MAD about Drama
Beginner's Class Reflection
A few months ago, I attended the Merseyside Academy of Drama (MAD). In this beginner's course for acting, I learned not only how to communicate and speak publicly, but I also learned about the deep characters and personas which have played and determined my life.
I admit, throughout my life, there have been many actors who have dominated the stage of my psyche, some I understood too late were on stage for far too long. I also understood that some actors were not getting the credit or the top spots they deserve, but rather were cast aside off stage.
Through careful thought and expression, you can convince someone of how you truly feel inside, and in-time how you felt. There were hard moments where I had to play experiences which I hadn’t actually taken the time to think over carefully; moments such as a harsh break-up, domestic violence, emotional neglect, abandonment and betrayal. Such moments of trauma, stress and moments of failed courage would paralyse me if I were to experience them again. Somehow, in a small room of ten or twenty strangers, I found living those truths far easier to comprehend.
We were a mixed bunch from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of us were bakers, teachers, retired accountants, analysts, students, nurses, university lecturers and charity workers. One thing I found truly fascinating was how the lived experiences of each individual I met at MAD had shaped how they performed. Some of us had been dealing with emotional traumas and personal pains which couldn’t be expressed plainly but could be manifested into a successful performance. What made life and the performances most interesting is how we could each overcome those character struggles: we could kiss the women we want to kiss, we could hit the men we want to hit, we could live the life which we wanted to have…yet in the past we failed to grab it when the moment was at our feet.
I know this is true because the texts we were reading were plain and had little context. The characters we revealed were implicit and came from our own interpretations. Those interpretations, I believe, come from the deep inner psyche. I can’t pin down exactly why those moments revealed our psyche but I can say that the characters that manifested themselves came to address our deepest fears and desires.
Acting, I’ve learned, brings those dark moments back. Some evenings were quite traumatic for me for I had to dig deep at the inflictions which had stagnated my life. I had to go back to those breakups, I had to act out those moments of betrayal, and I had to live those times of neglect. It wasn’t so much that I was forced to, but I was compelled to based on the fact that any alternative would be a deviation from the truth, my truth, into something akin to a lie. When you’re an amateur on stage, the audience can see through your lies.
The theme which spearheaded getting over these obstacles began with a simple question: what is the objective? When you’re in a bar and you see someone you like, but you’re too nervous to approach them, the objective is your guiding light in those moments of darkness. For that is a moment of darkness, approaching someone you like—showing them how you feel— is no joke and comes with serious demands to your resources if you’re someone who is highly neurotic. But the objective is clear: you want the person to like you.
Once you know your objective, once you speak it out loud for yourself to hear you say it, you are guided highly. The objective is there to define the moment and you are there to live for it.
The objective is a plan, but you can plan far too much. A common practice amongst married couples in disrepair is that they plan their responses and each obsess over planning a debate that is very unlikely to even take place. In essence, the couples are fighting with each other without ever speaking to one another and so over time, unannounced resentment will build up, leading inevitably to a divorce.
So when an argument does take place, whatever has been planned in each couple’s eyes quickly falls apart, for the person that they have grown and boiled separately in their mind does not align with the person in front of them. We are taken by surprise at every stage of a dialogue, at every turn, at every response. So why plan a conversation that will never take place?
Don’t pre-empt the messages people send you. You don’t know how you’re going to react to people’s actions nor do you know how you will react. Live within the moment and define it clearly for yourself and for the dialogue you’re having.
I’m glad I joined MAD, as mad as it is. Even though, over the week, the number of people who came dwindled, there were left a few dedicated people who wanted to spend an evening with strangers doing very strange things. As strange as they were, I learned about how to act, to live and how to speak properly.
With a palm on my chest, I say the words once said by someone so great:
Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the word to the action; …to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.
Me (left) with The Divine, Mrs Irene Woosey (right), The Job Interview