Saturday, March 06, 2010

Day Six: In Character

Not much in the tank today. Feel like warmed-over hell. This is my second time sick in 2010--and the only time in '09 was in December, so I AM OVER IT.

Today was a dark, windy, pre-stormy day in San Diego--we don't have many days like it. I figured that Balboa Park would be a ghost town, but it was inexplicably packed. On a lark, though, we took Jarrah to see Pippi Longstocking at the Junior Theater. Pippi was a hero of mine when I was young--I loved how she got to live by herself and people messed with her at their own peril. By coincidence, Jarrah has just seen the movie for the first time (I was napping at the time, so I know nothing about it, sorry) though we haven't started on the books yet. The movie was enough to get her excited.

I must confess I was slightly bummed that it wasn't a musical, which I didn't realize. The girl who played Pippi was a cute ball of energy, as she'd have to be, since she's on stage for two hours. When the lights came up at the end, Jarrah was out of there like a shot. Not because she was eager to get home, mind you, but because she knows the drill: you are out in the lobby when the cast comes out, and then you ask them for autographs.

For a bold kid, she gets quite shy around the kids in costume, suddenly standing right next to her. When she was a baby, she would extend her program and pen upwards without a sound when they'd turn to her, and that's hardly changed. But she has mad respect for these actors, understands that they have been working hard to entertain her, and they are celebrities in her eyes. Of course, a lot of the other kids there feel the same.

The ritual of actors descending into the audience after a show is a curious and fascinating one. Usually, they are still in costume and makeup, so they look like the characters we've been watching, previously as distant as if they were encased in our televisions. But now we can see they are real people, cracks in their sweaty makeup, wigs askew, costumes slightly faded or cheap-looking. They don't sing or dance anymore; they have no accents, no grand gestures, and perhaps most significantly, up close they don't project. They have no reason to. They smile like the ordinary people they are, and say in an ordinary voice, "Thanks for coming. Hope you enjoyed the show."

Though we empirically understand that they are people just like ourselves, there is still something thrilling about consorting with them. I've gotten tongue-tied myself many times, which becomes increasingly ironic to me with each show I've been in myself. After all, I absolutely love to hear total strangers tell me they enjoyed the show, enjoyed me in it, found me funny or moving. In a way, it's more thrilling than hearing from friends and family--they are contractually bound to say something, and even more obligated to make it nice. But strangers who smile and reach for me are the real perk of a job done well, an affirmation that I've reached the audience, that they accepted whoever I was for two hours.

Theater actors after a show are strangers, but they're strangers that I think I know. Or sometimes I wish I knew. I watch them hugging and kissing their loved ones and--crazily--sometimes feel jealous. I wish I could get to know that tortured soul I plumbed the depths with all evening. Already, Jarrah recognizes that the actors walking among her are people, but they're not QUITE people like she is, at least not yet. At least not for another 20 minutes. They're in a limbo space between stage and driving home. And while they're in that space, they still inspire awe.


Mary said...

I love this post. So well put!



bridgetcarle said...

Pippi! I love Pippi! Read all the books and watched the movies. I wanted her house, her bag of coins, and it wouldn't be half bad to have superhuman strength, either. :)

Love how you describe the actors in the audience. It's perfect, including the odd jealousy.

I also identify with the strangers' praise > family/friend praise, although I value both. There's just an extra thrill in a person who has no obligation to give a damn going out of their way to give you that pat on the back.

Great post. :)
Caroline B

Stephanie said...

We are going Saturday, N can't wait!

Jennifer said...

Oh how I adore Pippi!! I always have! I love this post. You have such a way with words and describing things like I would never be able to. The theater is a magical place to be sure!

DrSpouse said...

Please please can you watch the movie for me and report back? my nieces are obsessed but if the film is nothing like the book they will be SOOO disappointed if I get it for them.