Phil Collins

In the Air Tonight

by Mary Catherine Wilson

Phil_Collins_InTheAirTonightSometimes an actor will use a specific piece of music or a song to help create a character or prepare an emotional state of being that can propel them onto the stage to start a scene. I don’t particularly work that way, but I do believe all actors–whether consciously or unconsciously–use pre-show music to prepare for the show they are about to perform. For me, this pre-show music that the director or sound designer has pumped into the theater is like a countdown clock to the beginning of the show. When a certain song comes on I know I have 3 minutes until curtain goes up.

There is, however, one song that whenever I hear it–be it in an elevator, store, supermarket, or unexpectedly on the radio–that even twenty-three years later creates a specific emotional state of both dread and disbelieving laughter.

The show this song brings to mind was a shapeless monstrosity, probably the worst show I have ever done.┬áIt will remain nameless to protect the guilty. Let’s just say it was a two-hander, revolving around an alcoholic, abusive mother and her broken relationship with her only daughter. This most vile of mothers was played by yours truly: the most innocent of twenty-two-year-olds, never having had a drink much lessi am an actor been drunk, never having had sex much less had a kid, never having hit anyone much less beat the shit out of her own daughter. And the daughter was played by my twenty-six year old friend.

Still, I performed my role in true jumping-off-a-cliff-passionate-twenty-something-year-old earnest. It was the worst show with the best intentions of being good, and I had every intention of being good as well.

The song? In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins.

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, OH LORD!”

That feeling of dread and nearly helpless hilarity the song dredges up in me is not because of the mediocre writing, the ever-looping dialog where my fellow actress and I kept losing our place. (Each night the show ended a wee bit differently depending on how the hell we managed to get it back on track.)

It’s not because of the late night rehearsals–beginning at 11:00 p.m., because that was the only time we could use the rehearsal space.

It’s not because of the home-made props (I managed to cut my throat, killing myself onstage, every night with a plastic vodka bottle that had a blood squeezer in it).

The mix of emotions the song brings up in me is because of that true jumping off a cliff-passionate twenty-something-year-old earnest feeling. The feeling that sure I AM AN ACTOR- I can act anything! The feeling of bravado, moxie, or whatever you want to call it. The indomitable spirit that could not be quieted or squelched for me at that age when it came to acting.

I was not super out-going in my real life. I was a bit shy unless I really trusted you. I was fat and felt horribly unattractive and ugly. But as an actor I was fearless. I wanted to do and be everything I wasn’t in my real life.

Lately, after years of being in the entertainment industry in various capacities I am missing that twenty-something-year-old spirit. I am missing my brave take-no-prisoners self. I need to find her again, for the world shouldn’t be without her.

There is a video of this horror somewhere in the world. Maybe I should find it and watch it and regain that girl.

Can you feel that coming in the air?


Phil Collins