My acting class had our end-of-semester showcase Saturday night. We have been practicing for weeks, starting with simply memorizing lines without emotion or inflection and then slowly adding in actions and looks and pauses and shifts in tone. The process is fun and fascinating to be a part of.
The scene I shared with a very talented performer named Jess Dreiling was pretty straightforward on first read. But then as we started to think about the characters as actual people with actual histories and feelings and fears and motives, the number of choices we had to make as actors multiplied exponentially.
I did not get to see the final performance, which might sound weird, since I was IN it. But once I sat in my chair and the lights came up I simply switched into character and played the scene, reacting in the moment. I wasn’t aware of trying to elicit any particular reaction from the audience and I don’t know how it went.
I do know that I felt good about it when the scene was over. People clapped, my classmates said it went well, and I felt relieved. But I haven’t seen it yet, so I really have no idea what it looked like to the audience. I am finding that acting is funny that way—my experience of the moment is very different from the audience’s experience of the moment.
My experience of the moment, when things are working, is calm and almost quiet. Most of my brain powers down to Stand-by mode as the part of me that is the character powers up and takes over. I rarely experience that kind of inner quiet in my regular life. Normally my brain is going a mile a minute, gauging every look, every word, every change in posture of the people in the room and of myself. I have a lot of social anxiety and for this reason being out in the world interacting with people tires me out.
I am finding that acting gives me a chance to short-circuit that endless loop of self-judgment and hyper-awareness that flood my head much of the time. I can step into a character and allow him to be out in the world while I am simply along for the ride. It is oddly freeing to be on stage in front of a whole bunch of strangers but to not really care what they think of me, since it’s not really me that is up there.
I think the guy that was up there, sitting in that chair with a black eye and the douchey attitude, had a good time being a real prick. I’ll have to watch the video to know for sure.
Then, once the showcase ended and I went to the cast party, all of my social unease kicked right back in and I left after 15 minutes of short, awkward conversations with people I don’t know very well.
Ah well, I guess THAT might be my next challenge. How do I take what I am learning in acting class and apply it to real life?