Can art change the world? Or which came first, the art or the world? Does art reflect the conditions of the world, or does the world reflect the conditions of art?
I used to believe so vehemently in the latter. I lived for the stage. Who I was was defined by the spaces in which I moved, like a chameleon, between the black proscenium floors and the red velvet audience seats—I was neither actor nor audience member, neither performer nor–what is the word or a non-performer? Laity? That seems horribly blaspheming, though I suppose it would not be far from the truth. When we worship ourselves, we become broken gods.
I feel a painful polarity in me when I act on stage. The irony, I suppose, is that in those fleeting moments of live energy, I feel so alive, so joyous, as if I’m tapping into the mind of another human being and living in her shoes. But when I leave the stage and cease being a pretend character and become just me again, sometimes I don’t want to give up the glamour of being able to get away with things on stage that I otherwise would be appalled by—my behavior, others’ behavior—in “real” life. In those brief moments when I am transforming from my character back in to myself I cling longingly to the self-love of feeling everyone’s eyes transfixed on my being. I did not do anything to deserve it. Is that even praise worthy? Does praise even equal worthiness?
I don’t always think so. The longer I live in those transitional spaces between a character and myself, the less I feel like myself and more like one amorphous being who is poked and prodded by the challenges and praises of her peers. This is not a real being and slowly these clouds seep into my skin and challenge my autonomy and my humility, which doesn’t really exist in the first place, unfortunately. I live less like a child in wonder of the world and more like a bump on a log, or as CS Lewis once put it, no longer a grumbler but simply a grumble.
I cannot lose myself again. The funny thing is that I struggled with this same sinking self identity in Israel, as I felt myself getting swept away by the sand and the rush of such a complex and confusing country. I felt like I must change myself in order to fit in in order to be happy. And here I am again, changing before my very eyes.
Change can often be a good thing. But when I begin to question the words that come out of my mouth and the people I project myself towards, I wonder if I am being true to myself or if I am clinging to this invisible space between acting and life. I always wonder. I must be true.
My goal for myself is no longer to become anything, or anyone, or change myself or force myself into being something different. I suppose my goal is just to live every day with conviction. That’s hard when you’re trying to please someone all the time. It just won’t work. Sometimes you have to give.
Theatre has always been for me a form of escapism and I know many actors and audience members alike who flock to shows to escape reality. This was what primarily appealed to me about acting, that I could escape, first from a rough childhood, and then in general, from anything that bothered me. I could leave my real self at the door and pretend that life was anything I wanted it to be…and it was.
When I came back from Israel, I realized I no longer want to escape from the world. I want to embrace it and help shape it. But what was so wonderful about being in a play again is that for a little while I found such an enjoyable way to pass the time without worrying about bettering myself or changing the world. I could simply be and laugh. I laughed so much.
So here I am now, somewhere between resplendent escapism and harsh reality. Truth be told, I think I’ll always be a bit of an escapist. I don’t think anyone can be “on” one hundred percent of the time without being an automaton. Perhaps my mode of escapism is changing. Perhaps I crave a more active escapism. Who knows.
(These vegetables have nothing to do with the play I was just in, or escapism, or anything else for that matter. I just think they look delicious and very simple. They are from the Cooper Young Farmers Market back in May. Oh, to be a radish in the earth.)