19 February 2014

The Performer, The Mask

People who know me will say I'm honest to a fault. I'm not bragging, it's true. Ever since I was a kid, I loathed above anything else a liar. I would probably give more grace to a murderer than a liar. Of course, since I hated liars so much, as I grew up I came to understand that if I hated it in other people, it should absolutely not be present within me either. So I make the effort to be completely, sometimes overwhelmingly, honest (as longtime readers of this blog can attest). It's been a way of life for long enough that I suck at pretending anything.

And yet... my dream is a career in the arts. Hm.

This has been probably my single biggest barrier to the stage. I probably could be a fairly good singer/actress/dancer, if I could just emote. I have heard from so many dance teachers that I have great technique, but I need to smile more. They tell me that 'that's the first thing people notice,' but I could never understand that because when I watch someone on stage, I'm watching the body language. I'm watching the dazzling footwork, the graceful line of the neck and arms, the hand gestures, I'm hearing the rise and fall of their voice. I'm not looking at their face.

But it's becoming more apparent to me that even if I don't actually smile, I will still have to do something to infuse my dancing with emotion. I'm aware that my performing is flat -- in my head I'm jumping up and down, screaming with excitement over the mere act of dancing (heck, just being on the stage), but in my actual face and movements, it's all just sterile technique, carefully meted out according to the beat. And I've finally clued in to why it's so hard to add the emotion.

It's because of my (by now) hard-wired hatred for lying and deception. Yet the very nature of the stage is deception. We put on makeup, we wear period clothes, we jump the same height every time even if we're exhausted... it's all deception. Yes, the audience knows it's deception, but it's still deception. Honesty has been so hard-wired into me that even acting is difficult -- it's like it goes against everything in the universe. How do you pretend to be someone you're not? How do you pretend to feel something you're not?

I spent years disconnecting my outside from my inside and the result is that my body is an emotionless mask -- like the mannequin on the Doppelgänger artwork -- as the mind within whirs and buzzes like the electronics in Youth With A Machine. I spent years separating the two (silencing the truth rather than changing it -- so technically not lying), and now I've been trying to make them line up again so the honesty is richer and deeper. I still haven't figured that out. And then, when I perform, I'm expected to show emotions I don't feel and sometimes haven't shown outwardly in over a decade.

Dance, I think, is the hardest because you don't have words to fall back on. In a song, you have the lyrics to help fill in some of the blanks. In acting, you not only have your lines, you have dialogue between you and another person, which fleshes things out even more. But in dancing you're on your own, and often there isn't even a basic plotline written out anywhere like there is for a play or a film. You kind of have to make up your own. This had never even occurred to me until last autumn, and I still have no clue how to go about doing it since it was only mentioned in passing.

It seems strange to me that I would find this so hard. Since I know I can effectively separate my mind and my actions, why can't I take it one step further and raise the actions from a mere empty shell to something with intent -- even if it's the intent of a character?

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