Sunday, November 8, 2015

Being in Character

In some of your most personal and basic moments, you consult your most precious cache of treasure for two objects, one quite tangible, the other most abstract.  

The former treasure is a small pocket notebook with a list of characters who appeal to you to the point where you visualize yourself portraying them.  The latter is the equivalent of an E Ticket to Disneyland, in fact as open a ticket as possible to the inner worlds of fantasy.

According to the whim of the moment, you imagine yourself portraying one of the characters in your notebook.  The list crosses race, gender, and age boundaries.  The more you indulge your fantasy, the more aware you become of the training, skills, and instincts you have for being a portrayer, a player, dare you call yourself an actor?  

The more you indulge your fantasy, the more aware you become of some trait or interpretation you would bring to your portrayal that would in effect make the character even more memorable to you, in effect enhancing your ties to the character, whoever he or she might be.

The most recent character you've indulged this fantasy with is one of the great dramatic challenges for an actor of any age or experience, the King Lear of Shakespeare's eponymous play. In your fantasy, you were the CEO of a large family business, reminiscent of the publishing company Knopf, when its founders, Alfred and Blanche, were still alive.  You recall Knopf railing against the printing of so many books, a if to say his list was so comprehensive and good that few others were necessary.

You like that kind of authoritative hauteur, find yourself trying out various postures to help project it.  Your Lear would be Jewish, by no means because you are and would thus be able to draw from experience.  Your own Jewishness lacks that cultural and experiential platform.  

Your choice was made because the idea reminded you of the aspect of Jewish humor that is accepted because it has to be.  As this Jewish Lear of the publishing house, Lear Books, you would retire, giving control to your three daughters, all of whom follow their counterparts in the original play.

Another reason for bringing Jewishness to Lear has to do with your reading of the play as the most starkly apocalyptic of all the plays, ending on a note that reminds you of The Final Solution, as it is being carried out.  In your fantasy, you even have two of the daughters selling Lear Books to the German conglomerate, Bertelsmann, which owns so many American publishers.

This fantasy game of yours, imagining yourself as the personality inhabiting your favorite characters, reminds you of a musician running scales or chords.  It is play and practice, both of which are essential for writing things for performance, which is to say publication, but also for the sake of having done them, which is first and foremost for the self as writer.  

In this same E Ticket fantasyland, you are also a writer who wishes to publish, who writes things for publication, who understands the impersonal nature of rejection and the surprising aspects of publication.  At one point, you ached to be published in some larger sense than you seeing your byline in newspapers and magazines.  When that happened, you accepted the fact that you'd reached a plateau where, nice as it was, that was no longer why you wrote.

The act of becoming your favorite characters for the sake of fantasy performance is of a piece with the phenomenon of fan fiction, wherein devotees of certain stories or characters invent their own adventures.  Your own understanding of fan fiction and your own adaptation of the concept ratify your understanding of the need for story in life, to create it, to be in it, and when the need arises, to usurp the work of ongoing stories about you to supply your own version.

Now, when you create a character, you begin wondering what it will take to portray him or her.  Do you give her the same fragility as Williams' Blanche Dubois, or is there something in her that causes you to make eye contact with her and begin the dangerous flirtation wherein you and she see each other's chemistry?

Such things are often spoken of as guilty pleasures, but for you there is no guilt, only the immense presence of pleasure.  Story and its denizens have become for you the presence of pleasure, no matter where they take you when they approach you, sometimes in your sleeping dreams, sometimes in your daydreams, sometimes when you are lost in composition.  "What say we get out of here," they say, "and go somewhere for a drink?"

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