Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Act Surprised

You did not become aware of the potential metaphor for life and the theater until such concepts as metaphor, simile, and analogy were presented to you as such in middle school. This might well explain early behavior in which one of your immediate goals was to do well enough in the Public Speaking course which was the prerequisite to the course you wanted to take, which was Dramatics.

If you were in Dramatics, so you thought, you could give voice to the numerous individuals dancing about in your imagination.  It seemed scary, tingling, and satisfying.

You did not do well enough in Public Speaking to earn the grade A necessary to open the door to auditions for Dramatics.  Your Public Speaking grade B left you with an option whereby you could be assured of acceptance in the Band class, guaranteed a position as a triangles or tambourine player in a band that sounded like a wheezing, earnest mechanical orchestra player at the fun house on the Ocean Park Pier.  You remember that device more for its persistent, spirited shaking and mechanical eclat than its music.

Alas the, you entertained metaphorical and analogous examples as you read them, not making connections with their actual names until Mrs. Shin, a middle school teacher, presented the subjects related to figures of speech with the observation, "All the world's a stage," then asked if anyone related to that.  "As I Like it,"  you said, presenting right there an example of the you you were.  "That's As You--"  accent on the you "Like it,"  Mrs. Shin said.  "Act II," you said.

Nevertheless, you were off and running with Mrs. Shin, with simile, metaphor, amphibole, prolepsis, and an entire, rattling toolkit of implements with which to look at and dissect the language about you.  Life was, at times, a flowing river, an up-hill road, a dog-eat-dog world.  It was also a stage on which actors trod and on which you wished some access.  

High probability you found the right path, although you to this day you enjoy the metaphor of the stage as an appropriate match for life; we are all of us players, actors, stage managers.  We are all of us characters.  You are perhaps several, enough to sustain the writing of fiction,.  It was and still is difficult to walk past stages, theaters, rehearsal rooms.

Of the many stage directions and admonitions sent your way, "Act your age." far exceeds all others.  The inherent irony in those admonitions comes in the form of the you at the time of the observation, were in all probability doing just that:  acting your age.

The goal in each case was to get you to do the very thing being requested of you.  A more suitable stage direction could have been "Grow up," either with a period (.) or an exclamation point (!).  You were by no means unfamiliar with the latter request, made of you in all earnest.

By your reckoning, these stage directions would have been leveled at you about eighty percent of the time by peers, the remaining twenty percent spread evenly among teachers, parents, and adult authority figures.  

A further reckoning would place you between the ages of fourteen and twenty when these suggestions were offered.  Yet another reckoning, that of a considered examination and codification of such things, has it that ages fourteen to twenty are close to the ideal years for being offered such directions, possibly even accompanied with warnings of sanctions.

When you are in the fourteen-to-twenty age group, your actions and attitudes are a complex chaos of wanting recognition, justice, love, understanding, and the honing of abilities to a state of preternatural brilliance.  You want it all, aware of and impatient about the amount of effort necessary to achieve the "it," whatever that "it" may be.  You want to have discovered what "it" is and how to hone it so that it will do things you ask of it in a way you can control.

While you are on your way to the states where you began to attack such learning with greater focus, you were also told to act surprised, act as if nothing had happened, act accordingly, and act quickly.  All these stage directions were reflective of the crash meeting between you and nuance or, as some of your teachers might call it, your growing awareness of such phenomena as The Social Contract, The Vital Lie, and The Double Standard.

In those remarkable years between fourteen and twenty or so, when you were so often being told to act your age, you were also spending much time at the Silent Movie Theater, not too far from where you would eventually go to high school.  Your great favorites were Chaplin and Keaton.

In those remarkable years when you were working in television and running up a bar tab at the saloon across the street from CBS Television City, a friend who was an assistant director induced you to go on cattle calls for casting as extras in live TV dramas.  In one performance, on the ninety-minute Playhouse 90, you had a quick scene change to make through a complex maze of back set.  You turned a corner and realized you were lost.  When you looked about, you saw Buster Keaton, standing about ten feet away, leaning on  some framework.  He saw your hesitation, and that great stone face of his nodded.  "Don't worry, kid,"  he said.  "Happens to all of us."

You had neither the time nor the words to say all the things on your mind at that moment.  Instead, you stopped, made eye contact, mouthed the word "thanks," then scurried  along your way.  You were acting.  Awed.  Grateful.  In character.  In a hurry to get to your next assigned scene.


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