Friday, July 27, 2007

POOF!: Sunday Scribblings: Phenomenon

This week's Sunday Scribblings prompt is the word "phenomenon". Read more here.

"I wish someone had taped that. We were really good tonight."

In my very occasional work as an actor in live theater, I hear this comment often from other actors.

Back in 1995, I played Polonius in Tom Stoppard's "Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead".

Our production got off to a rocky start because the actor playing Claudius and our director, who played Ophelia, were seriously injured in our dress rehearsal. Claudius carried Ophelia off stage and down some insecure stairs and he tripped, sending Ophelia flying. She landed on a concrete floor. She suffered head injuries. For years, she could no longer act because she lost her ability to memorize and retain lines. Claudius tore up his ankle really badly.

We lost both actors and had to work new actors into the play, starting opening night.

By the second week of the run, our cast regained our identity and we had a local smash hit on our hands.

Closing night, we put on a phenomenal show. The run was over. We struck the set. The stage was bare again. We were back in street clothes. The phenomenon of "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" was, POOF!, gone.

We didn't have a recorded artifact of our energetic, stirring show.

I'm glad.

To me, the sublimity of live theater is that a troupe of actors creates a tangible reality, lives in it, draws an audience into it, and then POOF!, it's gone.

The live play is a phenomenon fully available to the five senses. For the couple of hours of a play, no other world exists except the reality of the play. It's a dream reality, a phenomenon of the imagination.

A live play makes things unseen visible and then they are invisible again. The physical reality of the production disappears and makes its home in the imagination and memory of the players and audience.

For years, I resisted buying a camera because I didn't want visual reminders of phenomenon I had experienced. I wanted those phenomenon to live in my dreams and to take on a life of their own in my imagination.

It's the same way with the classes I teach.

One term, a student of mine suggested I write a book grounded in my understanding of Shakespeare's plays. He was so devoted to this idea, that he audio taped a whole term's worth of my lectures and class discussions.

He gave me the tapes. He had recorded the phenomenon of this particular Shakespeare class.

I've never listened to those tapes.

I never will.

Like the phenomenon of passing through a day, each moment passing unrecorded into the next, some phenomenon sticking, to be remembered, most of it passing away, POOF!, gone, I prefer my classroom instruction to be so focused and so responsive to the phenomenon of each moment, that I do not want a record of what I've done in the past.

It's why I rarely bring notes to class.

Once recorded and edited on film, a movie remains a fixed phenomenon. We watch a movie, might see it multiple times, but it's no longer a fluid reality. The actors' performances are no longer in process.

Live theater is the opposite. Each performance is a new and different performance. Actors continue to grow into roles. Rehearsals continue on off days and the performance is further honed. Actors and tech crew make new discoveries.

It's a new phenomenon each time the cast and crew dive into it.

It's why I cannot watch the DVD of our cast's performance of 2005's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

What I experienced as a fresh phenomenon with each performance is now frozen into a single phenomenon on a DVD.

I'd rather have those performances live in whatever is left behind in my memory and emotions after they, POOF!, disappeared.


Hope said...

I will see a play before the end of the year. I've never been but have always wanted to.

paisley said...

quite a tribute to the magic of the theater... what a wonderful insight you shared with us... thank you...

Crafty Green Poet said...

Excellent post, I agree entirely about the magic of live theatre. I'm not a big photographer for the reasons you share about why you avoided buying a camera for so long. I mostly take photos to share either through my blog or with friends and rarely take many photos even on holiday.

What an awful thing to happen to those actors in the dress rehearsal.

Paul said...

POOF!, gone! But isn't it good that they can live on in your memory. Maybe, this is the built in recorder that we were all meant to have.