Stepping out onto the darkened stage, you hear the audience breathing almost as one. A few last minute coughs and clearing of throats and suddenly, silence. Expectation is palpable. The lights will come up in a minute or two, but in what feels like seconds and eternity at once you stand there in the dark, listening to your blood pulsing through your body.
Maybe you take a deep breath, apply some training and skill to help you relax. And you’re aware, too, of all the other things that came out on stage with you tonight. Those things that you have to sequester in a room inside yourself with duct tape across their mouths because they’ll try to interrupt your show with their show, or maybe some of them will secretly blend in with this character’s humanity and squawk inside the character’s voice and you’ll let them because you have to. Some of them sit boldly on stage with you. Some of them remain invisible to the audience. And it’s all happening at once in this whirling, speeding moment of now.
Maybe you hear your father’s shattering voice once again proving he was right all along: that you’re worthless, will never amount to anything. Every little wound you suffered, every scar revealed, no matter how slight, ready to burst open, infected with the pus of the past. It’s all there, available, as it should be. This is the hazardous material of your profession: your particular life’s story. But you don’t get to wear a Hazmat suit. You must be brave, unprotected, fearless and aware of the dangers at the same time.
And you know there’s no turning back. In a moment the lights rise, the darkness abandons you and you’re standing alone on a stage with strangers staring at you, waiting, wondering, analyzing, judging, sensing, probing with their curiosity, and you have to speak, to be someone for them: to be at once yourself and something metaphysical; to be fully human, vulnerable, and cogent.
Every night you go out there expecting less will show up: less of the past, less of the harsh elements of this moment, less of the things you’ll face in the audience: their boredom, their judgments, their disappointment, their perfectionism, their inability to accept themselves.
But somehow, as if by magic, there are stunning moments of communion, of silent conversation, of a kind of brilliance that doesn’t belong to one person but is some kind of mass genius that arises from some hidden source and breathes and moves everyone along on a thrilling ride into the heart of humanity. You and they are one in thrall to it.
Then whatever you’ve brought on stage and whatever they’ve brought to their seats tonight gets used, sorted out, discarded for the moment and becomes grotesque and beautiful all at once. And everyone who wants to be is transformed.
Those that can’t be or don’t want to be; those that resist or remain unavailable to the genius of the evening go home wondering what everyone else was talking about. Or not wondering at all.
And then it’s over… for tonight.