Wednesday, 27 March 2013

To Act...the Truth?

Genevieve's third blog from her tour of Translations. She is now in Dublin and we are off to see her tomorrow. In the meantime...

It's Week Three now of this tour of 'Translations', or Week Six if you count the rehearsal process of being locked down in the studio in the Millennium Forum, Derry. We are now in Dublin, performing at one of its most historic, prided theatres, the Gaiety.

Tiredness overwashes me now; a permanent slumber where I cannot tell half the time whether I am sleeping or awake, except when I am live on stage in front of a full-out audience each night. Mid-afternoon matinees, evening performances that run on until close to midnight, the pressure to perform and maintain character, energy, the soul of the play, the big picture, consistency - we are all high wired to keep small clogs in our brain ticking over steadfastly whilst our bodies disintegrate from the sheer energy asked of us. Small clogs that get tweaked again and again when we adjust to new spaces, new auditoriums to project voices, technical apparatus, cultures, cities which all ask something different of this crew and cast of 'Translations' to breathe new life into the play.

I mentioned to a few of you that I had the honour and privilege to meet the playwright of 'Translations' Brian Friel during the first week of tour. Brian Friel, only considered one of the greatest living playwrights of this century. Those standard cliches - "spine-chilling", "quaking in my boots", "mouth-dropping" don't even begin to sum up that unexpected moment of sheer delight and clarity when you are congratulated by the man himself for producing a beautiful performance. The stoic but shaky handgrip, we giggled (can an old man be described as giggling?) over our equally appalling lack of hearing and compared our hearing aids. An unavoidable constant blush (mine). It was a moment when I felt very blessed to be alive.

Last night, the President of Ireland - Michael Higgins, came to visit the show. And we were all asked to stay behind back stage after the performance. Having not grown up in Ireland, this didn't immediately dawn upon me as hugely significant - "What is he, like, is he the equivalent of the Prime Minister?"

"No, he's more like the Queen."

The realisation that I was meeting someone considered royalty was quite a shock and there was suddenly this sense of trepidation about that night's performance.

That night's performance was a success - if it's fair to base it upon the volume of the audience's reactions and applause and we all stood in the wings, waiting for the screen to come down and for the President of Ireland to join us on stage with his entourage. Cameras flashing, zany grins, a mirror image projected overawedness whilst inner me is battled with the exhausting duo of euphoria and tiredness.

Actors all describe acting differently, but, on a simple, mainstream level, one could consider it to be the ability to manifest emotions and actions which are not real. This fascinates me, because in my eyes it seems a closer definition to the talent of artifice.

For me, acting is bringing life to a character by connecting with them in a way that makes it true for both you and for the part you play. It is the opposite of artifice. For me, the depth of a performance and the ability for the audience to connect to you, comes from it being truth. You are Sarah and Sarah is you. You are not pretending to be Sarah. You are, quite simply, her. In other words, acting is not false.

But after seventeen shows with another twenty five or so to go, it's very difficult to maintain that sense of realism without altering your 'natural' reactions. Otherwise the performance becomes stale and unconvincing - for the audience and actors alike.

One only needs to look at the etymology of the word "act" - which derives from the Latin word Actus - "an impulseand Agere - "to do, stir up", from the root Ag "to draw out, to move" to see the truth in this.

Therefore, it doesn't seem surprising that we have to draw on a lot of inner strength to continue to react authentically to the same piece each night. That the real task that lies behind an actor is to trust themselves to submit to the unpredictable and yet stay intrinsic to the character. To be true to their real natures and not submit to the histrionics of performance. To simply be.

"Simplicity is beauty and beauty is simplicity, nothing more, nothing less" Oscar Wilde 

It does seem ironic, as an actress, that I find myself agreeing with Mr Oscar Wilde.

Genevieve in rehearsal with the cast and director, Adrian Dunbar.

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