The Artist’s Journey: John Ahlin
Each week, The Artist’s Journey will provide an insider look at the creation of a production, from first rehearsal to opening night, through the eyes of one of the show’s key players.
John Ahlin is playing “Angus MacLeod” in the world premiere-comedy A Dram of Drummhicit. Some of his credits include Waiting for Godot, Journey’s End (2007 Tony Award Best Revival), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Voices in the Dark (directed by Christopher Ashley), One Mo’ Time, Whoopee! and Macbeth.
Part Four: The Cast of Characters
If rehearsals had a soundtrack, the music would now be pulsating and driving, like when Captain Kirk fights the Gorn. What was once weeks on the calendar is now days … the specter of opening night has breached the horizon and is approaching with a relentless cadence. The cast and director of A Dram of Drummhicit have furiously nurtured the play and in the nick of time, for our final rehearsal hall run-through, charging over that same horizon, come a heart-swelling hoard of reinforcements … the designers. We actors futilely look to them, as they watch, for laughs, tears and cheers because they represent our first feedback, but they are too busy figuring out how to layer in their own designs for the move to the theater itself. Each designer brings skillfully honed elements from their various worlds …worlds that collectively make up the theatre universe.
And one character I haven’t mentioned yet happens to be the most vital of all. If this person hadn’t one day, while staring out the window (a job requirement), caught a thought and then slid his legal pad over within writing distance…none of this would be happening. I refer to the playwright. For A Dram of Drummhicit we are fortunate to have Arthur Kopit (the co-author along with Anton Dudley) and his consummate skill with us every day. One of life’s confusions is the word ‘playwright’. Yes, a playwright writes plays but, more precisely he ‘wrights’ them…he builds them. A boatwright or a wainwright will piece together their constructs, just as the playwright crafts the theme, plot, style and characters of the play. And to be in the room with Arthur and watch him adjust and consult and explain and ponder the precise word is thrilling. For the cast to help create something new requires special care, since a world premiere play is more than rehearsing and nursing our parts, it is breathing life into something that never existed. It is birth. My favorite moments are when Arthur discovers his own play. There might be a fuzzy plot point, and Chris and Arthur will discuss it, and then almost magically, Arthur gets an inspiration dictated by what Dram has become. The creation itself suggests the answer. That is when we know the play is truly alive.
Then, with the imaginary soundtrack playing Colonel Bogey, we march over to the Weiss Theater to begin tech rehearsals. Tech is the theatrical equivalent of the Omaha Beach landing. And here rises a major, yet seldom heralded, champion…the stage manager. This individual, along with her superlative assistants and crew, coordinates countless cues, synchronizes the hauling of massive set units to hit marks in the dark, harmonizes Houdini-like costume changes and humors actors standing around talking about famous people they’ve worked with (I personally don’t drop names; Paul Newman taught me that) all the while the director on the appropriately named “God microphone” croons such standards as “Are We Ready?” and “Let’s Take That Again!”
Genius lies in the biggest thoughts and the tiniest details. The purpose of tech is to perfect every moment, so the sweeping tale of A Dram of Drummhicit can be truly told. And this whole colossal endeavor is in anticipation of the arrival of the final member of our cast of characters…the audience. That is when rehearsal becomes theatre.