To Act or Not To Act?

April 8, 2014

I have a very strange relationship with a certain older man that is in my life. Whenever we talk with each other, I leave the conversation deep in thought, feeling like my insides have somehow been displayed for him to see. He sees me. He gets me. In a way that few other people do. This is frightening for me because I don’t enjoy being vulnerable. And as we tease and flirt dangerously with each other, I come to see myself in a new light, if only for a second. I rarely am able to hold onto the glimpse that I catch of myself, but I believe that I do see myself as he sees me… if only for a moment. I don’t really know how to explain it. Tonight he asked me a very simple question: You don’t really act, do you? Actually, it was more of a statement: You don’t act do you. But I answered anyways. He has seen exactly one of my shows, and he has admitted to me that I made him cry. I could only answer honestly: no, I don’t feel that I know how to act. A lot of people approach roles in a different way. I don’t know how to explain my acting process and in some ways, it is quite sacred to me. But it meant the world to me that this man saw it. That he understood. A dear friend of mine once said to me “Deena, it doesn’t matter HOW you sing (I had been complaining to her that I was quite ill and that the show I was about to do would probably not go so well). No matter what, no matter how you are feeling, your emotionality always shines through. That is huge. There is so much emotion in how you sing, the rest, in a way, doesn’t even matter’. I will always keep this with me. Truthfully, I don’t act. I pour myself seamlessly into the character. I justify their actions, and if I don’t initially understand why the character is doing what they are doing, I do whatever it takes to figure it out. When I take on a character, I start talking about her as if I AM her. I refer to the character as “I” and “me”, as I am explaining the synopsis to friends. The other day at work, I said ‘…and my father killed himself’ and people who overheard that part of the conversation freaked out. I had to explain very quickly that I was talking about the back-story of Butterfly (my own Father, thankfully, is very much alive). I always create a backstory, a timeline in my head that I do not share with other people. What she has gone through, what she has overcome? I fill in the gaps and put the pieces together. I justify her actions, her desires and wants and make them my own. Sometimes this becomes confusing… it was terrifying for me, watching the movie Black Swan, because in a way…. I understood. I have often said that I feel that artists and musicians need to constantly be on the edge of insanity. I do often feel chaos inside of me, especially when I am pouring myself into a role. Sometimes I fear that I do not know where the character ends and where I begin. But perhaps this is a good thing. I don’t want you to see me on that stage; I want you to see Cio-Cio San. Now, I will never look like a 15-year-old Japanese girl – that is impossible. But I want you to believe that I feel the words that I am saying, from the depths of my being. It is my job to transport you to another place and time. The only way that I know how to do that is by being genuine and true to what is written on the page, and genuine and true to who the character is. And the only way that I know how to do THAT is by understanding the characters psyche. As I journey down the path to understanding the character, she becomes a part of me in a way that I do not know how to explain. But I get it. I feel what she is feeling. When I am on stage, I am not acting. I am being true to the music. I can only hope that this is enough. A couple of months back, we played a game in Czech class. We created characters for ourselves and then went around the room and had to answer questions that were asked to us, in Czech, in our character. I couldn’t think of anything else, so I put down Madama Butterfly (one guy, a very tiny Caucasian kid, put down Mr. T. It was even funnier because Mr. in Czech is Pan. Just say it out loud. You’ll laugh. I promise. I’m not very classy, am I?). We never actually got to me (thankfully) but one friend pulled me aside after class and told me that she really wanted me to answer her question: How could Butterfly actually love Pinkerton? I think it’s important to remember two things: The audience has obviously been privy to the fact that Pinkerton is, for lack of a better term, a giant douche bag. They have witnessed his conversation with Sharpless about how he will basically love Butterfly and leave her. But she has no idea. Her father has killed himself, her family has been left with nothing, she has been working as a geisha and the poor girl is only 15 years old. She is longing for a savior. Pinkerton comes riding in on the proverbial white horse. He tells her the things that she wants to hear, and perhaps in the moment, he believes them to be true. Perhaps he is being honest with her and with himself and he has convinced himself that the words falling out of his mouth are truth. Maybe he is able to justify his actions. I do believe that there are good qualities to Pinkerton, or else he would not run for Butterfly at the end of the show and cry out to her. I do believe that, to some degree, he cares about her. But isn’t there a bit of Butterfly in us all? We long to be cared for in the way that Pinkerton appears to love her. He whispers sweet nothings and caresses her soul. And then the chains that have been around her heart fall to the ground, and her soul entwines with his forever. It’s beautiful.I currently cannot sing through Un Bel Di (One Fine Day), her main aria, without weeping in the middle of it. In the English, she says that she will hide for a bit when Pinkerton finally arrives (after being gone for 3 years), ‘perhaps to tease him… but more… to keep from dying of rejoicing’. And then the tears flow. Because I know the rest of the story…. And it is so incredibly difficult to detach myself from it. My latest goal. Forget the rest of the pages and be 100% in the moment. Hard work. But hopefully it will pay off.Until the next. Xo. De.

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