Romance between actors playing opposite one another is nothing new—it’s a cliché without which a myriad of gossip shows and tabloid publications would likely starve. Acting is the only profession I can think of that demands co-workers (who are often complete strangers) to believably create the illusion of intensely intimate relationships. To do so, actors use the script—its language and its imaginary circumstances. But without the commitment of the actors’ other tools - their imaginations, intellects, instincts, emotions, and bodies - no audience member would perceive the characters’ connection as anything but false. Since these tools are the same tools with which all humans relate to one another in the course of “real life,” actors run the risk of having the boundaries between “real” and “imaginary” blur.
I have been a professional actor for over twenty years, and I’ve seen many a “show-mance” ignite during rehearsals. Most cool quickly once the shoot wraps or the show closes, and the “imaginary” forces give way to “real” ones. Sometimes, however, real connections are made, between people, not characters, and these can last a lifetime.
When I first came to work at PlayMakers, fifteen years ago, I was cast as the romantic lead, Posthumus Leonatus, in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Posthumus is no Romeo. He defies the king and marries the princess, Imogen, just before the play starts. Basically he kisses her, he hits her, and between that, he has no stage time with her - he just rages about her and tries to have her killed. Not really “show-mance” material.
I remember distinctly watching the actress playing Imogen, Christina Rouner, enter the room at Graham Hall (where we rehearsed before the current Center for Dramatic Art was built around the Paul Green Theater) on the first day of rehearsal. A strikingly beautiful six-foot-tall blonde, she easily captured my eye. But what I remember most was the thrill of her reading of the part. She had such facility with the language, talent, technique, humor, and emotional availability. I spent the ten-minute break after the read-through feverishly wondering how I was going to step up and match her performance.
Stage time together or no, we had to believably create a couple who had known each other since childhood, been raised in the same court, and loved each other enough to risk the considerable wrath of the king. We met outside of rehearsal time to imagine their life before the start of the play. As actors also draw heavily on their own life experiences to create aspects of their characters, Christina and I wound up sharing more and more deeply personal stories, and began to discover a great many common interests. On the third day of rehearsal, we began to get the first scene up on its feet, and we had to kiss for the first time. It was, let’s say, much easier than anticipated. We enjoyed more and more time together, and I came to feel I had found a kindred spirit. My parents remind me that I described myself at that time as “completely smitten” by Christina. But would our friendship grow beyond the end of the show, or was it all just another “show-mance?”
I am pleased to report that last Thursday, September 29, marked Christina’s and my tenth wedding anniversary. The fact that we celebrated it during the run of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) here, at PlayMakers, where it all began, is a storybook touch to a real-life romance.
Matthew lives in New York City with his wife, Christina, an actress, and their two children, Miranda, 8, and Spencer, 5.