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The Wet Run: The History of Acting & Alcohol With Performance

wet run
Written by Joseph Mcqueen

Although frowned upon by outsiders, wet runs, or using substances to help performance, is a common method used in the world of acting.

Acting is a profession that many would love to do, but don’t fully acknowledge the stress-levels involved. Sadly, It’s not all Hollywood parties, nights out at the Soho Groucho club, and private jets to LA. Although, obviously for the top 1%, it might be. But we can’t all be Leonardo Di Caprio and Jennifer Lawrence. For most people, acting is a daily grind, full of constant rejection and pretty demoralizing auditions. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, I am one, so I know what I’m talking about.

Nonetheless, there are certain elements of acting that are constant and similar, whatever step on the ladder of success you’re standing on. Everyone has to learn lines, everyone has to perform in front of people (even if it’s just your mum on Christmas), and sometimes, everyone has a go at a wet run. But what is a wet run? The role of substances in the rehearsal process can be more helpful than you may have thought. 

The History of Acting

Acting is as old as democracy. In ancient Greece, in 700 BC, there were theatres or ‘seeing places’, which would perform Greek tragedies and comedies. Telling stories has always been a part of civilization, it’s our way of teaching others about morality and recounting important memories. In a sense, acting, performance and story-telling was one of the first pillars of society to exist. What would we be without our ability to communicate and tell each other our tales? Ultimately, it’s what has allowed humankind to do what we have done. And this method all began in ancient Greece. Just as the Greeks had come together and defined democracy and the judicial system, they also birthed theatre. Greek Boston writes:

“Most historians trace the formal development of theater to the city-state of Athens…It is largely thought that the Ancient Athenians had a flair for drama that extended into things like religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals… Over time, people began creating plays that were to be performed at theaters. They were written down so that the performance could be repeated over and over again.”

wet run

Over time, acting became a global phenomenon and certain areas developed it further. Of course, in the 1600s, William Shakespeare became one of the most important figures in performance history. He would write play after play after play – comedy or tragedy – and have them performed by a circle of men at the Globe theatre in London. Sadly, back then, men played the women parts as women didn’t get much of a look into the acting world. Fortunately, that changed.

Between 1590 and 1613, Shakespeare wrote around 37 plays and 154 sonnets. He didn’t know how to quit, did he? Sometimes the actors would only be given their lines back then, instead of the entire script. So it would be hard for them to know when they were supposed to speak. Nonetheless, Shakespeare wrote plays back then that are still considered to be masterpieces now. The likes of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet – he realized that acting had a lot of similarities to life. 

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.”

  • As You Like It, William Shakespeare

After this, it was eventually the Russians turn to leave their mark on acting. In the 1800s, through the likes of Stanislavski and Chekhov, the craft of acting became far more defined. Subtext was invented – the idea that someone could say one thing and mean another. This didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s plays. Chekhov wrote some incredible plays, such as the Seagull and the Cherry Orchard, which had some incredibly deep and emotional characters in them. Stanislavski would direct these plays, as well as create his own idea of what an acting method should be. This method revolved around truth and bringing your own emotional experiences into the character. To this day, people still study these methods religiously.

Then, the Americans had their say. In the 1900s, the home of cinema was created in Hollywood and stardom really took off. Actors weren’t just weirdos doing plays anymore, they were attractive people on screen with paparazzi outside their homes. The likes of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and John Barrymore, were icons. There was also a new wave of method acting teaching – with Stella Adler, Uta Hagen and Meisner – trying to bring the Stanislavski style of truth to the modern world of cinema and theatre. Uta Hagen once said in her book Challenge for the Actor:

“The actor must know that since he, himself, is the instrument, he must play on it to serve the character with the same effortless dexterity with which the violinist makes music on his. Just because he doesn’t look like a violin is no reason to assume his techniques should be thought of as less difficult.”

The true actor was born. Actors were born to serve the piece and to do the best job they can at portraying the character. At some points, this meant completely ‘becoming’ the character. Performers that do this are known as method actors, and the likes of Daniel Day Lewis and Heath Ledger are some of the best ever. 

Rehearsing

Real, true acting can happen anywhere. It can happen in some dingy pub theatre, it can happen in a huge auditorium, it can happen in Hollywood, and it can happen in your parent’s living room. As previously mentioned, for most actors, they may never get the opportunities that the top ones have. Stagemilk writes:

“If we had innumerable auditions we would be fine with rejection, knowing that in a few days time another chance would appear. But that isn’t the case. There are many fantastic actors just waiting for opportunities, and some never get the chance they deserve.”

However, if you look over the history of acting, it didn’t used to always be about the top 1%. There were always people who were simply interested in the craft itself and wanted to learn about it. The same way someone may learn to play piano brilliantly, but may never perform that talent in front of thousands of people. It’s an artform and it deserves respect. That’s why many actors will know about certain rehearsal methods that are used in order to try and improve the show they are in. Again, this could be any show, big or small. One special technique is known as the wet run. 

What is a Wet Run?

A wet run is a specific acting method that is used often during rehearsal periods before shooting a film or performing a show. The premise is simple: after doing the same scene again and again it can get monotonous, it can lose its zing. As an experiment, some directors may ask their actors to try the same scene, whilst intoxicated. The newly introduced alcohol can allow the actors to relax, try new things, find the fun in parts they hadn’t before or maybe even find more emotion in certain elements.

I remember doing a play at Drama School, and I was finding it very difficult to find the comedy in the scene. I’d found it the first time I’d read it, but after long evenings of rehearsal, doing the scene over and over, the comedy seemed to have been lost. However, myself and the other cast members decided to try it again – but drunk – and miraculously the fun and laughter came back. I can confirm it’s definitely a useful method. But you have to be careful. The Austin Chronicles writes:

“I’ve always found drunk rehearsals to be very effective, as an actor and a director,” says David Jones. “During rehearsals for Long Day’s Journey, the cast was having trouble plumbing the depths of the show. One night, a huge bottle of Bushmills appeared on the rehearsal set. By the end of the evening, the bottle was empty, and we had definitely plumbed the depths. But it’s a tool that should be used judiciously – only after the actors know their lines and only once per show.”

As David Jones highlights, this method should only be used when the scene is learnt completely and everyone is completely comfortable with it. In a sense, it should be utilized when people feel too comfortable, and the spark seems to be lost. It’s an odd technique, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works. 

Conclusion

Acting and performance has quite a lustrous history. Story-telling is and always will be crucial to the way our society functions, and therefore, theatre and film will be too. As acting has evolved over the years, new techniques and new focuses have come about. Nonetheless, a wet run has always had its place. I bet even the Greeks were doing it back in the day. It might sound odd, but it can truly bring the passion and comedy back into a performance.

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About the author

Joseph Mcqueen

Joseph is a cannabis journalist in the UK. His search and love for the truth in the cannabis industry is what drives him to write.