You walk onstage and are handed a sealed envelope.
Inside that envelope is the script of the one- person play you’re going to perform at that very moment.
There is no rehearsal.
No clue as to what the script is about or what you’ll be expected to say or do.
It’s just you and the words on the paper and an expectant, watching audience.
As you read them, it’s the first time you’re seeing them.
Talk about working without a net.
It’s not a nightmare. It’s the setup for performing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” a one-person play by Nassim Soleimanpour.
The Laboratory Theater of Florida is staging the innovative work Oct. 14-23 as a fundraiser for the theater. It’ll be the premiere of “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” in the Fort Myers-Naples area; it was previously performed in late 2017 at The Ringling Circus Museum as part of the now-defunct Ringling International Arts Festival and then at the Urbanite Theatre, both in Sarasota. The show was first performed in a joint premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the Summerworks Festival in 2011. Since then, actors such as Nathan Lane, Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Cumming, Bobby Cannavale and Cynthia Nixon have starred in this one-person show.
Not only is “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” challenging to perform, it’s also difficult to write about, because it’s so shrouded in secrecy.
Scripts aren’t available to study or memorize beforehand.
Actors can only perform the one-person play once.
Audiences who see it are asked not to talk about it.
And theaters are very limited by what they can and cannot say about it in their advertising and marketing.
“Everything that is out in our advertising has been approved by the licenser (of the play),” says Annette Trossbach, founder and artistic producing director of Lab Theater.
Typically, contracts will stipulate various things, such as the size of the writer’s name as compared to the play’s title.
“There are always contractual obligations,” she says, “things that we must put into our marketing. However, no licenser has asked for approval on every marketing or publicity item, and this licenser has. They’re being very, very careful that I, as the producer, and Lab Theater, as the producing company, aren’t given away secrets of the show.”
Actors aren’t supposed to talk about it afterwards. And actors can’t perform the show if they’ve seen it performed by someone else.
It’s difficult to find any information about the play online, says Ms. Trossbach, and audiences are also asked to keep mum.
“Everybody is in on it,” she says.
Part of the appeal of the show is the immediacy and experimental nature of the performance and the fact that the actor is going into it blind.
“It’s the thrill of theater, the risks that artists are willing to take for theater without a set, without a director, without any rehearsal,” Ms. Trossbach says.
Those who’ll perform “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” at The Lab — actors and locally known personalities — are going to read the script cold, never having seen it before.
“Each one of them is going to be really interesting and have a different style in the way they perform the piece,” she says. Audiences may come to see their favorite performer, but then return to see how another does the same show.
“There’s very little space for artifice,” Ms. Trossbach says, “because there’s no opportunity to plan: do I look good in this light, what should I do with my hand on this line, where am I going to emphasize which emotion.
“There is no place for the actor to hide. No time for them to put walls up. They are absolutely more vulnerable. There’s no opportunity to study the script, no set. And they’re jumping into it blind.”
It’s acting without a net.
Sonya McCarter, who recently directed “The Color Purple,” which played to sold-out houses at Lab Theater, is one of the actors who said yes to performing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.” In addition to directing, she also acts and was most recently seen in “Confusion” and “The Mountaintop,” both at Theatre Conspiracy.
Why did she say yes?
She’s starting to wonder, herself.
“It sounded like a good idea at the time,” she says and laughs.
“It sounded like a cool challenge. Now I’m thinking: ‘What was I thinking?’ No director, no rehearsal, you’re handed an envelope with the script when you walk onstage. I thought: I’ve never done this before. This would be interesting. This would be challenging.
“It’s very much working without a net. It’s basically a cold reading. And cold reading is one of the things — I wouldn’t say that I excelled at when I was in school — but it never scared me, never bothered me.”
But even when actors are asked to do a cold reading at an audition, they’re usually given a moment to look over the script, she explains, “So it’s not a true cold reading.”
“But this is on another level. I know nothing about the show, the plot, the character. I have no clue. It’s Cold Reading 2.0. It’s a little bit scary.”
She’ll rely on her training as an actor, though she believes natural talent comes into play too.
“As an actor, you have to perfect your skills,” she says. “Having that foundation will play a large part. But if you are a natural actor, that’s going to help as well. You’re in the moment, you have to make split decisions: I’m going to say it this way, do it this way. And those things that come naturally will help you in that moment.”
She’s not feeling dread about her Oct. 23 performance. She describes it as more of a “nervous excitement.
“I’m excited for the challenge, but again, acting is about vulnerability too,” Ms. McCarter says. “This is the ultimate act of vulnerability, getting up on that stage without any rehearsal and performing in front of people who have paid to come and see you. Are they going to get their money’s worth, are they going to be engaged? Are they going to be excited?”
When Ms. Trossbach read “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” she immediately thought, Oh, why did I read this?
“I wanted to perform it myself,” she explains.
But, because she’s read it, she’ll never be able to perform it.
The play made her laugh and cry, she says, because, “It was so different and so immediate. I recognized what was happening: it was the art of acting just laid bare. The story is laid bare in a way you don’t ever see onstage. The concept of the show is so interesting. I was emotionally overwhelmed by the beauty of the show. It really delighted me and moved me when I read it for the first time. It is quite thought-provoking.
“I’m hoping the community will come and cheer these performers on. I think people who love the art of theater, who go to the theater, who are interested in art and theater and performance, are going to love the concept of this show. It is very cool.”
She pauses briefly.
“I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t.” ¦
In the KNOW
“White Rabbit Red Rabbit”
When: Oct. 14-23
Where: The Laboratory Theater of Florida, 1634 Woodford Ave., Fort Myers
Cost: $37 ($15 for students)
Info: 239-218-0481 or www.laboratorytheaterflorida.com
Oct. 14, 8 p.m. David Yudowitz
Oct. 15, 8 p.m. Eric Raddatz
Oct. 16, 2 p.m. Kenneth Randall Jones
Oct. 16, 8 p.m. Lucy Sundby
Oct. 17, 2 p.m., Melanie Payne
Oct. 21, 8 p.m. PJ McCready
Oct. 22, 8 p.m. Stephanie Davis
Oct. 23, 2 p.m. Sonya McCarter
Oct. 23, 8 p.m. Ella Naylor
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