Russell Saylor in Amphibian Stage Productions’ Fully Committed.
Photos by Daylon Walton of Random Photography
A chat with Fully Committed star, Russell Saylor
On quick observation, one might dismiss the one-man show Fully Committed as strictly an actor’s exercise in portraying all the show’s characters. But the plot of out-of-work New York actor Sam navigating a hectic shift as reservationist at a snooty East Side restaurant is tasty fare in Becky Mode’s amusingly observant script. Now showing in Fort Worth at Amphibian Stage Productions through Nov. 23, Fully Committed is fully realized in a keen performance by Russell Saylor, who discusses the production with Arts+Culture.
A+C: How many characters do you perform in the play, and how do you keep them all separate in your head?
RUSSELL SAYLOR: There are thirty-seven different characters in the play, and that includes Sam, callers and patrons of the restaurant with whom he interacts, the chef (his boss), the restaurant staff, his friends and family members who call in, and various other voice characters. I found that successfully keeping them separate in my head really came down to making bold, specific choices on their vocal inflections and physical mannerisms. Some of the characters’ idiosyncrasies were delineated in Becky Mode’s script, others were inspired by original characters that I had previously created for other projects, and some were developed during the show’s rehearsal period with Evan Mueller, the director.
A+C: Do you have a favorite character in the production?
RS: It is very difficult to pick a favorite character, but I really do love playing Sam. It is from him that all of the other characters spawn. He is truly the foundation of the piece. You grow to care about him, to root for him. It is Sam’s relationships and interactions that really serve as the engine of the play.
A+C: Did you base any portrayals on anyone you know?
RS: Yes, virtually all of my character portrayals are inspired by actual people. Having lived and worked in New York City for over a decade, I have met, worked with, and observed many different colorful “characters” that have provided specific inspiration for these characters.
A+C: One-actor shows can be very difficult to pull-off. How do you keep the audience, and yourself, focused and not bored?
RS: The director, Evan Mueller, and I felt it was really important to keep the pace of this piece moving both for me as the actor and for the audience. Becky Mode, the playwright, sporadically interweaves plot points throughout the interactions of the various characters, so we felt that the most efficient way for us to take the audience on the journey was to get them to each of those plot points as expeditiously as possible. It was equally important to us to add as much specificity as possible to each character so that the audience almost forgets that it is just one actor performing the play. Hopefully, after the audience gets accustomed to the one-man element, they start to envision all of the characters so clearly that the performance literally becomes transformative. The play also has a very strong sense of pace built into each character’s dialogue, the sound cues of the ringing phones, and the physicality of Sam. The director said to me once in rehearsal that performing this play is like riding a wave, you have to be just ahead of it to successfully take the ride. We really worked very hard on that aspect of the show during rehearsals.
A+C: In many ways, it’s a play of empowerment as Sam starts to take control of his life as we move towards the finish.
RS: Yes, I completely agree self-empowerment is a central theme. Throughout the play, Sam learns that the importance of seeing himself as worthy of success is the key to reaching it both personally and professionally. He becomes empowered throughout the piece to manipulate his circumstances so that they work to his advantage. It changes the way he sees himself and also how others see him. It reminds me of the old saying: “We teach others how to treat us.”
A+C: I guess almost everyone has felt trapped by their job at one time or another.
RS: Yes, I have worked at a job that felt that way, but I really tried hard during that time to remain positive and to keep myself focused on my goals. Survival jobs in New York City are a rite of passage. People often mistreat you, or belittle your talent, or see you as one of the countless many who are doomed to failure. I feel that it is up to you to determine how your own story unfolds. I view that time in my life as a test that I passed. I think Sam passes the test, too.
— SCOT HART