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Why I act – reflecting on A Streetcar Named Desire

Portrait of Marlon Brando, "Streetcar Nam...
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I’ll warn you now – this post involves some navel gazing.

I just came back from seeing Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre‘s strong production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and while I’m up in six and a half hours and really aught to get some sleep, I left the theatre with the play’s two (developed) male characters – Stanley Kowalski and Mitch – pacing about in my head, and with an uneasy feeling rippling through my bones. Stanley and Mitch are two very different people, the passionate, primal animal, and the meek momma’s boy. My reaction to Mitch wasn’t surprising – I found myself relating to him, to the quiet soul who gets his hopes torn by Blanche’s desperate lies. How I connected to Stanley, though, now that made me scratch my head a little – I envied the man.

If you know me in life, you know it’s no stretch to say that I am typically a more reserved sort of man. I can be prone to outbursts of theatricality, but catch me on any given moment, and I’m probably content in a silence with a ponderous look on my face. I am a man who does not swear, who volunteers at church, who hasn’t broken any hearts or had his own crushed much in return. I feel awkward even typing ‘I am a man’; there is a lot of Mitch in me. As for Stanley…

Well, I can only think of one moment in my life when I have been a Stanley Kowalski, and that was the most terrifying half-second I have ever experienced. Ask me in person and I’ll tell you.

Some days, some moments, I do get that urge to throw a dish across a room, to shout the truth to a liar’s face, to grab a woman by the shoulders and just kiss her, dagnammit (without asking five times for permission first). But I can’t do it. I’m trying to think of reasons why I can’t, like that I don’t want to be that kind of man or some other noble reason like that, but honestly? Allowing myself moments like that would scare me beyond what I know. It takes a great, deliberate relaxing of my safeguards just to let myself punch a pillow (on the couple of nights a year when I choose to do so). Don’t get me wrong – I’m no powderkeg fervently shouting ‘Serenity Now’ to myself just to stay sane – I just choose not to get angry when difficult situations arise.

But when I’m onstage, I can explore these other sides of the human condition. My performer’s thrill doesn’t come from a nerve-racked adrenaline of stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of strange eyes; nowadays, if I’m nervous before a show, it’s because I don’t feel confident with my lines or I’m about to use a prop or setpiece I’ve never rehearsed with before. No, my thrill, my energy, my high, comes from seizing onto a chance to take on those characteristics I don’t let bleed into my own personality, be they the absurd flamboyances of an over-the-top gay Le Beau, the malice of an Iago, or the passionate cry of a Stanley Kowalski.

This is not the only reason why I act, but it’s the one that came to the forefront tonight.

Right, now I’m up in less than six hours, and I have 28 kids to make astronomy crafts with in the morning. Thanks for reading.
Cheers,

Andrew Wade

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Playing it angry.

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment
Illustration of Othello and Iago
Image via Wikipedia

Two weeks ago in my Peer Helping microskills group, I was asked to create a character to roleplay for this week – an angry individual coming into the Peer Helping office (where we do counselling work). Other helpers had been wondering what to do in such a situation, and asked for some experience.

Being the theatre student, I agreed.

Now, I’ve been trying to limit my mindwork this past week to necessary schoolwork and Iago, because those are the top priorities, but this angry individual kept coming back to me. I made him someone whose relationship was growing more distant, his girlfriend spending less time with him, and while she wasn’t cheating on him, he had just found out she had lied about where she had been, the past weekend, and he didn’t know why she felt she had to do that. And he was afraid that if he brings up the issue, that would become the break-up talk. But if he doesn’t bring up the issue, then he can’t trust her, and without trust, what does a relationship have, really?

So, stuck between two awful streets, he’s left to ponder the inevitability of his losing the woman he loves. Why wouldn’t he be angry? And while he’s not violent, there are hints that he could impulsively lash out, like cornered creatures do when there’s no good option left.

So I performed it, improvised his love for his Marie, his anger (complete with F-bombs), his tense physicalization, his defensiveness, his pain. And it got me to thinking about my own relationship with anger.

I used to be an angry person. AKA – grade 5 and earlier, I was downright miserable, much of the time. But I had a transformational moment, dramatically and intentfully changed who I was over the course of a couple of years, and the anger faded. Sure, I’d still get frustrated from time to time, but no volcanic activity. Well, not much.

I can think of two definitive times in my life when anger took control of me. One, was a punch to the shoulder. Another time, in grade 12, I grabbed someone by the throat and shoved them down into their seat. Yeah. Me. I know. Only two times in the past 20 years, but they are enough to make me, well, fear anger, and try to avoid it as best I can. So this exploration was interesting, to say the least.

(for the record, immediately after the throat-grabbing incident – which really was like some outside force had taken control of my body for that split second – my knees nearly gave out and I apologized profusely, terrified at myself.)

But I can play that angry individual, if I choose to. Because I know that side exists within me, even if I don’t ever let it come out. Because, as a good little Christian, I believe that there exists in everyone the possibility of committing the very best good deeds, and the very worst evils. I look to imitate the best of us, and I sympathize with the murderers, because, with a few different, terrible choices…

Villainous thoughts, Roderigo. Pish.

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