Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saying Yes to Inclusion

I just realized something this morning, as I was mulling over last night's performance, and I thought I'd share it with you, as I think it may have larger implications.

Directors always seem to be telling us actors, "Turn OUT, Turn OUT!", meaning "please face the audience when you speak --" which has always felt weird to me.

I've always assumed that turning to face the audience would somehow make the play less believable, harder to engage with -- and isn't going to the theater, like going to the movies, an opportunity to engage with some other reality?

In which case, shouldn't my character be speaking to the other characters on stage? If I just face forward, doesn't that make it all less believable? I just figured that for some reason the directors wanted to be sure the audience could watch the expressions on my face, but it was still a struggle. (Can you tell I'm relatively new to acting? I've only been doing this for seven years...)

My new realization is this: turning out is a way to include the audience in the story. If I face them as I speak, and actually speak TO them, it is as if the audience and are colluding together, or "in cahoots" (wherever that expression comes from); that they and I are united together in whatever emotion I am expressing to the other players.

By turning out, I blur the boundaries between what is happening on stage and the people in the chairs; in fact, it's not unlike the sort of flow between me and not-me that happens in meditation. By turning out, I invite the audience into the experience -- it's why shows like The Office, where the principals occasionally turn and address the camera directly, are so successful, and why an actor like George Clooney is so engaging: because it feels like you're on his team.

What's exciting about this discovery is that a stage performance -- including something as simple as leading a worship service or giving a sermon -- need no longer be about perfection, or ego. You are no longer alone out there, even though you are in the community of actors (or acting on behalf of God). If you say "yes" to your audience, as in "yes, we are in this together," then you are in collusion with the audience: they are WILLING you to be successful, and willing you to be the best your character can be -- eager, in fact, for "the willful suspension of disbelief."

Theater -- and preaching -- are then no longer about audience as something other and outside that you need to impress, indoctrinate or inform. Instead, it's about reaching out, including, and sharing; about working together WITH the audience to create an experience that transcends our separation, that takes us beyond immediate reality into unity.

And somehow that brings me to what I read this morning in Richard Rohr's Naked Now:

"Never underestimate the absolute importance -- and the difficulty -- of starting each encounter with a primal "yes!" ... To start each encounter with "no" is largely what it means to be unconscious or unaware. You eventually become so defended that you cannot love or see well, and so defensive that you cannot change... If you start with Yes, you are much more likely to get a Yes back."

I know. It should be ridiculously obvious. But I just never got it before. And suddenly I'm hearing in my head an old Ella Fitzgerald rendition of this Gershwin song: How Long Has This Been Going On?.

"I could cry salty tears:
Where have I been all these years ?

Little wow, tell me now --
How long has this been going on?

There were chills up my spine,

And some thrills I can't define.

Listen, sweet, I repeat:

how long has this been going on?

Oh, I feel that I could melt;
Into Heaven I'm hurled!

I know how Colombus felt,
Finding another world.

Kiss me once, then once more.

What a dunce I was before.

What a break ! For Heaven's sake!

How long has this been going on?"


Maureen said...

Yes, I was going to say,
yes, you got it,
and then I read
the words
the very same
on my lips
come Rohr-ing in
on his
no matter
yes he said it
I do, too.

KimQuiltz said...

I rarely start ANY encounter with a "Yes." I have learned from my father to say "No" first because you can always think about it and say yes later, right? Wrong! Sometimes that opportunity has passed you by or you have already done damage with the "no" and you don't get another opportunity to be open and generous. A really great lesson today, one I REALLY need to remember! Thank you!