The Normal Heart

So far, the Monday classes with Suzanna this month have been pretty sad. We are doing two comedies and a drama, but two out of three still focus on death or dying so we very much look forward to the cute scene from Accidentally on Purpose.

The first week is cold reads, so Nick and I went through our scene from the Normal Heart. As soon as I saw the title, I knew exactly what was going on, and although I couldn’t picture the scene in my head, I remembered the scenes surrounding it, and all of the people that are mentioned. My scene partner, however, had no idea what was going on, and a few lines could be extremely misinterpreted if you didn’t know the back story and the relationship. From then on, things got heavy. I tried to find the balance between the professional who is used to delivering bad news, the woman who is telling her friend he is going to die and the doctor who is exhausted and exasperated with the lack of information and funding she is dealing with.


This week, we were going to be on camera, so we ran the scene a few times in the hallway before going up first. We tried it with him taking the news really resigned and sad, but also with him angry and not wanting to accept it until the end. When we did it in front of the class, the first time was okay, but I came across as trying to play the scene sad, which is not at all what you should do. In general, humans try to pretend they’re happy and hold back tears, not go out of their way to show how sad they are. Suzanna suggested I find something to get me really sad, then try to play the scene professional, because that is a lot closer to what my character would be doing.

Normally, I would have tried to think of something sad that approximately resembled her situation, but it just so happened that there was something going on in my personal life that made this exercise really hit close to home. Something I hadn’t let myself really think about or feel. It definitely got me sad, but instead of trying to be professional, I just got lost in it and was completely thrown, forgetting all my lines, when Nick reacted to the news with anger. We restarted, but Suzanna reminded me that I should be present and listening and ready to take whatever my partner gives me in the scene, thinking it was his anger that threw me. I, on the other hand, got a taste of why certain imaginary circumstances/substitutions should not be used, especially if you haven’t dealt with them in your life yet.

The next take, I found it a little hard to balance his anger with my sadness, but it looked really good when I watched it, especially the emotional life of the second half of the scene. The only notes I gave myself for the before last scene was that my head is down and I shake it too much. We did it one last time, with an improv before that was slightly more difficult since so much of it was medical questions that I didn’t have the answer to, but neither did my character. At the time, we all agreed that we liked the before last take better, but watching them, I really like the last one too. We had the sadness, I struggled to be professional, but I also got angry at the lack of resources and how no one cares about an epidemic that is killing all kinds of people I happen to be getting close to.

The Normal Heart was a heartbreaking movie to watch, and this was a challenging scene to play.

“There will always be enemies. Time to stop being your own.”

“Almost more than talent you need tenacity, and an infinite capacity for rejection, if you are to succeed.”

-Larry Kramer

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