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Michael Chekhov's 'Theater of the Future' -- what does it have to do with you?

The Actor-Outcast

Kristine Gilreath - 15 July 2012

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11:30-1 Session:
The Actor-Outcast–what is the theatre we are meant to create and how do we reach the rest of the world? Can we? Should we?

Start time: 11:50 in Underground #2

In attendance: Kristine Gilreath

What is the theatre we are meant to create?
In high school, the theatre kids were the dirge of cliqued society. They were the ones who always wore black and they were the ones who placed the value of art above cures for cancers and great monetary gains. They were the weirdos. And yet, the people involved in theatre cure a lesser known cancer every time they enter a room with one another, and they are richer than the most successful playboy. Even though the theatre kid is cast away from the rest, the theatre kids together create a family, a wholeness, even an affectionately nick-named ‘cult’.

Together we create a family. In ensemble-spirited rehearsals and in creating new theatre, there is often an atmosphere that permeates the toughest-skinned professional. There is a common cause, a seed from which we all grow. But sometimes the people we perform for are not from the same kind of seed. They watch for entertainment, escape, talent, a party trick, or for a grade from a class. At least, that is the case in collegiate theater in California, in my experience. Of course, on the East Coast and Europe, it would seem that more people go to feel connected and to spiritually enrich themselves through the trials of another character, to laugh and, equally importantly, to cry. So for some theatre-goers, it is a commodity. For others, it is a way into life.

I love being an audience member. Even before I became an actor, my spirit flew across the seats to the stage and sympathized with the struggles of my favorite, and even least favorite, characters. There was an innate human truth in their performances, which is exceptionally remarkable if you are one of those who more often refers to acting as a lie that last three hours. But isn't it the lie that reveals the truth? How can that possibly be?

I often wonder the value of the actor and the value of the theatre. I began as a musical-theatre minded actress, who enjoyed the tap dancing, the sensation of singing, the joy and the standing ovations, and most importantly of being someone with relationships (with other characters) unlike what I had experienced off the stage. In three years with the same people at a university or a high school, there were many who I may have never really developed a connection with if our characters had not loved each other in the scene or the show. So in being an actor, I could feel the circumstancial friendship and lasting love, the comrodery that united as long as the show connected us. There was a lot to be gained for me. Yet, I wonder if someone as lonely as I was (and sometimes am) can really connect with others. My character can. But I am the one standing on the stage in front of that crowd, reaching to them, the audience and actors; seeking to draw them in, to share my world and who I am so I can have a piece of myself go with them, and I can feel the wholeness of having pieces of them come with me.

I love that with the work of Michael Chekhov, I am not constructing a character who isn't me. Instead, it is a character who walks out of a place inside of me, born from the text and myself. I go with that character, I am that character, and when the play is over, I leave them in the theatre, but their failures and triumphs fill up my life in the same way that character would have if I was as audience member instead of an actor in that circumstance. The difference, I suppose, is that as an actor, I won't ever forget the Jane Doe that walked out of me. As an audience member, I might need to see the show again.

So, as an actor, I feel pretty fulfilled. As an audience member, I've learned a little bit about what an audience looks for and what they see and feel. But what about me as a writer? A creator of theatre? I am terrified of my own words. Writing all this out knowing that is has the potentional of being published without a thorough revision is almost horrifying. I can only hope that it will be deliciously raw… There is no one in the room with me now, and I suspect they will not come, but that is the beauty of this Open Space day: the people who come are the right people. The lights have timed out, and only the daylight through the slivers of window at the top of the room is filling it up. It's prettier this way; the light and the shadows mark up the walls with their direction.

Perhaps I am the only one to answer my own question, as convoluded as it is. I can rephrase it so many different ways: Why do I matter? Why should the words I write or speak matter? Does anyone else feel the same way as I do? Can my experience with being an actor-outcast resonate with an audience? Do the things I care about matter to others? Do the stories I wish to tell need to be told because others need them? I can't say what they need, nor can I say what they want. All I can say is there are stories inside of me that want to spring out of my playwright. The first step of letting those words grow, establish themselves, and leave my overprotective heart is the hardest.

I am grateful to have learned this week several valuable things. First, the writer John Patrick Shanley answered a form of my active question by saying that ‘The pyramids were not built by the architect, but by an entire society. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone, it was all the people who came before him as well as him. And the achievement of one is everyone's achievement.' I hope to get the words he said while looking me straight in the eye framed in verbatum so I can read them every day to understand what they mean. This concept of art belonging to all of us regardless of who makes it relieves me a little of the stress I place on my own shoulders. Perhaps it is selfish of me to keep thinking of myself and asking why I matter. Perhaps its more selfish to withhold the things I want to say through art that may affect many more people than just myself. Maybe I could be the one to make a difference in someone's life. Or maybe it is vain of me to think that perhaps I did. Art seems to require a certain degree of ego. I know I wish to make art because I am theraputically benefitted when I speak for myself, but why share if it won't help someone else? In a world of 8 million people, perhaps there are ten who would come to see my show or read my play and perhaps one of them will have their vision adjusted 10 degrees to the left. That would be some kind of miracle, a truly miraculous thing; I think I would feel the web of all human beings past, present and future, globally fire up in me. That idea has me radiating all over this empty room. I guess I won't know what my art can do until I release it.

-Kristine Marie Gilreath
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