A Student's Experience in Endgame
by: Matthew Gerendasy
Shimer College, in association with IIT's 33rd Street Productions, put on a production of Samuel Beckett's Endgame, November 12-14. Considered one of Beckett's most important works, Endgame is only one act and has only four actors. The conflict of the play centers upon the dependent relationship of the two main characters : Hamm, an aging chair-bound tyrant, and his servant (perhaps son) Clov, who cannot sit down. Hamm's parents, Nagg and Nell, live in trashcans on the edge of the stage, and the four of them appear to live in a state of ritualized unhappiness, in what has been rumored to be a post-apocalyptic world (though Beckett has never ceded to that interpretation).
Two months ago I didn't know much about the play, and I can't say I was looking to be in a play. But, unexpectedly, I found myself not just auditioning, but being awarded the part of Hamm. My adventure with Endgame started when I wandered into the auditions accidentally. After a particularly engrossing community Tuesday, a handful of people lingered in Cinderella after the larger crowd had dispersed. I opted to remain with them because I thought that their intention was to continue discussing some of the issues that the community Tuesday had raised. For a few minutes, it seemed as though this was the case. But all conversation ceased when a door swung open and Duncan Riddell entered the room, clipboard in hand, brown satchel slung over one shoulder. He asked us to write down our names and our specific interest in theater, and before I’d fully come to terms with this new development, the clipboard was in my hands. When I signed my name to that paper (next to the hesitant scrawl: “acting?”), I could not have anticipated just how much of my life would become devoted to Samuel Beckett, to Duncan, and to my fellow actors during the coming weeks – and I could never have hoped to anticipate just how rewarding the experience proved to be.
From the outset, there were setbacks and obstacles to be dealt with. We struggled to obtain our ideal venue, and, when that proved impossible, we made the most of a minuscule budget to transform Cinderella into a dark space that Shimerians would find unrecognizable. Compounding these difficulties were the difficulties inherent in the script itself. Beckett is cruel to his actors; he burdens them with limps, blindness, imprisonment in trashcans, and some of the most baffling cadence and syntax I’ve yet encountered. For hours we rehearsed, long into the night, committing to memory the dialogue and monologues that we found both infuriatingly dense and alluringly poetic. And all the while, we slowly accumulated the myriad props that the script demanded of us, often provided by members of the production team who knew that their property would be returned to them in somewhat less than pristine condition (i.e. shattered, splattered with mud), if indeed it was returned to them at all.
Yes, ours was a troubled production. But it never seemed that way. Each rehearsal was approached with the sort of enthusiasm and good humor that one might expect to see at a wrap party celebrating a successful run of performances. At no point was the outcome of the production in serious question; we all sensed, and Duncan repeatedly assured us, that we were a part of something good. I feel privileged to have been able to take part in this collaborative artwork, and I believe that I speak for all of my collaborators when I say that the final product was well worth the time and energy that we devoted to its creation. On a more personal note, I would like to add that my weeks spent with Beckett, Duncan, Aubin, Thomas, and Raya has taught me a great deal about myself. In performing Endgame, I was forced out of my comfort zone and into another place entirely. It is a place that I hope to visit again soon – perhaps when Duncan starts casting for the Chekhov play next semester. This time, I wouldn’t be wandering in accidentally.