Lessons

3 Feb

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Theatre is a fickle business, sometimes. 

…Sometimes it’s only just for “show”…sometimes it’s the ride for the ride’s sake…sometimes it means nothing more (well done as it may be), than doing a job of it.

…And those can still be satisfying experiences, as long as you showed up and did your work to the best of your ability.  But when those shows are over, you are ready for them to be, and easily move on into the next “whatever” that is on the horizon.

…Sometimes, the show can be a horror, of miss-matched talents and personalities, that makes you feel like you are constantly swimming upstream in order to get anything done at all.  These are frustration-filled epics, that make you despise the theatre-gene that insists you put yourself through this…because you signed up for it, and because for whatever reason (or collection of them), you feel anything but fulfilled by run’s end. 

These shows, you are so damn glad are finally over, that you want to all but start a bonfire with the script, set and costumes, at the end, and walk away while the whole fucker just burns to the ground.

…Sometimes you have a chummy-cast show, where friendships are forged fiercely, and the JOY of being around one another brings an unfortunate realization by last performance (which you somehow manage to sidetrack yourself from acknowledging until then), that this is the last time you will all be together, like this, ever again.

…And then there are shows that you bleed for.

The process of making them, is like giving birth…in that it’s raw, and uncomfortable, and hysterical, and frustrating, and infuriating, and more nakedly real than you ever intended on being in front of strangers…who, through the process of all being in the delivery room together, come out of the experience as something stronger than sometimes even blood-family.

…Everyone is in dire circumstances, in that delivery room. Everyone is pushing as hard as they can, together, to the counts and the rhythms you’ve come to find you can all work best at. You are all sweating blood, and sobbing tears. You are all watching one another so hard that you can match the other person’s breath…see them riding their wave of pain from this moment to that, and know that once they get “here,” you will take it upon yourself and shoulder it the rest of the way to “there.” You learn about how far a person can be pressed, emotionally AND physically…and you watch that ability grow across the time you have spent together, because when you trust people at this kind of level, almost anything is possible.

Those kind of shows are exhausting…not just for the performers, but also (often) the audience as well. And those are the kind of shows where, when you go out to the lobby afterwards, the first thing people will say…with their blotchy faces, tracked with mascara stains, and wearied eyes…is how exhausted they are. How exhausting this WAS. How in the hell do the people who do it every day, manage to make it happen? And won’t we all be glad when it’s over and we don’t have to put ourselves through all this…over, and over, and over again?

Those are the kind of shows where you can honestly look them in the eyes, and tell them you wish it would never end.

…Because to say a line to a person on stage, and have an entire audience blown to silence…SILENCE…a room full of humans who are too held up into this moment to trust themselves even to breathe. THAT is power. That is trust, and affection, and desire, and hope, and pain projected from every person at the same time, all for you…because YOU trusted them enough to share something so personal and ugly and hopeless and real, that they can recognize it as something different than just a “show.” Because they have at some point, for some reason, felt that too.

They are invested in this moment before them. In this one person, who can only do the job they have to do, because this other person nourishes it into something spectacular.

Today, our company did our last performance of one of THOSE kind of shows.

…The kind that matters.

It hurts.

It’s thoroughly exhausting.

It’s frankly, a lot like willingly walking straight into house afire. How the hell do you prepare to undertake that every day?

…Because the feeling of accomplishment with your team at the end, is so astounding that the repercussions of all the scrapes and bruising and mind-games is always totally worth it.

ALWAYS.

…Even on nights where you’ve missed a mark, let an opportunity pass by, or couldn’t quite find the same breath-pace at a critical moment. Then, you beat yourself up…not just for you, but for the team, for the audience…because it wasn’t your best that time…though you put in the same work and sweat and bled just as hard as you always do, to achieve it.

I will nothing, but miss this show.

…I walked into it, from day one, with nothing but respect for the role I was trusted to do. I had connections to her that were frankly terrifying in how real and open it forced me to be as a person and as an artist. I was surrounded by friends who gave everything they had in equal measure to their parts, and made new friends via the baptism-through-fire, that is putting on a production like this.

