Allison Page gets into character.
It’s really one of my favorite things to say – “Watch me, while I put my antic disposition on.”, I heard that phrase while acting in a production of David Ives’ WORDS, WORDS, WORDS. If you’re unfamiliar with the short play, it’s about three monkeys locked in a room with a typewriter, trying to write HAMLET. It’s been a decade since I performed it, and I can’t even seem to figure out which character I played, (I have a notoriously bad memory, you should know this.), but I’ve been saying it ever since. The phrase “antic disposition” itself comes from good old Willy Shakes:
How strange or odd soe’er I bear myself,
As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on
Basically, Hamlet’s saying he’s going to act crazy. And the monkey? The monkey is saying he’s going to act like a monkey. The monkey has all kinds of opinions, and thinks about all sorts of things, not just bananas, but the monkey knows that to get what he wants he has to act like a monkey. He jumps up and down, lets out some monkey yells, pounds his chest…and gets a cigarette, which is exactly what he wanted.
Sometimes I’m that monkey.
I’m sure a lot of us are that monkey, but I definitely am. The second someone finds out that a person has anything to do with comedy – boom – you’re the monkey. Ohhh, you’re the monkey, alright. It never bothers me in the moment. A switch sort of flips and I turn into a joke machine. I can find a punchline to tag onto the end of anyone’s sentence, and I will do that. Over and over again. For hours. I’m not sure I can even help it.
But the strangest thing tends to happen when I end that interaction – leave the party, gathering, group of humans huddled on the sidewalk, whatever – I’m completely silent. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes on my way home from such a gathering, I stop at a corner store for a cool beverage purchase, and you’d never know I was the same person. Super stone-faced, pay for the item, take my change, and nod. The switch has re-flipped. I turned off my antic disposition and now I’m walking around like a zombie Kristen Stewart…or just regular Kristen Stewart, really.
My own feelings about the way I’m perceived frustrate me. I have to be funny. It’s a need. It’s a requirement up there with eating and breathing. If something awful happened and some wires in my brain got crossed and I could never be funny again – I would throw myself into oncoming traffic. I really would. But the fact that I’m a human being means that I get to think things like, “That’s not all there is in here! I’m all kinds of other shit! Come see how complicated I am! Hurry up, I’m getting more complicated by the second! If you don’t know there’s more to me than that, then you don’t know me at all!” (insert finger wagging here)
I felt like a part of me was fogged over from stepping away from theater unrelated to comedy. I focused on sketch writing and acting, stand up, improvising, teaching other people to improvise – which was maybe the best thing I’ve ever done but then I ended up feeling like, well…fuck. Am I just the antic disposition now? Have I lost sight of something?
I’m rehearsing for a real honest-to-goodness play right now. The first fully staged production of something that isn’t 100% comedy 100% of the time, that I’ve done in several years. It’s still a comedy a lot of the time, but there are other powers at work here. And I’m not playing someone who wears a monocle, or has a silly accent, or wields a banana as a weapon against aliens or is the wacky best friend with a hilariously-shaped facial mole. She’s a person who needs to seem like an actual person. She’s a person in love, a person dealing with internal conflict, a person who is afraid of life itself, a person who covers up her feelings by making jokes andOOOHHHH SHIIIIT, IS SHE ME?!?!
I’m not sure that Rita is me, or that I’m Rita, but every day I see more of myself in her. We’re conflicted people. Everyone’s a conflicted person. I love tomatoes but think ketchup is stupid. I like things to be clean but I don’t want to clean anything. I fall in love very quickly but I can abandon it just as fast. I work really hard, but I’m lazy. Jesus, is this an Alanis Morissette song?
Maybe it’s true that you can never really know another person, but can you ever really know yourself? And if you did, would you be happy with what you found or would it just be another antic disposition?
Allison slipped on several banana peels immediately after she finished writing this blog. Wokka wokka! You can see Allison as Rita in The Custom Made Theatre Co.’s production of PRELUDE TO A KISS, opening May 21st.