Posts Tagged ‘acting’
Forgive me, people, but I’m kind of sad just now. Somebody I knew was found dead today, alone in an empty field, reported missing five days ago in MINISCULE St. Martinville where I grew up, and my lady and I mourn his passing. Just eighteen years old, he had never really tasted life, and if we hadn’t decided on the spur of a moment to take in a show at the playhouse in that little town, we wouldn’t have known him either…but we did go…and met him…and marveled at his talent and presence on a sophisticated stage in the old Duchamp Opera House.
I think when you’ve spent three or so hours watching someone on stage in a tiny, intimate theater, you sort of get to know him. That’s the way we both felt after the performance when we chatted with him, thanked him, met his parents and grandparents, and wondered where his obvious talent would ultimately lead. Hollywood? Broadway? Television? He was THAT good! We had no idea such accomplished skill would wind up dead…alone in a desolate place, and I’ll just bet his last thoughts were that somehow he had FAILED.
Failed WHAT? Artsy people are like that, NEVER seeming to realise just how much what they’re doing means to the people they’re performing for. Those of you who read my blog know I’ve been on stage, too…years ago…and found it exhilirating, liberating…almost addicting, but I always knew I was only in a play…and that’s where the rub lies. There’s ALWAYS a rub. It kind of depends on where you live, in entertainment or famtasy, and believe me, the line is PAINFULLY narrow when you’re in front of the lights reciting lines….so easy to forget it’s all only carefully crafted illusion.
It’s foggy between reality and perceived reality, and a lot of people get lost there. It seems to me some actors like to live in that comfortable, protected illusory world, and I suspect they’re terrified when it collides with the REAL one…so complicated, so unpredictable, so unsettling, so dangerous…not at all like delivering precisely rehearshed lines carved in stone on paper pages in a script. Older actors than he have run aground on the reef separating their world from ours, but what troubles me most is how YOUNG he was, how unprepared, how defenseless, how vulnerable, how GREEN. Poor kid never had a chance.
I have no idea what precipitated his pitiful, somewhat dramatic and completely lamentable end…or what actually happened. Yes, it’s possible he was murdered; we’ll have to wait for the coroner’s inquest before we can really be certain, but St. Martinville doesn’t have…and never has had…much of a murder problem. I mean…it’s so SMALL. A homicidal maniac would stand out like an alligator on Main Street. Generally, it’s a beautiful, peaceful, loving little hamlet where people are friendly and helpful. At least that’s been MY experience…and my lady’s.
ALL kids his age are scared…and unsure of themselves…and pitifully unaware of the GRAVITY of their choices when stressed, and I wonder whether something like that might have happened to him, crashing into that reef and OVERREACTING…dramatically and saddest of all, FATALLY. If that were the case, I could have set him straight in ten minutes…if he had talked to me, but that’s not the way it works. They almost NEVER talk to anybody, he least of all to me because he barely knew me.
Isolated in their own private world, locked somewhere between illusion and reality, they ACT, often irreversibly…leaving us sad, confused, and in the end feeling kind of EMPTY. I hope that wasn’t the case this time, but the emptiness is certainly there. His role when we saw him was essentially a comic one…which he performed BRILLIANTLY, providing my lady and me a wonderful afternoon, but if I had realized the price of that performance was his LIFE, I’d have stayed away, comfortably distancing myself from the horrors of reality to come.
Families are least able to deal with such sad crises. Words of wisdom for you…ALL FAMILIES ARE DYSFUNCTIONAL. It’s built into the concept…and the structure. A family is at best a temporary construction. Children grow up and leave home, and parents feel abandoned. Freud had it right, a son ultimately sees his father as…if not an enemy, at least a significant impediment…while a daughter competes with her mother for her dad’s affection her whole life. Oedipal, all of it, and whenever parents have a glimmer of doubt, the structure comes roaring through. “Dammit, I’m your FATHER/MOTHER! You’re my child! LISTEN to me!” It’s instinctive, but not the best problem-solving mechanism.
Still, it looks to me like that structure is eroding somewhat these days…you know…PERMISSIVE parenting where offspring are viewed as FRIENDS rather than charges? Having watched that dynamic in theaters, doctors’ offices, churches, stores, supermarkets, even playgrounds, I’m slowly beginning to believe they’re intentionally raising a generation of ax murderers. The old way was all about limits, archaic, I agree, certainly heavy-handed, born in caves tens of thousands of years ago, but at least it WORKED…for most people. By the time parents came to the end of their journey, their children were usually embroiled in their own Oedipal conflicts and bitterly mourned their dead progenitors.
I have no idea what the actor’s family dynamic was. All I know is his bereft circle bound by blood-ties is left to pick up the pieces and deal with it as best they can. In that they have my…and my lady’s prayers, but I can’t help thinking about what he might have done in the future, those wonderful roles he would surely have shone in, those moments of joy only a good actor on stage with a great play in hand can provide us. Instead of rave reviews, we’re left with only a tragic footnote.
