Monday, December 30, 2013

The stage we are on


Presenting the better side of yourself while ignoring the worse side is actually a way of pretending. It is misleading in the sense that you offer a false image of yourself or at least an image that’s not correct or one-sided. As long as it is done in a moderate way, it needs not to be bad, however. Everybody knows that it happens. Actually you are expected to keep up appearances to a certain extent towards people you are not close with, so everybody does. Only towards your most intimate friends and members of your family you are supposed to be open. A moderate kind of pretending is even useful. It helps you to get on in society and to avoid unnecessary conflicts. It functions like a kind of lubricant in your relations. “How are you?”, “Fine, thanks” is a simple example of it, for towards a person you hardly know you don’t complain about your little or big ailments, even not if you are half dead, or about the quarrels with your best friend. But don’t overdo this pretending for then it can work against you.
A kind of pretending of its own is role-playing. A role-player places himself outside the normal course of society for the duration of the play, so to speak. Of course “so to speak”, for role-playing is a social practice. Maybe it is best to see it as a social meta-practice. Role-players by excellence are, of course, actors on a stage. However, good acting doesn’t only mean that the actor pretends the role he is playing but he is the role for the time the acting lasts: The actor has the inner sense that he is the person he plays. Then the actor is at his best. And if then the audience gets the feeling that it is real what is happening on the stage, appearance has become fact. The play is no longer a pretending but it has become reality for the time of the play. It explains the shock when we see an actor later eating in a restaurant. The dream has ended; the illusion has gone. Hamlet is a person like you and me and when you make a talk with the actor, it may turn out that he lives a few streets further down from you in your town. He is a human being like you.
I remember having experienced something like that. The person concerned was not an actor but a guide in a conducted tour I had had that morning. Later that day my wife and I went to a restaurant and just after we had chosen our table we saw at the next one the guide with his girl friend. He recognized us, too. We greeted each other and that was all but the situated remained a bit uncomfortable for both of us.
Sometimes it is for an actor (and not only for an actor) difficult to forget the roles he played when outside the stage and then you find back role elements in his daily behaviour. Pretence has become a bit real or the other way round when pieces of reality are used for constructing appearance.
That an actor is absorbed by his role makes me think of the people opposite the stage: the audience. Good acting can give the audience the feeling that it is real what is happening on the stage, as I said. It’s clear that, unlike the actors the spectators are not pretending: They are spectators. I have noticed that I enjoy my “role” as a spectator better, if I “play” it a bit as an actor on the stage. An actor plays his part better when he consciously tries to be the person he plays. This goes better when he explicitly prepares himself on being the character he plays. This involves more than simply learning the text he has to say and what he has to do during the play. For me as a spectator it’s more or less the same. If I explicitly prepare myself on what I am going to see and, once present in the theatre, concentrate myself consciously on the play – or in my case the opera – as soon as it begins, then I enjoy it so much more, even if it’s actually an opera (in my case) that’s not really my taste – and that’s why sudden sounds by other spectators can be so annoying: They disturb the illusion that I and the singers have created “together”, since they bring me back to the reality off stage. However, maybe it would be good if the illusion created by our absorption by the world around us would be disturbed now and then. It is not that this makes that we arrive in a world out of our relations, but maybe it makes us realize better what the world we are in is and what we are doing there. Often it’s necessary. 

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