little guy trying to rise above the establishment, which seems set to grind him even further into the pavement,” he said. “Sam is a genuine, likeable fellow who just needs a break but doesn’t know how to get it. By the end of this nightmarish day of working the phones, he’s found a step up to help him better his situation.”
And by the end of the 90-minute show, audiences have gotten so drawn in by Willard’s constantly changing mannerisms, tones of voice, characterizations and dilemmas that viewers almost sigh the kind of relief that comes after a completely satisfying – but intense – day of skiing, hiking or mountain biking.
Is there a story from your past, not-so-distant past, or present that you have kept hidden from the world – that you never thought you’d tell – that only an anonymous revealing can help remove the weight of guilt, secrecy or embarrassment from your shoulders? Is your secret something truly amazing that you did for another person but never admitted? Would your secret make jaws drop to hear? Make us bust out in laughter? Make us shed a sympathetic tear? Well, think of the Backstage as your “father confessor.” Tell us it all! And while we’re on the subject of things kept locked away, what about your dreams? We’re talking not only your personal aspirations, but also the images and stories that invade your sleep and leave you scratching your head come the morning. We want to hear each and every one of the juicy details!
The Backstage Theatre is launching its Secrets and Dreams Project, a series of unique performances to be produced at the Breckenridge Theatre April 8-23. To realize this ambitious production, we are soliciting submissions from all ages in Summit County in order to create two separate versions of the show: one that shines a light on the secrets and dreams of adults, and one production exclusively geared for, and made available to, youth. Secure drop-off boxes will be placed around the county to receive these submissions in an anonymous fashion.
(At time of this writing, locations are still being arranged. The main branch of the libraries in Frisco will be a main drop-off point, as well as Curves in Frisco and the Silverthorne Recreation Center. Check the Backstage website for a complete list of drop-off locations.)
Put your information down on a piece of paper, taking care to keep it anonymous. You may submit as many entries as you like. You are encouraged to pour your heart out and confess any and all secrets and dreams you keep inside. (Confession is good for the soul, yes?) No limit to length. No secret or dream is too shocking or too tame for inclusion. Entries will be received from Monday through March 14. At the end of this period, all boxes will be gathered and opened, and shows will be crafted based upon these submissions.
Summit County owes a great deal of success to the dreams of its great citizenry. But no community exists without a secret underside that pulses right beneath all that we choose to show to our neighbors, friends, and loved ones. It’s time to shine a light on all that goes unspoken and to give a voice to our aspirations, images and ideas that haunt us, and all those admissions we have – until now – been too afraid to reveal.
For more information, visit http://www.backstagetheatre.org.
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