Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mime It

Sometimes talking is just too much. Sometimes just showing is enough.

Marjane Satrapi
Hello Marty
Over the last 5 decades I have had some remarkable experiences as an actor in theatre, memorable times when the play and the role seemed to take over my mind and my emotions and play me as an instrument. Those are the times which every performing artist hopes for. Thy are magical. And they are particularly luxurious when they are accompanied by a lesson, a gain of wisdom in the art, a gift of learning.

Samuel Beckett, the Irish playwright, wrote two short plays which contain no dialogue whatsoever. Under the title "Act Without Words" They are Mime For One Player and Mime For Two Players. I was involved in productions of both of them but it was the Mime For One Player that was the most exciting. I forget a lot of plays and performances but I will never forget that one.

The play takes about a half an hour to perform. A man is thrown into a room. He tries to leave and is thrown back again. The third time he is thrown in he stays. He looks at his hands. He frequently looks at his hands as if he wasn't quite sure what they are. In the room are two blocks, one a foot square and another larger one.

As he sits there a bottle of water comes down from above on a cord. He tries to take it it but it's pulled up out of reach. He stares at it, then notices the blocks. He places the smaller one under the bottle, stands and tries to reach it but it's still too far away. He places the second larger box on top of the first one then climbs up. He reaches for the bottle but the larger box topples over to the floor and he falls. Then he gets the idea of putting the smaller box on top of the larger one. He climbs up and is about to take the bottle when it is pulled up out of sight.

He sits back down on the floor and looks at his hands. A large pair of scissors descends from above on a cord. He reaches for it and takes it. He examines the scissors and finds that the edges are very sharp. While he is examining the scissors the bottle of water descends again. He gets the idea of cutting the cord holding the bottle. He stands, takes the scissors and grabs the cord. But the bottle starts ascending again and he can't hold on to it as it rises out of sight. He sits, looks at his hands. holds the scissors, feels the sharp edge and with frustration and a sense of hopelessness he decides to use the scissors to cut his throat. Then the scissors are pulled up out of sight. He looks at his hands. Curtain.

I did one performance of this play in Northamton, Massachusetts. During it I became so involved with performing those actions it was one of those magical times when the play seemed to be playing itself. I lost all sense of space or time. I even forgot there was an audience watching me. I was only reminded of it once. I had a slight action of surprise when I saw that the handles of the scissors would separate. I heard a short chuckle from someone. Otherwise I was all by myself.

When it ended I was surprised. I literally had a slight shock of realization of where I was. There was applause, I bowed and left the stage to think about what had just happened. And what happened was that after the scissors disappeared and I was left, sitting, staring at my hands, I was thinking that if I couldn't have the water and couldn't kill myself what could I do. In other words even though the play was over I kept acting it. So that the ending, when the lights went out on me, was an abrupt interruption into my own personal experience.

That was the lesson, the gift of wisdom. When I am on stage at the end of a performance I will keep working mentally, as if the life of the character continues, until the lights are out or the curtain is closed. Since then that bit of artistry has served me very well in many other performances, even in auditions. And not a word is spoken.

Dana Bate - Vagabond Journeys
Never Give Up


Jon said...

I've never heard of "Act Without Words". but it's a fascinating concept. I would imagine that it's extremely difficult to perform - - and the actor would have to be completely absorbed in the situation, as you were, for it to be a success.
I don't know much about acting, but it seems that this requires an ability that is beyond acting - - as you said, of "losing all sense of space and time".

Geo. said...

I envy your retentive memory and appreciate your powers of description. Felt like I was there. Please add my applause to the audience you recalled.

Sue said...

I too felt like I was there. I enjoyed this very much. I was in the zone right with you. Thanks