When I found out I would be playing the title role of Pablo Picasso in Steve Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” I was both delighted and daunted. I was delighted to have such a dynamic and complex role in a terrific comedy by one of comedy’s all-time geniuses. I was also daunted to be playing a real person in not so real circumstances which seemed like an enormous challenge. When an actor is handed a role, the first thing they must do is research. Since I was playing a person who actually existed, I had lots of text and information at my disposal. However, since I knew the comedy and the man behind the play was as important as the artist, I started with Steve Martin’s autobiography “Born Standing Up.” This gave me some great insight into the extraordinarily talented playwright and his process in comedy and in life. I have always been a Steve Martin fan (since seeing “The Three Amigos” as a young chico), but this book helped me understand the man behind the laughs. It also showed me how tortuous it can be to be hailed as a “genius.”
This took me to the character of Pablo Picasso- the pioneer and genius behind the Modern Art Movement. I started with a biography called “Picasso Master of the New Idea” which gave an unbiased depiction of his life and art. I also read parts of “Picasso” by Gertrude Stein, one of his close friends. This gave me a great feeling for the man behind the art. He was a man intrigued by art. He was attracted to people who were creative and loved talking about the process of being creative. He thought it was absolutely necessary for any artist to suffer before they could create any real art. In that respect he believed that greatness came out of suffering. He was the kind of man that could take control of the room and tell stories until the sun came up. He was also the kind of man that could retreat to the corner of the bar and brood in depression. He loved women and had many lovers throughout his life. He was also very competitive and always strived to be the best at what he did.
Jump to the actual play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” an absurd comedy about a night that never actually took place. Geniuses meeting and arguing over which area of genius is more important to the human race. Ridiculous comic circumstances taking place with Einstein, Picasso and various visitors in a bar in Paris. The Picasso of the play is very similar in appearance to the real Picasso, but how is he different? That was the next part of my process. Finally, I knew I had to put my own spin on the Picasso of the play which already put its own spin on the Picasso of the world. Are you beginning to understand how taking on this role could seem daunting? What conclusions did I come to and how did I end up interpreting the man and the character of Picasso? If you want to find out, you’ll have to come see the show!
(Far Right: Charleston Stage Resident Actor Brian Zane as Picasso)