breaking new ground

I’ve been getting up in front of people and doing SOMETHING (singing, acting, dancing) pretty consistently since my last year of high school, which was when I did my first play. I decided to major in theater in college and to minor in dance, so lots of stage action that way, and, other than the five years I was sick when I had to completely give up dancing and nearly completely give up acting, have fairly consistently done something on stage in front of people. I wouldn’t say I feel “at home” on stage, as I still get considerable stage fright at times, but I enjoy it a lot – the process, for sure, the high of performing, the end result, with it’s incredible feeling of accomplishment and joy in the visible and audible proof the audience provides as positive feedback through putting together their hands. I get up in front of people (or in front of a camera) and pretend to be someone else often enough that it feels very comfortable. There’s almost nothing I wouldn’t do (within bounds of reason) if the character and director called for it, and I’ve already done plenty to prove that, for sure. The kiss/hug a stranger videos making their way around the internet, sales tactic or not, are everyday occurrences to actors, who not only share on a physical level their immediacy, intimacy and physicality, but also on an emotional level. In first table reads, you might share with your fellow actors what your character really thinks, feels, what motivates them, what fears and desires they have, and allow other actors access to that when you read the work.

Reading your OWN words is another thing entirely. It’s still different if you’ve written a performance piece. I’ve written a few of my own rants that I’ve done at a monthly workshopping thing I go to, where writers, actors and other creative types show up, bring work, and get to hear how it’s working when read in front of an audience. But reading a piece I wrote myself, a particularly personal and revealing piece, with no character to hang my hat on and no props to rely upon, well, it’s as naked as I’ve ever felt on a stage or set, including times I was actually partially or fully naked.

But I did it. Last night. I practiced it at the workshop thing (Dark Room at CPT for you local readers) last week, and it went very well, but this is a friendly audience with all familiar faces, and amongst and between other “theatrical” pieces, which somehow made it feel more comfortable. Last night, I was on the bill with two other highly accomplished and talented professional writers, and man, it was terrifying.

As my turn approached, my heart was pounding. My legs like rubber as I walked to the front of the room and adjusted the mike down to shorty level. My hands shook as I brought the paper into the light. My subconscious remembered some acting tricks from somewhere long ago; take a deep, slow breath, and don’t lock your knees. Remember how to judge the right distance from the mic and move closer and further away as appropriate. Talking or singing into a mic has always felt like making noise into a big vacuum; it’s like it sucks out all the energy while also punishing you if you get too close. I remembered industrial video work I’d done – don’t just keep your eyes glued to the page; try to look up once and awhile, communicate with the audience. But honestly, I felt like my voice was shaky and I wished they’d all turn their chairs around while I was reading, like on The Voice.

The last paragraph, when I mentioned doing things with my Dad that I used to love, hurt hard. It would have been his 84th birthday last night, if he hadn’t dropped dead at 60, and I struggled to keep my voice even in those last lines, my voice sinking to barely above a whisper at the end.

Everyone was so supportive, friends and strangers alike. I will definitely do it again, if and when I am lucky to get more work published and to be invited to present it in forums like this. But it’s going to take some getting used to.

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