Now – ahem – having said that, I want to let you in on a little ritual I engage in whenever I play the role of Father Mark in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. I’ve done the show well over a thousand times now, and I’m probably around the thousand mark in the number of times I’ve played Father Mark, by the way. The ritual, if I can call it that, is something that probably no audience would ever pick up on, but it makes the portrayal feel more authentic to me, and it has become a part of my getting into character for the evening. But first, let’s journey back to some masses I attended in my childhood for some background…
When we would go to a church other than our own, e.g., for a wedding, funeral, or visiting on the other side of town, there was something that always seemed to happen before the mass in one form or another. The priest would come out onto the altar from a side door that came from some mysterious place. He would putz around on the altar, picking up a book or a chalice or some such object – or he might just walk around a bit, doing nothing at all that was apparent to me. Then, he would exit through a different nameless door heading to some other mysterious place. This played itself out again and again over the years, and when it was time for me to begin performing Father Mark, I felt this had to happen in some way for the character to feel complete. Here’s what I came up with:
Father Mark’s formal entrance occurs when the chapel is filled and the soloist begins to sing “Ave Maria.” He walks slowly down the aisle, extending the Bible before him. Prior to that moment, Father Mark is on his own. What I do is that I wait in the small closet that leads off to the side of the altar (another door in the closet leads to the dressing room, so I am able to enter whenever I wish). After the chapel is perhaps half full, I enter quietly from there, never looking at the audience. I walk over to the pulpit and pick up the Bible I have preset. I leaf through it as if I am checking over a bookmarked passage and stand there quietly reading for a moment. Then, I close the Bible and exit through the door on the other side of the altar. That door leads to the hallway near the parking garage entrance. From there, I walk around to the lobby and prepare to enter from the rear of the chapel when the ceremony begins.
As I have gone along, I have found that there is a tangible benefit to passing through the chapel in this manner – I get to feel and hear the vibe of the audience, which is a significant help to me in determining how to pitch my energy on a given night. For example, if I sense that the audience is very sedate yet attentive, I know that I can utilize some vocal subtleties during the service that might be lost on a rowdier crowd. Conversely, if the audience is obviously very boisterous, I may decide to enter the chapel with a great deal of focused energy to establish myself as the center of their attention and hopefully counteract their energy. I suppose one could say that I have taken an action that is at its heart quite self-indulgent, and turned it around to assist in my connection with the audience.
Yeah! I’m gonna go with that take on it! In any case, I hope this excursion into the corners of my brain is of interest to that other audience I try to treat well – namely, you folks who are reading this journal! I’d like to wish a Happy New Year to you all!