By Charlotte Wood, V Form
Memoirs of a Self-Professed Drama Geek
I am a fantastic liar. I lie every day for hours at a time, occasionally to hundreds of people at once. I practice lying in my free time. I never feel bad, I always get caught, and I think it actually makes me a better person. People love my lies, and so do I.
No, I’m not some sort of psychopath, I’m an actor. When you think about it, that’s all acting is, really. Lying. Don’t get me wrong, I hate lying in the conventional sense. Honesty is the best policy, as they say. However, I firmly believe in the value of lying with the consent of the party being lied to, or, in other words, acting.
Now, people like theater for a multitude of obvious and cliché reasons: it’s entertaining, it’s art (and people love art, or at least love the idea of being the kind of person who loves art), it lets you escape reality for a while, etc, etc. The list goes on and on, but as an individual (take note of that phrasing, it’ll become important later), I love theater. As previously stated, I think it makes me a better person. Putting on new personas and “living” the lives of others has made me an infinitely more empathetic person. Not only that, but I think spending time “being” someone other than myself has helped me to solidify my own identity.
Empathy is a tough concept. The ability to relate to someone else in such a real and personal way, the ability to relate to someone else because you have been through what they have been through, is one of the most incredible things that we, as humans, can experience. However, generally our experiences are far more limited than we would like to believe. Therefore, the experiences we can empathize with are equally limited. I see participation in theater as a way to expand those experiences. It almost serves as a cheat code, a way to (no pun intended) gain a few extra “lives.” Now, I’m not saying that by playing a character whose father dies, you will immediately and fully understand what it’s like to have your father die. That is, at best, a stretch, and, at worst, offensive. I’m saying that by taking on a new persona, by spending time fitting yourself into a character’s shoes in a way that has to be convincing, you learn how to do the same for the people around you. I like to think I’m a pretty understanding and nonjudgmental person, and I attribute much of that to my work in the theater.
But, just as tough a concept as empathy is the concept of self-identity. Figuring yourself out isn’t easy, especially when you’re a teenager. I know, I’m being cliché, and I know that admitting that I’m being cliché is cliché, and maybe I’m being cliché, but it’s true. Adolescents are changing constantly, the people around us are changing constantly, and it might seem like throwing another “identity” into the mix would be counterproductive to the process of self-discovery. Not true. I think that, by taking the time to “become” a character, by taking the time to examine someone that closely, by taking the time to think through every word, every action, every motivation, you become more and more self-aware. Acting methods bleed into everyday habits, and soon enough you’re asking yourself why you do the things you do, why you are the way you are. Without a strong sense of self, you can get lost in a character, or, even worse, muddle every character you play into the same phony image. To be an actor, you need to be a person first. Acting helps you to become who you are, even when you’re working to “become” someone else.
Now, if you’ll recall, I advised that you paid close attention above. So, there’s a whole other dimension to why I love theater. This has to do with why I (drum roll!), as one part of a greater whole, love theater. First and foremost, I love theater because it is, as my fulfilled athletic requirements will tell you, a team sport. I love the camaraderie that comes with being part of a cast or crew. The experience of theater as part of a whole does not end with the cast and crew, it includes the audience with which you share your work. There is nothing I love more than performing and getting to see the impact of the stories I share with those who choose to watch them.
I played a few team sports in middle school with my friends, namely basketball (despite my short stature) and softball (despite my lack of hand-eye coordination). This is another one of those times where phrasing is important. I played them with the friends I already had, but I never made friends in the process. Theater is different. I have made some of my closest friends through theater. The experience lends itself to the formation of close-knit groups because it is a journey. From the casting process and the first read through, to long and grueling rehearsals and the struggles of line-memorization, to the high energy of opening night and crushing post-closing depression, the other members of the cast are there with you through it all. Not only that, but having to portray on-stage relationships is generally much easier when you have an off-stage one as well, and it helps that scripts often force you to say very strange things to people you might have never spoken to before. It serves as a great icebreaker.
But, there is nothing quite like the experience of actually performing a show. It may seem like an audience does nothing but passively observe the events portrayed. Audiences, however, greatly influence the shape of a show. Every audience is different. They all have different energies and different reactions, and, as an actor, you have to be willing to bend your performance to the will of the audience watching, both in the literal sense of making pauses for laughter and the like, and in the less concrete sense of dialing things up or down depending on the vibe of the audience. It’s a give-and-take relationship. Active audiences facilitate active performances. However, this relationship does not end when the curtain falls. In a way, this relationship never truly ends. The effects a play has on its audience members can be lasting, and nothing makes me happier than to see how my work has influenced those who have borne witness to it. I don’t do theater because I like hearing myself talk. I do theater because I want to make people feel something.
So, there you have it. You now know why I love theater. And, I would just like to clarify that, even though I am a fantastic liar, that is not a lie. I know this might not matter to some of you, but even if it only matters to one person, the time I spent writing this on an otherwise-free Friday night will have been worth it. Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you got this far, I truly applaud you. I hope this helped to demystify the theater. There is some confusion as to why a small sliver of our community decides to spend months repeating the same words over and over in the black box instead of going out, winning games, and bringing glory to our school through great athletic feats. This is why. And also because most of us can’t catch a ball. But mostly because of this.