“Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face…”
You never know when a face is going to show….
I have always enjoyed teaching acting. There’s always a small voice in the back of my head wondering about the whole notion of memesis, the old Greek idea of imitation, and the various means by which we approach according to the ideas of the day. How best to mimic the action of the human being, so that it’s presence on a stage becomes a force, a mirror with intention, almost Disney-like, from which we beg wisdom, or at least input. “Who is the fairest? What is the meaning of ‘fairest’? Show us the good and the bad, and who we were, are, and might be.” So men and women, young and old, they climb onto the boards with words heavy in their mouths and hearts and they proclaim the state of the race as best the playwright and director see it.
But behind and before all those $60-$100 moments (Far more if it’s TV and film) there are the days when the actor struggles alone, in a studio, in a class, maybe even in the basement of your acting teacher’s home, because that’s where he sets up shop. And you work with words and articulation and the speed of thought Shakespeare requires, the speed of human being, and it’s hard, and who knows if you’ll ever get it right. The teacher prods and pulls, fusses and frowns, hunting alongside you, looking for keys that will unlock not acting talent, but human contact, that strange connection between a soul and its inner life, that inner life buried by all manner of social expectations, games, sins, and flat fear, all of which rides beneath the surface of things. We don’t even know we have blocks keeping eternity’s light from shining up through us, but oh…when they are suddenly removed through an act that combines grace and sweat and God’s very Spirit, we suddenly, in a moment, realize all we’ve been missing.
When an actor gives you that as audience, you can only weep in gratitude.
I say this because I had such a moment yesterday. Unexpected, a sheer gift the giver doesn’t grasp. An actor simply working, a speech from Romeo and Juliet, and progress is being made, and a thought comes to me, and I ask her to try a thing, as I’ve asked her before, this and that, a step taken, now another back. But this day, this moment, in the mundane of things, something happens, something clicks, and she emerges. Suddenly, the words are not longer words, but shafts of light illuminating a heart that reaches from Shakespeare’s pen across the centuries, and in my little basement, there it is, the old familiarity of the curtain parting that only comes occasionally now. In such moments, time stands still. I don’t know why. It is what it is. How does heart a break, yet thrill at its breaking?
Break me in such ways everyday, O God. Your presence is more than I can stand, and with less, I am never full.
It’s embarrassing of course. The actor doesn’t really realize what she’s done. And her teacher, if he were to let go, would simply weep in joy for a long, long time…sappy, overdramatic, blah, blah, blah. But no, he gathers himself together, and moves on. Let’s try it again, he says, and the actor launches in again. Behind him, Beauty smiles, passing into memory. He glances back, and She waves, a gesture of reminder, and the lesson is over.
It’s never over, and I wonder…what to learn? Why this gift? Why now?
I’m listening, thankful…