It’s a blast from the past today. Drama school lessons ranging from social studies to sexual attraction.
(Photos of Elise from acting projects at the end of this post!)
A large part of my personality formation came through my involvement in the drama department at my university. I took the year-long acting series offered there and gained an enormous depth of understanding for:
1. What makes people the way they are
I performed a monologue in which, I was the victim of horrendous abuse, brought into a place where I could accuse my former attacker of his crimes, only to hear him deny that he had ever harmed me. By the time I was through with working that monologue, I couldn’t perform it without getting one or both of my palms slick with sweat. (Play: Death and the Maiden)
2. What makes people do wild, irresponsible things
In another project, I was a woman about to be married who is sure she’s going to enter into life with the wrong man, has recently discovered she’s pregnant, has drunk far too much wine the night before, and now, in the dregs of everything, decides to be honest with the true love of her life before it really is too late. (Play: Maids of Honor)
(Heh. Okay, from these two examples you’ll assume that I only did dark and highly-dramatic plays. A fun aside: For the scene in Maids of Honor, my partner and I performed the scene in English and then, for extra credit, in Spanish. It was like doing a live telenovela soap opera.)
I also learned:
3. What makes a physical space beautiful and enchanting
I was cast as the Spirit of Wind for a musical performance of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Someone wrote original, four-part harmony songs to create the whimsical atmosphere of the island, but the beauty of onstage spectacle was something I’d never experienced hands-on. The play was performed in a Theater-in-the-Round, so the audience sat at four points on bleachers around the stage. In between the seating hung long tendrils of muslin fabric like tattered jungle vines. At the very end of the story, I and the other Spirits wound the four masses of vines together, forming a trunk at the very center of the stage. The audience saw, as the play’s final image, a tree growing in center stage. The image never left me. Beauty can be wrought from the simplest things.
4. That I was appealing, as a woman
This awareness hits us at different times in life. I can’t honestly say if I was late or early in my own realization, but through work on a scene from The Birthday Party I was made aware of the reality that I was beautiful, attractive, and interesting to the male sex. As I write this, I hear a chorus of voices proclaim this is just an effect of the debauchery of all drama departments and no one leaves its clutches without a stain. I hear you. I don’t completely disagree to the licentiousness present in much of theater—and yet it does a fantastic job celebrating the dangerous, beautiful mating dance of attraction and all that belongs to that world.
For those who ask, “What happened in this scene, Elise? What the heck did you do?” I didn’t make out with someone on stage. I didn’t sleep with my acting partner. I played the part of a woman who’d had too much to drink, got involved with one of the other party guests (we walked off stage and I fluffed up my hair to make it look disheveled) and then re-entered a minute later, pushing my acting partner to the floor and straddling his chest. It wasn’t just the scene that alerted me to my own attractiveness. It was the way my acting partner and my director (both friends of mine) spoke to me throughout. They weren’t disrespectful, and yet both men clearly had no problem imagining Elise as able to carry out all of her directed action, naturally.
Drama is by no means a tame, safe beast. I’d never put that in its sales pitch.
Theater attempts to understand the primal forces of human nature, which can be harrowing, exhilarating, and emotionally complicated to an actor who chooses to venture therein.
All I can say is drama impacted the adult person I became. It enhanced my confidence, improved my empathy, and refined my communication skills. It reminded me that I am a flesh and blood woman, and that it’s a powerful thing.
You want to see some theater pictures? I’ll end with that. I’ve dug up a few from the archives. In one I have theater blood on my face. It was a domestic drama (kind of a horror story). The other ones with my blue dress and the big hair are from The Tempest.
In all that, you might guess that I would defend theater until my throat was bloody from speaking in its defense. But you probably guessed it already!