Notes from Drama Class

I’m being brave like little Piglet again. This bravery is even more of a stretch than sharing a poem: I’m participating in a drama class.
The class is at my son’s small, private school, and I’m allowed to sit in and observe. My agreement with the instructor, though, is that I will join in. Which, of course, means this is not a class for studying the history of theater or for discussing the styles of playwrights. I’ve done that, back in college when I realized how much theater meant to me. This class, though, is teaching acting, and learning is changing this learner.
I wanted that – I wanted to change from the person who broke out in hives at every piano recital and once refused to audition for a song I’d previously performed. I wanted to find out what is beyond that lump in the throat that tightens whenever I’m asked to do anything remotely like acting. I wanted the stretch.
God likes it when I want to stretch, and He helps me to see how everything that happens has layers of meaning. He helps me to see the broader applications of life’s lessons. Drama, not surprisingly, has a lot of possibilities for broader application, especially as taught by this instructor who is committed to the idea that we must know ourselves before we can act at all. I like that; I’m always trying to figure out me, anyway. As the first class homework, I did a character analysis of myself, and my notes went to five pages!
I’m that way. I understand myself better if I write down what I learn. I hope to share some of that here, from drama class, from time to time, and perhaps in the sharing you’ll get to know yourself better as well. Here’s my first reflection.
August 20, 2013
Thinking about yesterday’s exercise in drama class, I keep returning to the feeling . . . of feeling. I followed directions and tried to imagine how I would walk, look, smile, speak, saying the same simple line in a variety of contexts. By the end of the list of setups, when we were supposed to act as if something very sad had happened, I was focusing inward very sharply and acutely. We had time, took time, to come away from the fun and laughter of earlier scenarios, and we paid attention to the feelings associated with an actual, personal sad experience.
At the time, I simply went along quietly. I didn’t actually participate in the exercise because I chose to observe instead, allowing the “real” students – the paying ones – to have partners and engage fully. Thus I was imagining how I would act but I was not acting. When it was over, though, as we reflected and debriefed, I began to feel as if I had brought to the surface something very personal and private.
If I draw on real experience and take the emotions from those experiences to inform my interpretation of a scene . . . if I act as if I am sad, but the actions are honestly re-telling a truth in the form of a fiction . . . do you begin to see my uncertainty? Where does pretending end and being begin? Am I revealing my private self when I act, pouring out who I am, for public scrutiny? To act, must I show the audience who I really am, even though I am showing it through a filter of fiction?
How else can I act, though, but as myself? I can only walk this way the way my body walks. I can only speak the way my voice can speak. Even if I copy the actions of another, I am doing so myself, and it is I performing the actions of interpreting another’s actions.
I feel a little frightened by that idea.
I think I thought learning to act would mean learning how to wear a mask convincingly. I think now that perhaps it is the reverse of that: learning to act may mean learning to take off the mask and be convincing.