19 August 2011

If dresser mirrors were studio cameras, I'd be a star

Want to bet he's faking it?
I love doing what I do, which is (try to) write. But performers, man... I'm amazed by performers: actors, comedians, athletes, mimes, you name it.

Not just because they're brave, standing afore an an audience that brought along its demands and preoccupations, its high-priced tickets and high-priced expectations. Facing those is daunting enough, and performers constantly demonstrate ways to overcome jitters and self-doubt. Bravo.

Not just because they memorize lines for long takes, ad lib material, or perfect moves over months of repetition and honing. Commitment and the kind of extreme practice that makes a performance appear natural and carefree is one of the most laudable virtues in all professionals. Well done.

Not just because they're on, night after night or week or month, consistent but, for our sake, like brand new; then, in a new venue or new role, they put on a completely different show, again consistent yet fresh. Of great benefit is the ability and aspiration to entertain others and ourselves in work, friendships, and thoughts. Thanks for that.

What gets me is that I have no idea how performers do it. It = [the way they decide what would be a unique way to make me giggle or sniffle or stare in awe] + [the way they-- having decided how to do it-- do it] + [and do it right, just the way they had in their minds] + [I giggle, sniffle, and stare in awe]. You massively rock. All ya'll.

When I was a kid, there might have been a time or two when I employed cry-on-demand.
  • Mom: "I told you to stop jumping off the top bleachers. This is what happens."
  • Little Dawn: *sniffle* "I... I thought I heard you calling me. I wanted to get to you as fast as I can. But now... now my shhhoooes lost their sooooles, and it's all because I love you SO MUCH!" *sniffle*.
Heartbroken over Fred, damn it, and a doggy zombie
A slight possibility exists that I am to this day capable of calling up a wet eye, come a dire, compassion-necessitating situation.
  • Editor: "I don't understand why you haven't done the rewrite. You read my notes on your introduction."
  • Grown-up Dawn: "You mean, remove the part drawing on personal experience? The childhood trauma." *sniffle* "Retelling the time I was left teetering on the top bleachers and" *lip quiver* "I... fell... ALL the way DOWN. And needed new sneakers!" *sniffle*.

Okay, clearly kids are better at it. They have those round eyes that are too large for their faces, and they have their itty little vocal cords. Plus there's that trick of theirs whereby sometimes they are genuinely impassioned, just often enough to make you not want to be a big meanie for possibly falsely disbelieving visible, tangible tears. (My brothers, by the way: classic Big Meanies. Could never get them to fall for the waterworks.)

But performers of the variety we typically see on stage, on screen, and in stadiums-- the post-pubescent ones-- don't have those tools: not the giant eyeballs on tiny heads, not the underdeveloped larynges, and not the ten years of personal relationships with every audience member; you know, the ups and downs and spilled ice cream cones and hidden report cards and bedtime stories. Those are why kids get away with it. How do adults?

Yo-Yo Ma
That how goes double for adults who are admittedly (and all the while we all are one hundred percent aware that this is the case) performing. The number of times that Yo-yo Ma has rehearsed "Air on a G String" must be beyond his recollection to tally. As a mere creature of the earth, can he conceivably put his soul into every bow stroke of every performance? Enervating! When I hear it, though (currently on third repeat, according to my playlist), I can tell he means it, even on what could be his thousandth time around. Audiences, too, know it, whether playing recordings or experiencing it live. How's he do that?

When Michael Peña held the little girl after gunfire exploded in her direction in the third act of Crash, I didn't care that the next line was schmaltzy (frail voice, big eyes, trusting whisper: "It's a really good cloak." Aawwww) or that the show was trying for a reaction (we know your game, Paul Haggis). I was okay with being of the mind that the girl in the invisible cloak and her loving father meant what they said. The same goes for when Gary Oldman has in-character rages without blinking the entire production, when Morgan Freeman takes in the weight of events around him, when Judi Dench scolds, and wherever Daniel Day Lewis exists. They mean it, and along with performers like them, they get us to applaud, laugh, gasp, grab the sleeve of the person sitting next to us, ... largely on the empathy we feel for someone whose emotion (often) and situation (all the time) are unashamedly pretend.

Performers-- depending on what they want for their characters or personas or art, we either trust them, despise them, or {fill in with whatever we're meant to} them. Most of all, we believe them. That is talent. Elusive, stunning talent. I love performers.*

*Even children. Not everyone of a certain youth gets by, as I did, on irresistibly chubby baby cheeks. Some have real game.

She really means it.
Don't pretend you can't connect
on a basic level to this reaction.
Dude is scary psycho.
Ouch. Hurts.

... But not really. They're only acting, silly.

Bonus performance, with an emotive connection between human audience and Nexus-6 replicant:

Not a real life cry baby

Images: David Morrissey in "Blackpool". Will Smith in I Am Legend. Yo-Yo Ma in D.C. (c) Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images. Angelina Jolie in Wanted. Simon Pegg in Shaun of the Dead. Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List. Sir Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Video: Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford in Blade Runner.

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