"I talk to myself. If it gets to be too much, please tell me to shut up."
Nicholas Rice's internal monologue is on display for all to hear. I walk into the dressing room at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Ontario and see him sitting in his chair, with his head slightly bowed. We exchange a pleasant "good morning" and then go about our business preparing for a run-through of "Leading Ladies" in which he portrays an exuberant and good-natured Doctor.
Soon, Nick's voicing of his internal monologue begins...out loud, just audible enough to pick out the highlights.
" ...where are you Nick? Well, you're standing in the dressing room and you're about to get into costume. That seems like a good idea. It's the perfect time. Now, where did you put your pants? Well, they're right in front of you.. Great! Now... let's get into them. One leg at a time, as the man says......"
And it goes in waves. Sometimes he'll sing, sometimes he'll hum. There will be pauses and the occasional clearing of the throat before his asides begin again. Every so often he'll engage with the room and no doubt it will be a pleasant, supportive comment. Something like, "it's really great getting to know you", or he'll pat me on the back and say, "I'm really glad you're here".
And then he goes back to getting ready. The monologue continues.
It may seem disconcerting, but I have found after two and a half weeks with this gentle, kind and generous 65 year-old performer that the flow of comments, questions, concerns, and lines from the play have become a soothing kind of background.
When Nick requested that I tell him to shut up, I immediately said, "it really doesn't bother me." And I meant it.
My mother used to talk to herself all the time. I can't really blame her. After all, she was at home raising four boys, and as she would say, "I talk to myself all the time because at least I know someone is listening. And, I'll always get an intelligent response".
I find it comforting.
In conversation Nick is curious and kind. I've been blown away by his memory. He recalls moments and events from life; our first meeting in Calgary many years ago for example, and I wonder if it's because he's constantly talking. Reviewing, reliving, confirming.
"How's this gonna go over"
Something i've been thinking about over the last year and a half being immersed in the Disability Arts movement is that every artist has their own unique and extraordinary process by which they express themselves. For myself, the one constant is the moment before I present my work and the exhilaration, trepidation, and adrenaline rush of the unknown.
I've heard performers referred to as adrenaline junkie's, and I suppose that may very well be true. I know that I love it. For some folks, however, the question of "how's this gonna' go over?" is enough to block their creative flow. So, how do you get past it?
When I posed this question (or something like it) to Nick, his response was akin to: "anyway you can." If I recall correctly, we were talking about the tricks he's picked up over the years to memorizing lines. He's got a million of them - highlighters and notebooks and prompt scripts and more... and as I struggle with post-concussion memory issues I've taken to admiring his tenacity, dedication, good humour and grace.
You find your way through. We've all got our tricks, our little ticks and eccentricities. With grace and good humour we'll put this thing up. Ever building memories.
"Leading Ladies" opens July 22 and runs to August 19 at the 1000 Islands Playhouse.