Danny Dove’s Guide to Method Acting

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“I got you an audition,” my ex-wife Connie said from the lower deck of my houseboat, one hand shading her eyes. I was already half-drunk on the better part of a twelve of the High Life and thinking I should take swimming lessons since I spent so much of my time on the boat—the Connie Marie—and hadn’t ever really learned to swim.

“A what?” I thought she must have said an addition, but that didn’t make much sense to me, not an entirely unusual set of circumstances between Connie and me.

“In that musical about the cowboy—The Legend of Appaloosa Andy at Memorial Auditorium.” She started up the ladder to the top deck. “Can you sing?”

“I don’t know. Never tried.” I opened another Miller, holding it up for Connie. “Why would you think I wanted an audition?” She shook her head at the beer like I’d offered her a can of kitty litter.

“You have a natural ability,” she said. “And, besides, you need a new vocation, something to focus on, to help you redirect your negative energy. I read a book that said negative energy can cause great damage to a person, like general bad luck, health problems, low self-esteem, and negative subconscious programming.”

I hadn’t realized I was programming anything negative or anything at all, for that matter—made me sound like a robot, which got me thinking about Blade Runner, with Han Solo from Star Wars, the coolest movie I’d ever seen. I didn’t feel particularly bad health-wise, except for an occasional tenderness in my pitching arm. And sitting on the deck of my houseboat on a Saturday morning drinking Millers with self-improvement ideas running through my head felt pretty positive. I thought Connie would be proud of me for thinking forward. It was 1986 and I had quit baseball for private business in an effort to turn my life around. There were other setbacks too, most of which were caused by yours truly, Danny Dove, former South Atlantic League relief pitcher, ex-husband, boyfriend, and motorcycle enthusiast. 1986 had been a disappointing year right on through August, bad days all around. I married, divorced, and then dated Connie. There was Chernobyl. Then Challenger exploded on TV in front of the whole nation, leaving everyone feeling poured out. The breaking point came with Al Capone’s vault though, which really summed up the year. Geraldo Rivera gets everybody excited about finding Capone’s vault in an old hotel and what might be inside—guns, money, bodies, god knows—and he wants to open it live on TV. After a bunch of commercials and hullabaloo about the history of Capone, they finally blasted the vault open. Through a cloud of dust and smoke Geraldo rushes in and brings out—some empty bottles. Geraldo tried to make those bottles special by saying they probably held bathtub gin, but it didn’t feel special to anyone, just disappointing and empty. And that’s how 1986 felt to me. After that, I didn’t see how the year could get any worse.

“I can help you with part of it, but the rest is up to you. First we do a ‘banishing ritual,’ to cast out the unhelpful energy, then get you down to the auditorium and let them see what I see.”

I was reluctant to resist Connie’s self-improvement notions. She believed in the inner me, what she called my intimate “twin,” more than the one she claimed I chose to show everyone else, which she usually called a “jackass.” She encouraged me to embrace new things, like mall shopping over by the high school, pleated pants and skinny ties with piano keys Connie said made me look more contemporary, and a new hairdo that required hair mousse. So believing a banishing ritual was harmless enough, I let her clean my spirit up. She had more than once before a game helped me banish gloomy thoughts about my pitching, and even made me wear a special crystal she had found on a trip to the Navajo Reservation.

She left the boat and returned a few minutes later with a Belk’s bag filled with two incense burners, banishing incense—really just dried rosemary and some incense she got from the flea market, chalice of water—a margarita glass filled with rain water, a white candle, and salt. She lit the banishing incense and the candle and walked circles around me.

“First clockwise, then counter clockwise. We should do this at the new moon, but you need to be cleansed before you turn up at that audition. Otherwise, all that negative force will let loose over that stage and everyone in the auditorium. Not good, unless you’re going to play a murderer or a depressive. Musicals are always upbeat and positive. That’s what they’re for—making people feel upbeat and positive about themselves and life. Now, try to visualize the negative energy being chased away by the incense smoke.”

Connie walked around me ten times, first one way then the other, and concluded the whole affair by sprinkling some of the protection water and salt into each corner of the houseboat. She even added an extra dose of protection water over the side of the boat to shield me from drowning myself.

