Some of the actors in  The Merry Wives of Windsor  pose backstage before the show.

Some of the actors in The Merry Wives of Windsor pose backstage before the show.

By John Ahlin

 This is the third in a series of blog posts written by the actor playing Sir John Falstaff in this season’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.

It’s good to share the stage with great people. One of the funniest things I have even seen happened a few shows ago during The Merry Wives of Windsor. I, as Falstaff, deliver two pieces of bad news to the thinly disguised Master Ford,played by masterful Geoffrey Kent. Geoff takes a big gulp of sack, and does two quite funny spit-takes, one after each piece of news.

But on this intermittently rainy night the temperature and dew point collided and Geoff’s first spit-take condensed into a very visible cloud and floated away on the gentle breeze. I was looking away but turned just in time to glimpse the cloud and hear the audience laughing heartily at so odd a sight. Geoff and I mutually knew, with another spit-take coming, to let things simply play out. I again turned away, delivered piece of bad news two, heard the spit-take, and turned back only to see a brilliantly lit, eight-foot tall vaguely human-like vapor moving at me. I calmly stepped aside as the graceful apparition crossed the stage and exited down the stage left ramp into the night. The audience was in hysterics, leaving me plenty of time to play “What the hell was that?!” and myriad weather-related mimes. It ended with huge applause, but it was the silent communication Geoff and I had, born of seventy years of combined experience, which delivered the greatest spit-take of all time.

And not only that, after countless missed entrances in the history of showbiz, it was the first mist exit.

The honor of working with so many seasoned, gifted, and generous actors is one of the great pleasures of being a guest artist with Utah Shakespeare Festival acting company. Equally joyous is being around the young actors. They will often inquire of me what it takes to “make it,” but if they only knew how much they inspire me. In them, in a very pure form, I see the desire and passion that I can say, after all these years, is the key to a life in the theatre. 

An actor is his or her own toolbox. Most everything needed to succeed is within him or her.  Gratitude is one such tool, and so to express thanks to the young artists I’ll list just a few of the tools I’ve learned are very useful in “making it.”  

Curiosity: It is the fuel of the artistic life. Think, ponder, wonder, imagine. Bill Watterson, the Calvin and Hobbes author, loved his wife for understanding that when he was staring out the window, he was at work. 

Hard Work: You achieve the greatest height by toiling upward in the night. You won’t be on Broadway tomorrow, but you can start working towards it tomorrow.

Tenacity: Don’t give up. Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected twenty-seven times. ‘Nuff said.

Humility: Assume you are no better than anyone, but know you are no worse. Your opinions have more value the less you express them.

Reputation: Acting is a profession with so many facets you can’t control. Who you are is something you can.

Courage: Know skeptical fish live the longest, but be brave and say yes to the seemingly impossible; otherwise you’ll never know what’s possible.

Devotion: Care, truly care, about the thing itself, whatever it is you choose to do.