When I was young my dad used to tell us this “joke” about some builders who get to the end of their construction and end up with an extra ½ a brick so they throw it away. Then he would tell us about a man walking a dog while smoking a cigar. The man gets on a bus and is the dog can’t be on the bus, so he leaves him outside where he trots alongside. Inside the bus the man is soundly told off by another rider for the cigar, so he throws it out a window. When he gets off the bus, the dog is waiting for him. “And what does he have in his mouth?” my father would ask… the ½ a brick.
I think I’ve loved theatre since before I knew what it was. When I was young, maybe 7 I had a solo in the church choir. I loved it, but it terrified me so much that I quit the choir afterwards. I had to be forced back by my parents – and at the time I hated them for it. They were not emotions I could face safely. When I hit high school and began learning the history of theatre it awoke a sense of joy and awe. Here was an art form which made me feel so utterly alive, so human, so …present.
My husband recently found this video of a voice coach talking about a book tour she did. (The portion of the video I’m referring to starts around 3:30.) It should really be heard to truly get what she’s saying, but she talks about a man she met who didn’t like theatre. He tells her this repeatedly, telling her about how he went with his wife to see The Women of Troy. It seems the thing they didn’t like was that when one of the characters loses her son, the actress made a sound and he found it embarrassing. Then, as he’s speaking with her something in him shifts and he tells her that a year ago a policeman came to tell him that his daughter had been raped and murdered – and he made that sound. She reminds us that truth and honesty in theatre is like life – to be present you simply cannot be safe.
After our last production one night, my parents stood talking with a few people. My husband had directed a short called The Third Date in which a guy preparing for a date finds he has been visited by his father who died 6 years prior. My mother lost her father suddenly at age 2. Her entire life she has felt that empty spot where her dad should have been – not where the father figure should have been, but a more personal hole for this particular man she cannot remember except in one dream-like memory. My mom suddenly turned to me with tear-filled eyes and a quivering voice to say “That’s my dream you know.” Startled and puzzled, I was at a loss. She continued, “I never told anyone. I always hoped one day I’d open a door to find him standing there.” This is a rare side of my mother, an intimate pain that cannot be relieved.
Around the same time I was spending a lot of time pondering how people could not like theatre, why people don’t attend theatre more, and more personally, how I can push past my own fears to allow myself to become a better actress.
It is easy sometimes to think of theatre as a stodgy, highbrow art-form. However, this seems to be an excuse – the reason people shy away from theatre is because it’s not safe, in fact, theatre is dangerous. This is a truly visceral expression. It forces the audience to come along for the ride – you have to feel. This is why since 6th century BC theatre has been a documented part of culture. Why actors were some of the first people sent to concentration camps in WWII, why plays have been used – and continue even now to be used as a form of rebellion. We, as actors, as directors are putting you, the audience, society into a place where you must think – you must feel. This is how we make our argument, and folks, you should love that it’s not safe. I do.