There must have been something to it. I got a part in the musical—non-singing, but playing Indian Guide #1. At the audition I was still drunk on Miller and heartened, I suppose, by Connie’s puffing me up with ideas of specialness. I put a great deal of passion—upbeat emotions of course—into my audition. I had originally read for the part of Appaloosa Andy, at Connie’s urging. When I sang, though, the sounds out of my throat, while certainly passionate, weren’t all that affirming, and the director stopped me soon after I started. I thought I heard him say to his assistant something like “too bad we don’t need a Sasquatch,” or at least it sounded like that. Granted I’m a bit hirsute, as Connie has reminded often, but I didn’t know if he was referring to my hairiness or my voice.

“I like your energy. But no singing for you,” he said.

***

For the next five weeks, we rehearsed every other night. I didn’t have to show up for every rehearsal, but Connie said I should go and watch the others so I would know the musical inside and out.

“Become that Indian Guide. That’s called method acting,” she said. “Get in touch with your character’s emotions.”

I wasn’t sure what kinds of emotions an Indian Guide might have. Connie said I could also use my own memories to help me convey the Indian Guide’s feelings. So I tried to recall all those setbacks, from my short-lived pitching career to the failed auto business to my ups and downs with Connie. Relying on my reputation as a former minor league ball player, four years with the Phillies, I opened a used car business near Duncan Park on Union Street—Danny Dove’s Autos: He’ll Give You the Right Pitch Every Time. Connie dreamed that up. She liked the idea of me owning my own business and had visions of us expanding into new cars. It didn’t matter; the car business was hard, I didn’t know squat about the things, and, despite my reputation as a ball player, people just wanted a bargain. When I sold my last lemon—a $1500 ‘81 Corolla to a boy headed off to Furman—I could take it no more. I dumped my inventory on Vic Bailey, and settled in to drinking on my houseboat, where I had also begun to live. Connie thought my isolation was unhealthy and believed acting would help to draw out my inner twin, the one she claimed was aching to be seen and heard. As a business owner, I had even made a TV commercial for Danny Dove’s Autos, which aired after 11:00 pm on weekends for a few weeks. Dressed in my old Phillies uniform, I pretended to throw a pitch at the camera while the ball transformed via the miracle of television into the words The Right Price for You! Connie believed I had lent something special to that commercial. While I was skeptical of my inner twin, someone I’d never heard much from myself, I had given up trying to resist Connie’s efforts at personal improvement.

 ***

I suppose the method acting helped, but I wasn’t sure if Indian Guide #1 ever had a series of failed careers or even if he was or had been married. Connie, however, believed every little bit helped to bring a singular quality to my presentation. My most important function in the show was to guide The Lone Ranger—yes, that’s right, The Lone Ranger, the original, in our musical—to Appaloosa Andy. I mostly just pointed and led The Lone Ranger’s horse—a real horse, though not the original Silver, just a white one they borrowed from a Pacolet horse farm—since I was an Indian and didn’t speak much English. I thought how my character might feel towards The Lone Ranger, this white man but a good guy. I was supposed to help him, but I couldn’t get this History Channel show about the Trail of Tears out of my head and wondered if my character might harbor resentment towards this white man on the trail of Appaloosa Andy. I tried wrinkling my brow, pointing one way then another to show my own inner conflict, but the director told me to keep an objective face and just point in the one direction. From then, I tried to convey only goodwill in my pointing and sign language. Connie also encouraged me to improvise a few made-up Indian words to add authenticity, which I did, mostly English words ending in –um. I did invent a few phrases like “Ayon, puno daw ito,” which is meant to mean “Follow the setting sun.” I highlighted these phrases with a clenched fist against my chest and a return to my furrowed brow. I have to confess: that phrase and others I borrowed from the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Nobody, as far as I know, knew the difference. Connie said I had truly personified the Indian guide.

So, The Lone Ranger. We were notified of this little surprise about midway through the rehearsals. One of the show’s producers knew Mr. Moore through a relative in California. But Mr. Moore didn’t turn up until a few days before the final dress rehearsal. Up until then, I had to address a stand-in. When he did turn up for rehearsals, he was in uniform, except he wore black wrap-around sunglasses instead of the black mask due to a lawsuit that said he couldn’t play The Lone Ranger any longer. Still, he had the white hat, red kerchief, black gloves, studded black holster on each hip, ivory-handled pistols, and the tight blue pants and waistcoat. The clothes were so tight the director asked Mr. Moore to cover his groin with his saddlebag when he wasn’t on the horse. For a few run-throughs I couldn’t get past those sunglasses. But Mr. Moore never took them off as far as I knew.

When I was having trouble visualizing my character’s emotional state, I asked Mr. Moore, who had directed everyone to refer to him only as “The Lone Ranger,” if he had any advice on acting. And like Connie, he told me I needed to live in my character, to believe what he believed, to think the way he thought.

