Last Friday, I had a family trip and was unable to perform in Henry V. It’s only the second time in my million years that I had to have an understudy. My friend and comrade in arms, Chris Nelson assumed the mantle. I also asked him to write a blog about his experience. I wish I could have seen him rock it! What is below are all his words. (They are very kind to me and I appreciate him very much!)
Intimidation is Understudying for Patrick Vest
By Chris Nelson
I still remember the first time I met Patrick Vest. It was April of 2010 and we were at the Shakespeare by the Sea Callback audition for Julius Caesar. Even though I hadn’t acted in a few years, I was feeling pretty confident about the reading I had just given for Marc Antony because… well, I’m me. I noticed there was this other guy who also seemed pretty confident about his reading for the same role. I vividly remember chuckling to myself that this other guy actually had the nerve to seem so confident in my presence. Well, a few days later I would learn that the other guy was Patrick Vest, who was definitely cast as Marc Antony, while I was cast as Plebian #3, and was damn lucky to be so.
Over the next 8 years of my life I would share the SBTS unworthy scaffold with Patrick repeatedly. Not only was I Plebian #3 to Patrick’s role defining Marc Antony, but I was also the eye gouging Cornwall to his Gloucester in King Lear, the insignificant Parris to his swashbuckling Mercutio in R & J, the misunderstood Hubert to his sympathetic King John in whatever that play was called, the annoying Barbantio to his deeply evil Iago in Othello, the naive Duncan to his totally messed up MacBeth, and last year I got to be the bear-scrumptious Antigonus to his tyrant Leontes in the Winter’s Tale. Patrick and I have rolled through the grass in the dark of just about every single park in southern California, and have enjoyed countless post Shakespeare in the park beers in literally every single dive bar in southern California. To say Patrick has become a close friend whom I admire is a grotesque understatement. My experiences with Patrick are the basis of my knowledge of Shakespeare and I have learned more about acting from him than any other single person in my life.
That is why, on June 28th, at 7:55 PM, I found myself, once again at Point Fermin Park preparing to walk onto that same beloved, however unworthy, scaffold, that I have been on so many times, but this time, I was going on for THE Patrick Vest. I am always nervous before I enter for the first time. I have told my students repeatedly, “If you’re not nervous, then you don’t understand what is going on.” But this was different. I knew all of the lines, it’s just these were the lines that were given to Patrick which means there were WAY more of them than had ever been charged to be placed in my memory by this company before. And, although I had said all of the lines out loud, from memory, repeatedly, I had yet to do it in front of people.
Once the introductory speech was complete, I heard my cue music. I took one long deep breath and reminded myself not to rush. If I spoke too fast my mouth would likely get ahead of my brain, and I would have to pause awkwardly, to let my brain catch up. I walked up the back center stairs, gazed out at the loyal Shakespeare by the Sea fan base, acknowledged the ocean, and then began, “O for a muse of fire…”
The next two hours were probably the most intense and invigorating acting experience of my life. Because I was Patrick, I was supposed to be out on the stage speaking, pretty much the entire play, which left only short moments for me to frantically consult my script back stage. The other actors were incredibly supportive, and John Fisher was handling the role of Henry so masterfully, that I was able to simply jump on the Harry train, and allow John to take me for a ride.
I had mentioned to John the night before that I was most looking forward to the moment when one by one all of Henry’s subject’s congratulate him on winning the war, until it would be just he and I left on the stage. I told John not to be surprised if I gave him the biggest embrace of his life, while crying hysterically into his armor, because although the end of war was cool, me getting to the end of the performance was the real miracle.
Now that the experience is over, I breathe with heavy relief, and a little bit of pride. That was a lot of lines I got through, and, for the most part, I said them correctly. My only disappointment was that Patrick couldn’t be there to witness my interpretation of his performance… but that just would have defeated the purpose.
And now, I get to get ready to be Greg Prusiewicz on July 26th…