Goodbye, my young friend, and thank you for a wonderful afternoon of joy and excitement in an old but beautiful theater. I don’t know what happened to you, but I hope you understand how much you meant to people like us…certainly more than you may have believed the one and only afternoon my lady and I knew you.
Like I said in the beginning, I’m kind of sad just now.
Addendum: The newspapers are reporting that this actor took his own life. Frankly, I would have been less troubled if he had been murdered.
Today I was listening to Verdi’s Macbetto on satellite radio…one of my favorites, actually, and for some strange reason it brought my acting career to mind, perhaps because it began with Macbeth. The first time I was ever in a play of any sort happened when I was in my last year in high school. We had a very gung-ho English teacher, and she decided we’d get a lot more out of the play if we acted it out rather than just read it.
Turns out, she was right. I don’t remember the role she gave me…certainly not one of the leads, but what really stuck in my memory was Banquo’s murder scene. The guy playing Banquo was the school bully and thoroughly disliked, and when the teacher told us she wanted the fight to look REAL, not just playing around, she unwittingly set the demons loose.
“Fly, Fleance, fly!” was the only line he had left to deliver after the fight started, and while, instead of Fleance, FISTS where flying…some of them Fleance’s…he delivered it, but he added another line…improved on Shakespeare, as it were. “Fly, Fleance, fly…Dammit, Fleance, HAUL ASS!” I don’t know if Shakespeare would have even understood what he said, but as a fellow actor, I’m sure he would have applauded the emotion with which it was spoken.
My only other foray into the theater was in a French play a few years later in college. Delivered in French, it was a comedy, and in this one I had a major role, actually a pretty juicy part. I remember my character had most of the really funny lines…that, and the fact that I had to run around in one scene wearing nothing but my underwear…boxers…with briefs beneath just to avoid an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction…but I learned something.
It’s incredibly liberating to make a complete fool of yourself in front of a lot of other people when you’re playing somebody else. You develop an “It’s not me…it’s the character” sort of mentality, and after hours and hours of rehersal, you come to know him pretty well. I understand a lot of actors try to stay in character even when they’re not performing, but I wasn’t like that. I was just me, but when the curtain went up, my world suddenly became the imaginary one on that stage.
At the first performance there was a large crowd, a little intimidating…until I delivered my first comedic line. THEY LAUGHED! It was intoxicating, the give and take between me and the audience, and after one particularly colorful shouted line, they actually applauded! In an instant, all self-consciousness evaporated. I WAS that character; I owned him.
I got good reviews, but I never appeared in another play. Nothing could top my success after that one. Yes, I did a few dramatic readings over the years, always in French, but acting takes a lot of preparation and work…and I was too deeply involved in other things to spare the time. But that’s not to say I completely gave up acting.
Even with only one real play under my belt, I took a lot away from the experience. For one thing, I learned that in real life emotions don’t always project the way you’d like them to. You might be really angry or happy or even indifferent, but without a sense of how to communicate it effectively, you’re lost in random and unpredictable territory.
I remember one time in the military when I was ordered to discipline a guy. I don’t even remember what he had done, but it was enough for the CO to tell me in no uncertain terms he wanted the guy shown why he should never, EVER do it again. He was in my unit, so the task fell to me, and he was actually smiling when he came into my office, the cocky little bastard.
Now you gotta understand…by nature I’m about as far from the punitive sort as a person can get, and for me this ground was completely unfamiliar and unprecedented. I belong with the warm fuzzies, not the brass military hats, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to make any kind of impression on a guy I was supposed to terrify, even asked a friend and fellow officer to be there with me. I felt I needed him for moral support…but he didn’t know that. God knows what he thought.
Anyway, slowly and deliberately, I told the hapless soldier EXACTLY what he had done, how it had affected the unit, the company, and the company commander. I told him it would be easier to crush him, maybe get him transferred to a far more dangeous place, than to hope for his contrition and a complete turnaround in his military life. I pointed out that what he had done reflected badly on the unit commander…ME, and I didn’t appreciate it from a doofus, no-brain, moron like HIM.
By then, his smile had sort of drifted away, and I could see I was getting through. The problem was…I had no place to go with it. “Tell you what,” I said…in a rising, progressively angry voice. “I know you came here expecting to be punished, but I’m not going to do that…THIS TIME. I’m not fond of half-ass, wimpy punishment…not for a joker like you. I’m going to WATCH you, my friend, and at the first SIGN of another screw-up, I’m gonna unleash the hounds of hell! DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”
In a faltering voice, he answered, “Yes.”
After the poor guy had shuddered out of my sight, my friend said, “Man! That was brutal! You even had me scared…but I’m curious. What will you do if he does something like this again?” Immensely relieved that both the miscreant and I had survived the ordeal, I told him the truth. “I haven’t the faintest idea…I was acting.” See what I’m getting at? Everybody should take a turn on the stage at least once in his life. You never know when it will come in handy.