Saturday, July 6, 2013

An Actor's Greatest Moment And He's Absent For It

My greatest moment as an actor (so far) was in college. I was playing BAAL in a student production. Being a Senior, I had been very lucky and had great success getting cast in meaty roles all the way through I thought I knew my shit.
Student productions tend to have very short runs, two weekends at most. So you have to get to it if you want to learn anything. I was so obsessed with acting in those days that all I did was learn lines, interpret character, smoke pot and get deep, talk shop to anyone who would listen. I breathed acting. But I have the age-old problem, like many of us, of having two minds on stage: The character's mind; and the actor's mind. The actor is constantly distracting the character and making me drop out of the moment for whatever trite thought about a lunch date or a botched audition, or worse, how cue 212 was dropped by the SM, and how am I going to change my blocking so that everyone can see my beautiful mug for my monologue.
Well it was our second to last performance, and the production was quite experimental. The student director had decided to add all kinds of artifice to the elegant, simply brilliant modern Shakespearish gait of Brecht. He cast painters and musicians in character roles, ignoring good taste and quality (in my naive college aged view). By this point in the run I had my lines and blocking so cold, all my intentions decided and re-decided and re-interpreted once again. I was on autopilot. I was doing what I think is wrongly called by many, "Phoning it in". This is a wrong term in my opinion because this is the space where the magic begins. A necessary rung on a ladder that most of us never see the top of.
Something else was at work. There was a magical dust that settled over me that night. Somewhere in the middle of the performance, I can't remember when, because, it's magic, things started getting very fuzzy. The veil began to lift for me as a performer, where it never had before, and very rarely ever did again (so far). And when it came time for BAAL to die, begging for his mommy to return him to her bosom, the most basic of all human needs returned at once after a life of incivility and relentless adolescence, rape, murder and abandonment in the name of independence (what an irony!), Zack Rouse was gone. Actor man, with all my analysis, all my judgment, all my opinion, had simply vanished, and where there had been a personality driven by ego to surpass the competition, do everything perfectly and achieve the adoration of professors and peers, given awards and told I no longer have to attend class because I'm just an ACTOR now, there was now a dead BAAL.
Blank. Blind. Empty Body-vessel. Actor.
I awoke at curtain call, which was one severe bow and an exit, to sit in a chair for half an hour, waiting while my ego returned to me. And fortunately, when I got back, I had no opinion about what I had done that night. I didn't think I was the greatest actor who ever lived. I didn't envision myself receiving an Oscar and thanking the Academy. I didn't care. 60 people watched my performance that night. Hardly world changing.
For those who are religious, I will challenge that this is what preachers are talking about. They are talking about a unification of humanity in the internal/eternal world of the "Open Vessel".
I will submit to you all that indeed, I ceased to exist for a period of time. The universe had no need for the ego identified as Zack, with its prescribed tastes and opinions. And so for a time, Zack died. And was reborn when the vessel that held this ego was finished with its job of representing BAAL.
This is why acting is not an ego pursuit. This is why acting is at its very core the spiritual and solemn endeavor to map the universe. Actors are Astronauts.