Saturday, November 3, 2012

Act Well Thy Part

I can see why you might think that this blog's theme is love and theatre. It's just something that is incredibly relevant in my life and a lot of self-realizations come from it. I suppose as soon as show season is over, I'll go back to the other part in my life.


The latest theatrical realization is actually pretty darn important and it's a shock that I haven't come to it when I started theatre because it's sort of important when you start theatre that you know why you're doing theatre.

At the beginning, I was always interested in theatre. I was taken to shows as a child and had the soundtracks for a dozen classic shows. Even though this was the world I was born into, I'm really not sure what drove me to pursue the theatrical life. It was just a joy for me to perform and the more comfortable I was on stage, the more I was able to do. I fell completely in passion with every aspect of theatre and even though she's a struggling mistress, she does me well. We just have a chemistry together. But there was never a personal or heartfelt reason or purpose.

I've asked many of my actor friends why they continue in theatre. Most of them say it's simply for pleasure or fascination. But there was one actor I met that impressed me with his reasons. He told me that he doesn't perform for himself.

'Well, obviously, " I said. "You don't dance in front of a mirror, that's not theatre."

"No, I mean, I don't perform for selfish reasons. I perform to give my gifts to other people. It's for them."

Up to that point, I had believed that theatre was MY moment. I shined, I danced, I sang, it was the time that I could ask the audience to look at me and they would. For a long time, that was my internal monologue every time I danced. I would think "LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME" until the energy and ferocity shone out of my eyes and gave me, what I believed to be "star quality." I'm ashamed to admit it, but that really was why I did theatre. I wanted to be loved and admired and looked at. So the idea that performing was a selfless act was a very new idea to me.

But I liked it. I saw the difference between those actors that wanted the focus to be on them and the actors that just wanted to make someone laugh or smile. It inspired me into the actor and writer that I am today. I desired a greater purpose for myself, a bigger reason to be on stage than to just be looked at. For once, being a pretty thing no longer satisfied me.

This principle has been working well for me for a couple years, but it still hadn't hit that "home run" in my pathos. I hoped that my work touched those I came into contact with, but nothing had been affirmed. Until several days ago.

One of the shows I'm working on right now is a children's theatre piece called "Clever Jack and the Pirates." It's a simple, sweet show, meant for nothing more than to make children laugh. For those of you that don't know, an audience full of children is probably one of the most gratifying feelings in this world. They let you know EXACTLY what they think of you and if you're doing what you're supposed to do, they'll fill the theatre with their laughter. Well, as I'm sure you could guess from my build-up, my purpose came from a child after one of these shows. Friday's show to be exact.

After the show, the cast members have the chance to wander into the audience, interacting with the kids, answering questions, having fun, giving high fives, all manner of fun. One small boy in particular came up to me and another one of my fellow cast members. He told us (and I quote) "you guys memorized your lines really well and you were magnificent." I could tell that he was a special needs kid, which automatically brought him closer in my heart. His teacher waved him on to go with the rest of the class as they were boarding the bus, but she stayed behind to tell us more. She thanked us for our work and then told us the story of that little boy.

Apparently, he had a little panic attack when he got into the theatre. He didn't want them to turn off the lights and was incredibly scared for the moment when we would. His teacher pinned him to his chair and promised him that it would get better. And from the moment the show started, he drew out of his panic attack shell. He smiled, laughed, we made him feel better and he wasn't scared anymore.

As a cast, as a production, we changed this little boy's perception of theatre but most importantly, we made him happy.


That is why I'm in theatre. While I harbor a love for drama and intensity, while my favorite thing to do is kill off the most likable character (that's called pulling a Joss Whedon) if there's one thing I love, it's making people laugh.

Now, I've heard actors say some of the most beautiful prayers. From pleading with God for energy and focus to praying for protection for a specific cast member who had a scary stunt, actors really know how to ask an all-powerful entity for what they need. Not what they want, but what they know that they need. My best lines have been said backstage in the quiet moments when I've asked a kind and loving Heavenly Father to take away that pit in my stomach. But the best way to sum up how I feel collectively for my job as a performer and the roles and duties that go with it, is in the prayer of one of my cast mates. He bowed his head reverently, the entire cast in a circle.

"I guess what I'm asking for God... is to help us forget ourselves." he said.

I work with the most selfless people on this earth. They're constantly giving and giving of themselves with little return. They wake up early, stay up late, risk a lot, and we never know what the audience left with, what they thought. Sometimes they'll send us letters of offense (assuming that we care for their small-minded opinions). But most of the time, we judge what they thought of us based on their laughter throughout the night. There's only one reason why I continue to suffer through the pain, soreness, stress and occasional good times and laughter and it's of no benefit to myself. There's only one reason why my fellow actors put themselves through a lemonade diet so that they know what it's like to be hungry for character research and development. It doesn't do us any good, whatsoever.

Whether we act to teach or to entertain or to just see someone smile, the theatre was and never will be for the self-centred people of this world.

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