Beyond the Masks

I’m living with that idea from drama class – that acting is learning to take off masks. I’m living with it, letting it steep and percolate. I’m trying not to resist it, trying to keep from running away to hide behind my masks, behind my walls, behind my . . . behind my roles.

Can it be that I can only learn to be honest by learning to . . . act? Isn’t acting pretending? How can I learn to be real by pretending?
A light dawns. This is why I react so strongly to theater: Because it is real! When theater is done well, the truth is there on display, unvarnished, for those who care to see. Good actors portray real, honest emotions and behaviors. Even as they wear the masks of characters they play, actors communicate real and relatable responses to challenges. I see the truth there and respond to it viscerally, to the degree that I have to take care what I watch because I can easily become distraught even though “it’s just pretend.” It’s never just pretend. I often say, nowadays, that some truths can only be told in fiction, and I am becoming more and more adept at seeing those truths.
It’s a choice I make, though. I choose to pay attention to the spirit’s stirring within me, the whispers that are more meaningful than words, the sensing that defies explanation. I choose to look beyond the masks to the message, and that changes my response to every piece of art I encounter – visual, musical, literary, theatrical. I’m not a typical audience member, and today I’m understanding a new way I differ from the crowd.
It’s the choosing: I choose to see truth. For most of us, though, it is much more comfortable and certainly more entertaining not to look too long there. Truth is often inconvenient. Most of us, rather than seeking the truth, prefer to see . . . the masks.
How do you choose?

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