June 15, 2014

What's the Big Deal?

I do theatre.

I've been paid to be on stage a couple times, but otherwise it's strictly amateur stuff.  I grew up in a place that had a ridiculous amount of artistic talent floating around - a smallish island with loads of active artists and retired (or semi-retired) performers from every field you could imagine: actors and techies from Hollywood to the London stage; singers of all stripes; writers of scripts or poems or novels; painters, sculptors, designers...

What I'm saying is, it was tough NOT to get infected with an artistic appreciation if you were even the slightest bit conscious.  Which made it a very interesting place to be, even if I did eventually have to leave because we couldn't afford to live there any more.  It took me a while in my new location to see who was around and get back into theatre, because one of the many lovely features working in unskilled labour jobs is that the hours are going to be A) shit and B) random.  If you can't be reliable, there's no point in auditioning.

Fortunately (?) after the usual run of jobs and getting fired from as many as I quit (monkey wages = monkey work, kids!  I don't swallow shit you don't pay me to eat!) I decided to see if the problem was the employers or the employee, so started my own locksmith shop a couple years back.  Meaning I could basically pick my own hours, meaning I could get back into doing a show a year.  In Winter, at least: Summer's when the tourists lock themselves out of their cars or lose their keys in the lake, and at this point money still comes first.

So I've been thinking about why I love to do theatre so much.  I've done a fair amount of technical stuff, but am pretty much on stage exclusively now.  Less time to help in other areas, so I've got to be a bit greedy.  But why  do I have to be 'greedy'?  Why the compulsion to go on stage at all?  I've thought about it for a few years, and this is as clear as my thoughts have gotten (actual clarity of thoughts transmitted to writing not guaranteed):

I owe it.

As pretentious as it sounds, it's also true.  I'm a nerd, have been all my life, and see no real opportunity (or, for that mater, reason) to change in the near future.  What cultural stigma was attached to being a nerd was eased by living in a small town - in a larger population, I may well have found a clique to fall in with; but no matter how odd, vulgar, rich, etc. you were, you were still known as 'you' first and foremost.  Which is pretty damn cool.

That being said, there was simply less  there - and by less I mean less of everything: fewer opportunities to bump your life against people who are radically different; fewer chances to argue with concepts you disagree with; fewer cultures to mock, or admire, or lose yourself in (or all three).  Less to compare and to contrast and to steal from.  Just... less.  Now, add that to the social awkwardness and general inability to make friends that nerds (especially early-teen ones) are prone to and, well, it's an introvert's dream, but perhaps not the healthiest option.

In theatre, I could explore not only different ideas and try to understand other people, but I could explore those parts of myself I might not otherwise have even thought of.  Everyone does this sooner or later, but discovering who you are is when you can start finding out who you can be, and frankly the sooner you can do that the better for everyone around you.

There is very little in life more pathetic (in every sense) than a mid-life crisis.  I mean, it's good that you're examining your life and all, but what the hell took you so long?  I digress.

But here's the other thing about theatre, and it's absolutely vital: there is no room for cowards.

Now, I'm not saying you don't have fear - for some people that kicks in as soon as they hear auditions are happening right up to their entry line.  But that's just fear of failure, perfectly normal stuff which means you're actually doing things with witnesses.  That's something that can (and does) happen everywhere and can be dealt with however you want to.

But what you can't be, is you can't be afraid when you're in front of an audience.  Or you will fail.  And there is exactly one defense against that: be someone else.  The more you are that other person, the more complete the armour is, and the better you will be.  You can't think: "this person would behave this way" when you're on stage, because that means you are on stage trying to pull strings and it shows.  You have to know who the character you are to portray is before you ever get near a performance.  This will force you to think about people who aren't like you, with ideas and lives that aren't yours.  Which means you will find out who you are.

Which is what theatre did, and does, for me.

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posted by Erin Butler at 9:00 pm 0 comments