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An actor prepares

| Thursday, February 28, 2019

A November Observer column written by Paige Curley on her first acting experience, as a cast member in 2018’s “Show Some Skin: Try Us,” inspires this entry. I am by no means an acting pedagogist. I have no intention to convince others of my knowledge on the craft. However, I do intend to address prospective auditionees in the years to come who may be intimidated by a lack of performance experience. As the technical director for 2019’s “Show Some Skin: Drop the Wall,” I played a role in recruiting students to the audition room. Many whom I encouraged to audition for this production responded with something along the lines of “I’m not an actor,” or “I don’t have the personality.” This, I hope, is a simple solution to this notion — coming from a person whose life has always revolved around performance, but who is just now learning for what and why.

Going into “Show Some Skin: Try Us,” I thought I knew what it meant to act. My performance history began when I was 8 years old, taking the stage as a soloist at my small, Evangelical black church back home in East Texas. My passion for performance grew when I took on ensemble roles in middle school plays and got cast in community theatre productions. I took the art form with me to Notre Dame as a theatre student, and searched for every opportunity to be on stage. Show Some Skin, a documentary theatre project with a mission oriented around solidarity and social justice, seemed like a perfect fit for me. November of 2017, I marched into the audition (which happened to take place at the unfortunate location of a scorching-hot Andrews Auditorium in the Geddes Hall basement), greeted by a few unfamiliar faces just minutes after receiving an audition packet. It was a cold read. No rehearsal beforehand. “I just have to feel it in the moment,” I told myself. I’m still not certain what it means or if it happened, but in the end, I was cast.

Fast-forward to the first rehearsal of “Show Some Skin: Try Us” in January of 2018. I had refrained from looking at my assigned monologue over winter break so I could save the impact of reading the words for the first time. Maybe if the words felt new, my delivery would be more interesting. Maybe my voice would reflect some trepidation due to the novelty of this piece, having some sort of dramatic effect. As far as I knew, rehearsal and performance were the same. And my first rehearsal reading was going to make some mark. The process and technique that one should develop for acting took a backseat to making an impression on whoever was watching me. When the cast sat down for our first read-through of the show, I saw my piece was second in the reading order. At the conclusion of the first piece, I flattened my feet to the surface, straightened my back, adjusted my glasses and was prepared to captivate my audience of fellow actors and the team of directors. Two sentences into the monologue, I broke down. For the first time in my 10-year performance history, I felt the gnawing discomfort of what a genuine artistic encounter can do.

In a few lines, the anonymous writer had articulated the feelings of repression, shame and damnation I had been dealing with in regards to my sexuality. My mouth failed to eject the following lines as ceaseless tears streamed down the sides of my face. This monologue, “The First Time You Spread Your Legs For A Woman,” scraped a bit too close to the bone. In a swift moment, I fled the auditorium. It could have been due to the initial shock of how relevant the piece was, but it is more likely that I was not ready to deal with my internal struggle in a way that this monologue was demanding. Whatever it was, I did not want to go back to that place. Neither physically nor metaphysically.

But, alas! As performers, we live by the mantra “the show must go on.” For me, that meant spending the following week of no rehearsals reading that piece over and over again, subconsciously trying to detach from the visceral pain its relevance caused me. The words constantly prodded me in spots where I was already wounded. But was it something that a little further repression couldn’t handle? The answer was a resounding “NO,” as the rehearsal process continued. Every time I stepped foot in front of my fellow actors to perform the monologue, I saw my soul splayed out in front of me. A mirror was being held up to me and I was forced to stare into its reflection. These moments of unavoidable encounter on the Show Some Skin rehearsal stage is where I learned what it means to act. It’s not you stepping out of yourself to create a fictionalized version of the person on the page. You are that person on the page. Regardless of whether or not you identify with the experience, the consciousness that exists in the words on the page already exists in you. All you have to do is tell the truth. The only truth you can tell is yours. No one else’s. There is only one you in all of time, and the way you express it is unique. You must keep your channels open, and be able to let your natural reactions to beauty and pain motivate you. Your audience deserves the full you. To appropriate the words of Amy Morton, “When you are on stage, you have license do what everyone else has wanted to do 5,000 times. Whether it’s to kill, love, hate, f— or fly. Only you get to do it with no consequences.” How can we as actors, (yes, we, as we all have the capacity to do this no matter who we are) even dare to give less than our full selves when the audience is daring to live vicariously through us?

Not to suggest that living in this truth is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. And it ain’t always pretty. It’s not meant to be. Art isn’t pretty. It’s ugly. It’s visceral. And sometimes you have to look away from it only to return and see it for the multitude of beauty that scours its surfaces and appreciate the pain that lies at its depths.

Contact junior Savanna Morgan at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Show Some Skin as an organization.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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