Caught between drama and real life
OPINION: The real world is conspiring against our ability to focus on a decent fantasy.
It's enough to make me wonder whether my distraction threshold is too low, or just where it needs to be in the interests of self-preservation.
A series of examples in the past couple of weeks centred around my daughter.
She is a bit of a drama queen.
Sometimes earnest about the importance of academic endeavour, and soldiering on with a menu of science subjects beyond my comprehension, she lightens her load with drama.
There has to be something in her timetable she enjoys, she says.
I have been soundly rebuked for a tendency to not take drama studies seriously, and for missing a performance earlier in the year because I was working.
The shame of it.
No excuses would be entertained for the second production, no matter how difficult it was to get away from the office in time.
Her drama group tackled a seriously difficult piece.
It was a dark and dimly-lit piece portraying how badly a group of teenagers would react to information that there was a gunman at school, and how they coped with their forced confinement.
They bickered, they tried to act tough, they lapsed into awkward silence, they shared bad jokes and took turns at freaking out.
"Did you see how much trouble I had opening my banana?" she asked afterward.
Apparently I was not supposed to have been caught up sufficiently in the mood to overlook such practical, personal, real-life details.
The next performance was blessedly light, bright and witty.
But they lost me.
The actors entered and exited through the audience, leaving a door behind me wide open on the frostiest evening of the winter so far.
I could not offer the willing suspension of disbelief any more while the reality was that I could not remember ever having had such cold feet and feeling so miserable.
As it happened, I was not obliged to stay to the end, because we had to rush off to dancing, dealing with the disaster of the squashed half-eaten banana that had exploded in her bag somewhere along the way.
I am not convinced the props had to be so real.
Once recovered from the experience, a few days later, the opportunity arose to see how the professionals did psycho-drama.
It was not the sort of play you could say you enjoyed. It was challenging.
The actors were strong, and helped you forget that they would go backstage and have a cup of tea and drop their personae later.
I was so absorbed, I almost missed the real life drama unfolding in front of me.
There was some low key movement in the next row down.
A man reached across his companions to nudge and gently speak to a woman who appeared to have fallen asleep with her head on her neighbour's shoulder.
His calm approach seemed to indicate there was no cause for alarm.
But the way the woman's head lolled as a result of the disturbance was clearly not normal, and more whispers of support and advice occurred.
The actors wound down like a film reel, the lights came up, and the proverbial words were spoken:
"Is there a doctor in the house?"
In response, there was a tap on my shoulder and a request to make way.
I plonked myself on top of my companion, unable to move any further away, and metaphorically kicked myself for not being more attentive.
One of the actors reappeared, as a real person, and explained the patently obvious, that they were taking a short break.
He reassured the audience that an ambulance had been called, and we could all get up and stretch our legs and go and grab a drink from the bar.
He made some sort of apology about destroying the illusion.
The woman was roused, and helped from the theatre, and reassuring noises were made that she would be OK.
The audience resumed their seats, and in a test of their professionalism, the actors rewound to the beginning of the scene they were playing, and did their best to rebuild the mood and momentum.
It was good to hear the audience reward them with an extra-generous round of applause at the end.
Nothing quite so distracting happened when the drama queen attended the same production with a school team a few days later.
I hope she did not feel her amateur status too keenly after seeing how the experienced actors delivered a creepy, scary, psychologically dense script.
But an actors' forum afterward confirmed what it had taken a real-life emergency to reveal before.
They are all just real people who drop the pretence after the final bow, and sit around chatting about the mind-tricks and research and techniques that go into delivering a convincing performance.
That they do it so well that we can switch off to the needs of people around us is a little humbling.
On the other hand, I'm sorry we don't get more opportunities to just switch off our critical eyes and simply get lost in the moment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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