” All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” Sean O’Casey
I have made yet another entrance to this isle across the sea and because I’ve been away for a while, I think I may have made myself missable. People seem happy to see me. And I’m happy to see them.
I always thought that people who made entrances and exits for a living were bestowed with a magical talent that allowed them to pretend to be other people when a director yelled, “Action!” But after my acting class at the Gaiety School of Acting I realize that it’s less magic and more rehearsal. It turns out that when actors talk about “the work”, it really is the work. As the book No Acting, Please suggests, “acting” is the opposite of what actors are required to do. Acting is rather becoming someone else and then saying the lines as that someone else. We all do an amateur version of that sort of thing every day, sometimes many times a day.
I loved my acting class mostly because I had a fantastic teacher, Donal Courtney. He was a combination of everything that is good about the Irish – he was charming, friendly, and funny. He also had the essential qualities of an excellent teacher – he was knowledgeable, passionate, and kind. He even sounded nice when he cursed. It’s the accent – the Irish way of saying the “u” in “fuck” somehow tempers the harshness of the American version. (Which reminds me of our first class. We played a warm up game where each person took turns saying either “fuzzy duck” or “ducky fuzz”. Of course when they got to me, I got tongue tied and called out, “Does he fuck”. The crowd loved it – I guess you had to be there.)
And recently at home in New Hope I was watching the TV show Out of Ireland when Donal appeared on the screen. It was so nice to see him, even if it were only on a screen. He was part of a celebration to honor Michael Fassbender in Killarney. Donal was Michael’s first acting teacher and they have remained fast friends.
Early on in the course we practiced acting with Samuel Beckett’s play Come and Go. It’s a 121 word play that is quintessential Beckett. It’s precise, sparse, dark, and filled with suggestion. Like Waiting For Godot, Beckett achieves what seems to be a theoretical impossibility – a play in which nothing happens. (I guess Beckett was the Seinfeld of his day.) The play has its three female characters exit and then enter the stage again in a pattern that if traced would look like the infinity symbol. It’s deep.
As the weeks passed, each student in the class picked a character from a play and practiced a soliloquy to be performed for our final class. I chose Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. I explained her situation to an Irish friend. I said, “She’s a former English teacher who is trying to hide from reality. She’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown and in this scene she’s been drinking.” He said, ” Well then you don’t really have to act.” Hilarious.
Anyway, after hours of practicing, the stage was mine and I pretended to be Blanche DuBois for a few minutes. The class burst into a round of applause and Donal said that he believed I was that character. I can only hope that Vivien Leigh would have approved. Regardless, it was just so much fun. I loved doing it.
And so like all good classes, it was not just about what the class title might suggest. It made things about life more clear. Our lives are made up of a series of entrances and exits. We play different roles minute by minute, and then we’re trapped in one role for years. Sometimes as we grow older, the opportunities for new roles slow down. But fortunately in life, unlike in the theater or the movies, we can be our own writers, directors, make-up artists, and costume designers and change the script. We can look at the new year as a time to present the best versions of ourselves to the people we meet along the way.