Monday, March 10, 2008

Belief in the general beauty

William Ball's "A Sense of Direction - Some Observations on the Art of Directing" has many interesting and valuable things to say, especially this:

The general beauty of a work is the way in which we talk about its worthiness to be seen. The general beauty contains the theme. The general beauty is the reason we feel passionately that an audience should see it. The general beauty is what excites the director and what makes him feel that other people should be excited. A director has to be a missionary. He must feel strongly about the theme of a play - to the extent that he feels it is important for other people to share or to witness that theme...

...the director must believe. We are makers of belief... he has to believe that he could stand on the corner and sell it, that he could market it, that he could convince people of the beauty, that he could stop passersby and say, "Did you ever wonder about the possibility of this? Isn't this beautiful? Doesn't this strike you as something important and marvelous and amazing and peculiar and wonderful?...

...When a director chooses the general beauty he is making a choice on behalf of the audience. The director agrees to represent the public. The identity of the director goes like this: "I am an audience, I am everyman, I am all, I am judge, I am servant, I am listener, I am moderator, I am synthesizer, I am seeker, I am helper, I am child, I am believer, I am maker of belief."

One of the things that made me so happy about the recent production of a play of mine is that I think we did achieve the general beauty.

In my ongoing struggle with the anguish of a friendship destroyed thanks to this production, I have to stop for a moment and acknowledge that the actor who hurt me so much did succeed in the mission, even beyond my expectations. There is one moment of his performance that I will always remember. The actor is playing a man who is very much in love with his fiancee, a woman who is younger and less experienced in the world than he. She informs him that she knows that a man's love is fleeting because she has read all about it in books written by men. And when she says this, it usually got a laugh, but more importantly it always caused the actor to smile in such a tender, indulgent, appreciative way as if to say "isn't my darling girl the most wonderous creature on earth with her skeptical view of the world based only on what she has read in books? And how wrong she is to doubt my devotion." It's alot to be said in a brief smile, but he did it, every single performance.

But the most amazing part is this - now that I've come to know this actor, I truly believe that he has never felt anything close to such feelings, himself, in his entire life. I believe that what he did was channel those feelings directly from the collective human unconscious through his body.

I suppose he isn't the only actor capable of such a thing - it may even be routine - but it's still a bit shocking to realize this is what you are witnessing, rather than an expression of feelings that the actor himself understands. It's almost mystical, and a little scary, the way you feel when you try to wrap your head around the idea that serial killers have no sense of empathy.