…And now we’ve come to its end, here is what I know, and what I’ve learned:

It is fucking frustratingly exhausting to be forever terrified of being “found out.” This isn’t a new realization, so much as the extent of what you take on as a person in order to protect yourself.

…We all have those mechanisms in us, but when you take up the weight as a different kind of person and carry it around for two months, it’s like taking up a new exercise regime. Everything suddenly hurts everywhere, all the fucking time. You know what it’s like to do your old routine, your body is acclimated to it…it’s long-learned how to delegate the stress and balance everything out. But when you take on a new persona…a totally new set of muscles are brought into play.

Physically, I’ve had everything from bouts of nausea, headaches, two totally unexplainable weeks of “tennis elbow” that I never COULD figure out, and gained a pretty good amount of weight, while drinking too much…all from lifting Martha, for two months of time.

…Emotionally, I’ve sobbed through countless showers and welled up during break-up songs in grocery store lines. Have lost sleep, acknowledge some sizable self-image issues, and have taken to blatantly telling people where to “get off,” when they cross a line…in not always the most rage-appropriate situations.

Quite rightly, she has made me see that “enough” is “enough.”

…If you continue to hold it in, it will bottle up. It will seeth and grow. And at some point: it will break you.

I’ve also reaffirmed how important “justice” is to me. How essential it is to “trust,” never lightly, but fully…yet never without the earning of it. A self-preservation, re-instilled, for reasons that both she and I share, in life.

…And as an artist, I’ve learned how there is always further to go…even when you think you’ve reached the end of a possible moment of truth. There is always more there to find. And it will always mean something different to the people you are up there with and the ones out in the audience…who are watching you.

You can’t force a perspective of a character. You can only show what you think and know to be true…but that doesn’t mean other people will see or interpret it that way. Sometimes that can frustrate you as a performer. “No…you didn’t get the point at all…it’s like this…” …you may sometimes want to argue back. But interpretation is the viewers prerogative…you don’t get to make those decisions for them.

…Yet, at times, for whatever reason, everyone seems to be on the same exact page of the book…

…And you’re all reading in tandem together…

…And the power of all those conscious voices, reading the words at the same tempo, at the same time, in the same room, makes this energy that feeds and grows and builds and makes for something totally unique. A shared experience that you don’t HAVE to “spell” out for them, because they are already there…they can see and feel it…even when you aren’t saying a damn thing. Just standing there.

…I’ve learned more about what you “say” when you aren’t saying anything, than in any other show I’ve ever done. Which takes phenomenal amounts of trust in your fellow performers, and in yourself, and in the audience…to understand what it all means.

I think that is the secret about why holding secrets is such a damning (yet necessary) thing in our lives.

…We HAVE to protect ourselves, because it can sometimes be a really shitty world. And self-preservation is an automatic, human, thing. But there will always be consequences of it.

As a performer, I think I learned how to make that internal process show on the outside with more specificity…which informs the levels of emotion so much further…which gives the audience an “insider look” and opportunity of knowing more than the characters do…which gains their emotional support further and faster than any amount of huge monologuing will ever do.

It’s like music to the body…no words are necessary…you can say even more without them…and it’s terrifying how far that projection can go, and how fucking naked it makes you feel to do it in front of a house full of people…

…More naked than if you were just physically, were…

…However, if you and your partners have done it well enough…by the end of the night…you will hit that one moment…the pin-drop…the everyone-in-the-room-has-stopped-breathing-because-they-know-what-you-are-about-to-say-before-you-say-it-cause-they’ve-seen-you-fight-with-it-for-so-fucking-long-now-and-here-we’ve-finally-come-to-the-moment-of-truth.

I promise you: nothing on earth feels better than that moment.

Nothing.

…How the fuck do you do anything but mourn the fact, that this today, was the last time you will ever have that moment in those circumstances, ever again?

Art is a fierce thing, friends. We’re lucky bastards who get these moments in it, to share. And I can honestly say, (at least this time): I have loved every moment of it.

~D

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