Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Floyd Collins: Steve O'Connell: Processing Floyd Collins

I came into the process of Floyd Collins late. No, I wasn’t a last minute replacement or anything, but I wasn’t called during the first few weeks of music rehearsal because my character, the engineer H.T Carmichael, head of The Kentucky Rock and Asphalt Company, doesn’t sing.

There is a reason behind every choice a playwright makes while writing a script. As an actor is is my job to interpret those choices. How I interpret and shape those choices, along with the director and fellow actors, is how the story of the play is told and it’s the story that is most important. You could watch an actor give a great performance on stage, but if it’s not part of a larger whole, the actor’s job is not done properly.

So why doesn’t Carmichael sing? There is a reason, and that reason must be specific.

As I continue to search for this answer, I have been met with more questions, but that is the beauty of this process: the challenge! Carmichael offers a unique challenge though, because many of the answers I am searching for are not in the script. Not much is said about Carmichael beyond the fact that he is an “outlander”. We also learn that he is a licensed engineer who is up for a promotion at his company. But why him? Why does he come to help? Who asked him? Did he decided to do this himself? Does he want to be here? What does he get out of this? What’s at stake for him both personally and professionally.? What surprises him about the town, the townspeople, the rescue operation and how does he feel about that? These are only some of the questions I have asked myself during the rehearsal period.

Much is said about an actors “process.” It can be an illusive term and one that has been given an air of mysterious import. Stories of Hoffman, DeNiro and Day-Lewis have been passed around rehearsal rooms like a game of telephone:

“I heard he stayed up for three days before he shot that scene.”
“I heard he stayed in character for three months and made everyone call him Travis.” 
“I heard he worked as a butcher for a year before he played that role.”

The truth behind any of this is inconsequential. At the end of the day, every actor’s process is unique and personal. But I would venture to guess that every actor’s process starts with a single question, which leads to another and another and another. I can’t speak for Mr. Day-Lewis, but that’s how it starts with me. And who knows... if there was more time in our rehearsal period, perhaps I would be in Kentucky, on a rig drilling a hole right now, singing a song about saving a man’s life and realizing it doesn’t sound quite right... Nah. Probably not. No offense, Daniel... But I think I’ll just use my imagination.

-- Steve O'Connell is a Chicago based actor, writer and musician and will be seen playing the role of Carmichael in Floyd Collins. This is the third show he has collaborated on with Boho. For more information please visit his website at

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