I was recently in a play in which each of us had 5 minutes to portray, through any medium, something we wanted to express. Some did a dance, some did a song, some mimed, some did incomprehensible modern abstract performances, and some did hilarious stand-up comedy. I split my minutes into three portions, approximately one-and-a-half-minute scenes, interspersed among the other performances, one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at end of the show. Typical attention seeker. Actually it was our instructors’ idea to split my scenes in order to make it a ‘fil rouge’ (let’s say ‘theme’ in English) throughout the piece.
In my first bit (also the first scene of the play), I came out as an opera singer wearing a long red dress. My fellow playmates (that word sounds totally wrong doesn’t it) were behind me as an orchestra with invisible instruments. So I come onstage, and salute the beautiful audience whom I imagine to be clapping profusely (there actually were two hundred spectators a night, and so much demand that we had to extend. Twice). The conductor signals the musicians to begin; I sway to the music a little, open my arms and fingers, close my eyes, take a breath, and then… nothing. It takes the conductor a moment to realize I haven’t begun to sing, but when he does he stops the music and looks at me, worried. I give him an apologetic look, then assure him we can go on. I freeze another two times before running off stage.
In my second scene, I come out as a mad artist with a red beret (yup, I took the ‘fil rouge’ thing quite literally), complete with an obsessed servant-fan carrying my easel, palette, and paints. After making him follow me round and round the stage with all the materials while I look for the perfect spot, we get set up. I begin mixing my colors, simply holding out my hand and my servant-fan giving me what I need, much like a nurse assisting a surgeon. After all this prep, I squint my eyes, take position, hold my brush carefully and… do nothing. You get the drill.
Finally, the figurative curtain opens in my final scene (also the last scene of the play) on me in a beautiful bridal dress, carrying a red rose (yup, red again). Behind me are actors dressed in black, and others dressed in white. They represent my thoughts. My real-life indecisive, hesitant, obsessive and tormenting thoughts. The black ones are holding back and the white ones are encouraging me. But neither of the two are really me. So of course I prepare to give my rose to an invisible suitor floating in front of the stage, and… don’t. Three times. But my liberation does come in the final scene, because I throw the rose, toss my veil, and decide to just not care anymore. To stop thinking so much. To let go. And I reconcile with all the thoughts standing behind me, literally dance with them, and fall backwards into their arms.
I later told my dad and relatives: There, now you’ve seen me in a wedding dress, pressure’s off.
Joking aside, the idea behind my scenes, which were simple and self-explanatory (though several newspaper articles got them all wrong- stating for example, that the singer didn’t want to sing because her orchestra was really lousy), was my real life self-created obstacles. I overthink things, and my inner perfectionist/ critic stops me before I ever dare do anything.
Among other things, I have always wanted to write. I have always written… in my head. If I ever did write something on paper, it would remain in one of my little notebooks in a drawer. If I ever did type something up, my compulsive editor self would destroy it until there was nothing left.
After the play, after dealing with this issue head on, on stage, in front of people, including, by the way, past and current employers, something clicked. I guess it’s obvious, but the singer, painter and bride were dealing with these issues, and I was dealing with mine by the mere fact of being on stage. Getting up there was really scary for me, and I’d wanted to quit so many times… but once I allowed myself… I loved being on stage. And it’s not about the attention. It’s about the feeling of time literally expanding, and nothing else existing. Being on stage, you feel the every sensation of your feet on the ground, you feel your every breath, every pulsation of your heart. And if you take the time to look at the audience… You see a sea of faces and lights… You literally feel the energy of all these people vibrating towards you.
And in an old theater like the one we were in, maybe you even choose to believe you can feel the history of every person who ever acted there, every fiasco, every success, and all the people who ever dressed up and went to see a show there. But most of all, when you’re on stage you feel the silent yet so loud encouragement of your fellow ‘actors’. You help each other dress between scenes, bring out each other’s props in the dark, always trying to do everything perfectly to make them comfortable and to not create any glitch in their scene. They know every movement and word of your scenes, and they mime and mouth them backstage while you’re performing, and you do the same when they’re onstage. You feel happy when they do well, and feel their frustration when they forget a word.
So the play made me feel that anything was possible, and that there was nothing to be afraid of. Once you’ve made yourself utterly vulnerable and put your issues in front of people to judge (and they did), you realize that your arms won’t fall off- as my old roommate used to say.
A week after the play ended, I went for coffee with a friend (who was then only an acquaintance), who blogs at Beirut Rhapsodies. We spoke about writing, and about regaining our wings after they are clipped by well-meaning critical dads, boyfriends, teachers… She told me: Why don’t you write a post for my blog? So I did. I wrote it really fast, in about 7 minutes, and for once in my life, did not allow myself to proofread or edit. I sent it to her, she published it on her blog, and that was it. The big deal was not having readers or positive comments (though that was lovely). The big deal was that I wrote. And showed it to someone. I decided to start this blog in order to make sure I kept writing. The post I wrote for her is the first post on this blog, ‘At least the illusion of it’.