“You’re an Indian who has likely overcome great odds, at great costs, yet he remains true to himself and others. And he uses his knowledge for the greater good—as we all should,” he said.

I asked him if he believed in what The Lone Ranger believed. He launched right into The Lone Ranger creed without blinking an eye, though with those black glasses on it was hard to tell what his eyes were doing.

“I believe… That to have a friend, a man must be one. That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world. That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself—”

And so on. He was serious, this guy. At times I wasn’t sure if I was talking to Mr. Clayton Moore or The Lone Ranger. It was uncanny, and I wondered if even he knew who he was sometimes.

     ***

The Friday before opening night, our final dress rehearsal, I was a case of nerves. Up until then I hadn’t thought much about an audience, but once I let in the fact that the auditorium would be full of people, I lost all my motivational impulses. I couldn’t recall my emotional cues or get out the Ewokese I’d learned without inverting some of the words. On the houseboat I couldn’t find my headdress, a sweatband dyed brown and decorated with rhinestones and felt strips. My leather costume developed a tear in the crotch, which I sewed up but only made worse by cinching too tight, thus creating an odd-looking wrinkle that pinched my privates and made me walk bowlegged. All this left me jittery and afraid of screwing up. Friday morning found me drinking Millers on the houseboat in an attempt to calm my nerves and recover my emotional state.

By the time I was due to leave for the final dress rehearsal, I was feeling no more confident about my performance. I had put on my costume, and even painted my face in an attempt to get into character. I paced on top of my houseboat, pointing and clutching my fist to my chest, recited Ewokese again and again, shadow danced my entire dance number, and even meditated on my relationship with nature, since Indian Guide #1 relied on and understood nature better than even The Lone Ranger himself.

I mentioned earlier I was a motorcycle enthusiast. I owned three of them, but my pride and joy was a 1973 Triumph Hurricane, model X-75—a real beauty with all original stock parts. I didn’t ride her much; while she looked great and got lots of attention when I did, she was painful to ride, giving me bruises on my thighs from the fiberglass body that jutted out. But I needed a boost and figured I’d ride to dress rehearsal in style, in full costume atop my Hurricane. And this is where the Miller comes in, sort of, though the accident wasn’t my fault—I was sideswiped and left for dead by a jerk in a Ford Granada.

If you’ve ever been in an accident, you know things move fast at first then in slow motion as your brain tries to figure things out. I lost control of the bike, laid her down, and skidded for about fifty feet into a ditch along Highway 9. The ER doctor told me I was probably unconscious for about three minutes. When I woke up, I saw myself, blood trickling down my chin, reflected in the lenses of The Lone Ranger’s black wraparounds. He was kneeling over me, in full costume, asking me if I was alright. The Granada was nowhere in sight; the road was empty and quiet. It was just The Lone Ranger and me in the ditch. He had sent his wife Connie—my Connie called the like names an undeniable example of synchronicity—to call an ambulance.

“You’re going to be just fine, my Indian friend. Help is on the way,” he said and took off his hat to shade me from the sun as I blacked out. When I regained consciousness, I was already in the ambulance with paramedics leaning over me, and The Lone Ranger was nowhere in sight. One of them laughed and said, “Who was that masked man?”

I had a few scrapes and bruises, and my Hurricane was a mangled mess, but the leather of my Indian Guide #1 costume prevented me from losing skin to road rash. The show went on. I was removed from the dance number because a bruised knee left me limping, but the director said the scrapes on my chin and cheeks and the torn patches on my costume lent authenticity to my role. I appeared on stage for thirty seconds with The Lone Ranger and performed my role without a hitch, Ewokese, fist-clinching, pointing and all. As I delivered my lines I saw my reflection in The Lone Ranger’s black glasses, and I swear I became that Indian Guide. When I pointed The Lone Ranger towards the setting sun, I felt a bubble rise in my chest, a sensation of hovering so that I was watching myself from above. And when my performance was over, I do believe The Lone Ranger winked at me from behind those sunglasses and nodded his approval before he and his horse trotted offstage.

 

 

Previously published in the anthology, Stars Fell on Spartanburg (Hub City, 2008).
Photo By: Le Batteur De Lune




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About Author

Christopher Bundy's stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and magazines, from Glimmer Train and Atlanta Magazine to DIAGRAM and The Collagist. He teaches writing and literature at Savannah College of Art & Design-Atlanta.

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