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Midnight was two hours old before I could finally peel out of my costume. The prosthetic nose and glue-on beard tore at my skin as I tugged them off, and they quickly joined the clutter on the bathroom floor: a tired pile of mismatched robes, rags, and a decrepit old wig. I stood in my boxers and scrubbed at the layers of pasty make-up until forty years were washed down the sink, until finally a look in the mirror revealed my own face, clean and raw. It was the first time in the last six hours that I had confronted a reflection that told the truth. My own face.
The disjointed memory of a vibrant evening began to tickle my mind, whizzing around my brain like an insect trapped in a jar. Everything that evening had felt somehow monumental. A sea of people, and a white blaze that consumed my vision as I stood on that enormous stage. There was the elaborate music cue; the song performed in the violent shine of a spotlight; the applause that seemed almost too thick; and finally the award, handed to me by that black-bedecked woman. I remembered the podium and the clutter of notes that the announcer had left there. I remembered saying “thank you” into the microphone, and wishing I could think of something else to say. Seattle’s premier professional theater, The Fifth Avenue, and I was performing on its stage. I had never experienced a night that felt so much like it was going to burst. So full of something. Yet even as the evening’s events recycled through my mind, I felt something prick at my consciousness. I had to know, what did it all mean?
There is something warm about applause. About an award. It says that you’re appreciated, that you did your job. It is the naked patter of rain or the damp roar of a waterfall, and it sneaks up your spine and tickles the back of your neck. Yet as the evening moved on, each hour felt saturated with it. Brian the Actor. Brian the Actor. Brian the Actor. A strange contradiction began to swim in my stomach. On the one hand, the smiles and cheers. On the other, something deeper. Something inescapable. Beyond the lights and laud, there is a satisfaction in theater that resonates with my core. Something intense.
Theater is fundamentally human, and sublimely ancient. It is the seed of religion itself; it is deeply spiritual. A heightened state of mind. You are at once yourself, and someone entirely unlike yourself. You forge a vibrant connection with the audience in a tacit and beautiful chemistry that cannot be grasped, but is always felt.
Theater is a process, not an event. For the actor as an individual, it’s an internal struggle: finding the meaning as it exists between the character and yourself. Then, as it exists between your performance and those who are watching you perform. It’s entering into a focus and dimension that is like space or infinity-that ineffable high that has a meaning of its own. It’s sucking the marrow out of each word so that it becomes your own, imbued with life and meaning. It’s the research, the internalization, and the assumption of another being. It’s finding authenticity in a reality that’s made up.
A performance lasts a night, and lingers only in mind and memory, but the achievement of theater is permanent. Transformative. It’s searching a new depth with every role in order to attain a greater height. It’s finding something in yourself that can only be discovered by being someone else.
This is theater. And the byproduct of this personal achievement is extraordinary: to be on a stage, and to captivate. To go deep, and perplex reality with what is unfolding under the stage lights. To eradicate the world as it exists outside the four walls of a darkened room.
Then there’s the byproduct of applause. Brian the Actor. Brian the sixty-year-old pickpocket. And now, standing amidst the molted remains of that knavish old man, Brian the seventeen-year-old high school kid. Brian, standing in his boxers in front of his bathroom mirror after a very long night, with school in the morning.
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