Gary’s August Stories – The “All the World is a Stage” Issue
Who could have foreseen back in March and April that come summer, we’d still see no sign of a return to pre COVID19 normal, an end to disruption. Our routines have changed to reflect new normals but as much as we can change what we do, we can’t change who we are. Humans. We’re social animals. Intimacy and person to person contact are as critical to good health as food and water. I miss giving someone a hug, a “Montreal” two-cheek kiss, or even a handshake. I miss sitting in front of a theatre stage in anticipation of being carried away to a different realm.
Virtual Meetings don’t replace person to person meetings. They’re the difference between watching a movie or attending a performance, watching a TV show, or sitting in a packed theatre watching actors perform in real-time. You can get the story and details from images, but you won’t get the same emotional connection you get when watching an actor perform without the editing safety-net.
At its best, live theatre is nothing less than magical – emphasis on “live”. As the house lights dim and the stage lights and curtains rise, a hush falls over the audience as anticipation also rises.
A good performance entertains but a great performance, transports us into the world of the play, opera or dance. We forget about the uncomfortable seats or the lady behind us unwrapping a “Werthers”. We connect with the characters, we empathize with their emotions and we communicate with our silence, our laughs, and our applause. Sure, some people applaud or shout back in cinemas (“The caller’s in the attic!”) but that’s like yelling at a Fox News commentator. It releases tension but fails to make any difference.
Attending a live performance is a communal experience. Our reaction to what’s happening onstage is shared with the rest of the audience. How many times have you seen someone stand at the end of a so-so performance, followed by another then another until everyone is standing? We may not be so sure that the performance merits a standing ovation, but, speaking for myself, I’m keenly aware that the actors can see what’s happening so I stand anyway. After all, they didn’t write the terrible script, and – I likely need to stretch my legs anyway.
To paraphrase the Bard, the world is a stage and we’re all actors on it. From the time we’re able to develop an ego and see ourselves through other’s reactions, we take on roles. The good student, the wise-ass, the super-efficient manager, or the rebel with a cause.
I’ve written before how sad it is that we find ourselves so isolated from each other. Going out to concerts or live performances of any kind is now impossible. So, like a jilted teenager, we sit on our sofa with a litre of whatever Netflix flavour we find and don’t stop digging in until our spoon hits the bottom of the container.
Theatre is story-telling and story-telling has been with us since humans have existed on the planet. So when “theatre” isn’t available, what do we do? Why we put on a show, that’s what.
Back in the day when the planet was younger and I was a kid, I would convince my neighbourhood friends that it would be a great idea to put on a show in our garage. Busby Berkeley had prior commitments so I took on the roles of director, producer, writer, well, you get the point. And you’re probably saying to yourself – “Well, he hasn’t changed a bit.” And I wouldn’t argue.
I’m not sure what inspired me as we weren’t a theatre-going family, but I was certainly a TV-watching kid. So it could have been from seeing old Micky Rooney, Judy Garland movies.
We had a two-car garage that in my mind was Radio City Music Hall. One half was the audience the other, the stage. Our theatre seating was an assortment of anything that had a horizontal surface – picnic table, sawhorse, lawn chairs and benches. The stage curtains were layered with blankets and sheets and strung so we could open them for the full reveal. Being the nascent business tycoon, I even organized the front-of-house. We had ticket takers and way before Walmart, we had greeters. We burrowed and scavenged everything we needed. Imagination was our currency and curiosity (and TV), our muse.
Ours was a variety show. (Thank you, Ed Sullivan). We showcased dancing, singing, poetry, etc.. Our costumes would come from Mom’s old trunk. She had kept dresses form her prom, her wedding, her friend’s weddings and parties – lots of crinolines. One year, I found an old tuxedo from the turn of the century, complete with tails, a vest, white kid gloves, and spats. Now I looked like a real Broadway producer.
For lighting – yes, I thought of everything, I’d grab all the lights I could from the house (including flashlights) so that we could light the stage. My parent’s stereo system once dragged from the house, would be our “not-so-live” orchestra.
I may have been encouraged by the rather successful duet I performed with a little girl in our end-of-year kindergarten play. We sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” while sitting atop an upright piano. We received a wonderful ovation. It was the perfect Darla and Alfalfa moment. I guess that’s the moment I was hooked.
Whether validation comes in the form of applause, a pay bonus, or a simple nod of thank you, we feel good when we get it, however we get it. It’s not about ego (well, it is but not in a clinical way.). Receiving validation for what we do and who we are, makes us feel we matter. Many actors pursue stage work because they lack confidence and can only find it hidden behind a character.
When we isolate ourselves, we lack interaction and validation. That’s why it’s so important to go out, and if you don’t feel confident doing that, “ZOOM” or “Google” someone for a video chat.
The world is an awfully big stage to be performing a solo.
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If you missed last month’s issue, you can check it out here: Gary July Gems – The Teacher Don’t Preach Issue