Stage, Lights, and Eyeliner

This is what feels good. When you dance onto stage, spinning. Bow deeply holding hands before the curtain falls one last time. This is what feels good. Shaking hands, nodding heads. You’re beaming. You’ve done it and done well. This is what feels good.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been consumed by a play at the local theatre. Spending a lot of time rehearsing late into the night. Somehow, that’s worth it once an audience sits in the seats, laughing and applauding. Suddenly, the antics make sense. Suddenly, your character comes alive. Tonight is the opening night of the Youth Wing production of You Can’t Take It With You.

It’s a comedy set in the 1930’s that calls for a lot of fireworks and cardigans, hints of communism, but mostly love. Here’s an actually decent synopsis:

At first the Sycamores seem mad, but it is not long before you realize that if they are mad, then the rest of the world is madder. In contrast to these delightful people are the unhappy Kirbys. Tony, the attractive young son of the Kirbys, falls in love with Alice Sycamore and brings his parents to dine at the Sycamore house on the wrong evening. The shock sustained by Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, who are invited to eat cheap food, shows Alice that marriage with Tony is out of the question. The Sycamores find it hard to understand Alice’s view. Tony knows the Sycamores live the right way with love and care for each other, while his own family is the one that’s crazy. In the end, Mr. Kirby is converted to the happy madness of the Sycamores after he happens in during a visit by the ex-Grand Duchess of Russia, Olga Katrina, who is currently earning her living as a waitress.

Acting is strange, but much like watching a show. You escape into a world entirely not your own, escape your life. You visit with people, meet them, and follow their stories. As an actor, you do that and more. We do not simply escape by watching, but by doing. We slip into a new skin. Zipping up our backs like reptiles shedding in reverse. We’re becoming new people. Our lives become null. I stand in costume and enter the stage. The lights blind me for a moment and then, I’m not Derek Berry.

It’s a strange bit of ecstasy. In the days leading up to the first performance, it feels arduous. You’re tired of your character, annoyed with the contrivance of the plot. On opening night, though, this becomes so simple. To act becomes effortless. Not at all acting. Just being. Only being another person, not you.

Even if your microphone messes up, spitting static signals into the air. Even if you have to wear lipstick and eyeliner, which is pretty damn hard to apply. Did you know eyeliner goes on the inside of your eye? It’s like poking your eye out with a Sharpie! Even if things go wrong, there’s a spirit. An atmosphere that propels a good show to become great.

You can feel it when it comes. This is what feels good. Last night, during the Grand Dress (the final rehearsal before opening night, where a small audience is admitted), we could feel it. A trembling in your bones. A sudden rush of blood to your head. The stage becomes very real, the lights not so distracting, the eyeliner somewhat attractive.

I’m not sure I can quite describe the sensation too well. But it doesn’t matter what character, what role, in what setting. You feel something come alive. And that makes everything leading up to the opening night ultimately worth it.


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