by Richard Riaz Yoder
It’s a normal Friday at Lincoln Center during put in rehearsals for My Fair Lady and I’m well into my final two weeks before I jet off to Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma to play one of my favorite roles of all time: Cosmo Brown in Singin’ In the Rain. I have also been going to Chelsea Piers twice a week for two months working on getting a back flip and a wall flip to get ready for this particular role. I’m standing off stage right at the Vivian Beaumont theatre looking onstage to make sure I have the blocking right incase I have to swing on for someone before I leave. I try to get a better look at a scene but didn’t realize that I stepped back onto an uneven part of the stage next to the bathroom.
I lost my footing and when I landed on my right foot I felt a sharp pain.
At the time I didn’t think anything of it and was just like “ugh a dancer can dance anywhere but never ask them to walk” and finished the rehearsal. As I was leaving to get dinner I notices my foot still hurting so I took off my shoe and sock to see if anything was poking me and saw that my ankle was purple. I filled out a report and went to the doctor right away and I was told that I sprained my ankle and aggravated a tendon on the bottom of my foot. I’m like “no biggie! Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. I will be good to go later.”
The next day it was purpler (did I make up that word?), started to swell, and it hurt to walk so much that I started limping. My first thought was what the hell am I going to do. I still have one week in this show and I leave for my next job right after that… I’m screwed.
Once I started to get physical therapy the next Monday it was clear that a wall flip and a backflip were out of the question for “Make ‘Em Laugh” (one of the most fantastic musical numbers in golden age movie history in my opinion) and maybe even some dancing throughout the show. It meant that all the money and extra time I spent working and getting those skills were for nothing and they wouldn’t make it to the stage. It meant that I wouldn’t be able to dance full out the way that I normally like to. I felt like a failure and was embarrassed. I thought that maybe I should just pull out of the show and stay in New York City.
I also felt like I let people down and that maybe I wasn’t good enough to do this role anyway. People want to see that amazing flip and that how could I be good enough for this without having some fantastic trick? I would have to go there and just use everything that I already have to make this part special and mine. I started to go down this terrible downward spiral and I had to leave for the show in one week! I didn’t know what to do so I just sat in silence for a while and just let whatever emotions or thoughts come to me.
What came to me was the sassiest voice saying, “Bitch! You gonna let one hurt ankle and flip define your life? You think that you have nothing to give by yourself? You think that you aren’t worth anything? Stop being stupid, stop complaining, and get to work! You are fierce as you are!” With that I realized I put all of that pressure on myself. There was no outside influence coming at me. I had set up so many things myself to get in my own way.
I didn’t think I was good enough so I wanted to add a trick to make sure people would like what I did rather than just use my own skills and personality to create a role. I know it sounds strange but it was a blessing that it happened. Taking the trick out of the equation forced me to rely on what I already had or could research before I left. After I had this realization I started looking up famous clowns, comedians, and vaudeville acts during that time period. I tried to learn as much as I could about that style of comedy and physical movement so that I could incorporate it into my character but also find a way to use my humor mixed in with it so it could feel natural to me.
When I started rehearsal for the show and “Make ‘Em Laugh” was one of the first rehearsals I was so nervous about what would happen and it ended up being wonderful. I used everything I learned from studying that it ended up being better than if I had just littered the number with tricks. I used comedy and my own personality to fill the number, which is what the number and Cosmo should be about. If anything I think that sprained ankle forced me to be more confident in my own skin and trust that I am a good actor and am funny… because I’m funny as hell! This experience helped me believe in myself as a person more which is something a flip will never do. When the show opened and people said how great the number was no one ever said, “Well it’s too bad you didn’t do the flip.”