Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Another play, another love affair...

Or not. Exactly.

I mentioned back in the summer, when I'd just finished doing What the Butler Saw (click here for a photo, I am the one who is not naked) how I always thought of plays - i.e. the process of being in one, from audition to last night - as being like love affairs. It's something I've been thinking about again recently, what with King Lear and all... and also, I guess, because I'm thinking about love affairs generally for my germinating slash novel. (I.e. the novel is germinating. I haven't just invented a new genre.)

I realise this might sound a little bit weird, or perverse, even though* I should point out that, for the record, I am not talking about actual love affairs with actual people. But bear with me, OK?

It may seem a little strange to think about an abstract process in terms of sex. One of the fairly universal assumptions about sexuality is that it has to have a direct object - whether that's a person or an animal or a high-heeled shoe... But, you know, I'm not convinced. I had a discussion with someone a while ago about how "appropriate" it was to exploit one's sexuality in the workplace, and she suggested that whenever anyone did anything that they loved, and did it wholeheartedly and well, that their sexuality was automatically engaged: that in a sense it was meaningless to try to demarcate the "appropriate" spheres for sexuality because it was there in everything. This isn't, I hasten to add, about fancying anything that moves. It's more the idea that what drives us is not clearly divisible into sexual and non-sexual, or even romantic and non-romantic. Desire is desire, whether it's for sex or an elegant solution to a problem or a really good bacon sandwich. The object is actually an indirect object - pretty much (OK, this is probably a bit contentious, but hey) incidental. What you want to achieve varies - but the feeling that motivates you is... the same.

And the process of being in a play has the same shape as a burgeoning love affair. You hear about the play and you're interested, you have that moment of connection (the audition), you walk out feeling hopeful but helpless - it's down to them whether they want to see you again - and then you get cast and you feel triumphant and attractive... And then in rehearsals you have fun, you laugh a lot, you have moments of wondering whether this is the best thing ever or if it's all a horrible mistake... you get a whole new group of ready-made friends with whom you have something in common... and all the time you're moving towards the Great Climax of the first night. And then you Do It. Again and again. Until suddenly it's over. Leaving you, at least in my case, invariably a little bit broken-hearted.

But it isn't just the specific emotions that make the simile work for me. Because, let's face it, I've been in plays where the rehearsal process has been painful, the other actors boring or irritating, the director tiresome - where, in short, I haven't enjoyed it much - and somehow, even in those cases, the metaphor still rings true. No, it's more to do with the way it makes you think about the future. Does that make sense? It's because of the balance of enjoyment and anticipation, certainty and uncertainty, pleasure and fear... And maybe it's something much more universal, something about all narratives, whether they're ones we live through or ones we read or watch or write. I think what I'm driving at is the way momentum and experience meet and interact, our relationship with the present vs. the future... (This is getting wanky, but bear with me.) When you're acting you have to be absolutely in the moment, focused on what's happening now, and there's a kind of happiness that comes from that, especially when you're doing something you love. But at the same time, rehearsals are only there because you're going to perform. That's the whole point. They only reach their full meaning retrospectively - when you get to the performance. If, when you rehearsed, you didn't believe that one day you'd perform, you wouldn't enjoy it - even if nothing about the actual experience was different. And it's the same for all narratives. You're driven by the desire to know what happens next - not right now, maybe, but soon. You have to enjoy the process of reading, but it only reaches its fulfilment when it finishes. That's why a brilliant book with a bad ending can be so frustrating. It's like great sex that breaks off when your partner goes to answer the door and doesn't come back.**

OK, so I didn't mean for this to get quite so Barthesian. To be honest I was really only thinking about how sad I'll be when King Lear is over. I'm not absolutely sure where this splurge of quasi-narrative theory came from... but it's probably better that way. (Possibly something to do with the fact that I'm delaying the moment when I have to do some real work.)

I am going to sign off now. Mainly because I just realised I could sum this post up in three sentences: "I like being in King Lear." And, "Last night we went to the pub after rehearsal. I had a very nice time."

* Or, possibly, especially because...
** I imagine. This has never happened to me.***
*** No, it really hasn't.

1 comment:

  1. The majority of this post was entirely (and shamelessly, I might add) drowned out by the words GERMINATING SLASH NOVEL. How does breathing work again?