All by Myself in Front of a Mirror!
One of the best things that happened to me in the last few months of this cursed year, was getting involved in an amazing project which not only manage to take my mind away, albeit temporarily, from the quarantine and the pandemic related stress and anxiety, but also taught me a lot about what acting could be, and very well might become, if our current situation continues!
I was tapped to be one of the two actors/readers in a reading session of a play written by a UC Irvine graduate student. I was told from the day one that not only the session itself will be virtual and broadcasted online but all the rehearsals were going to be done via zoom as well. Long story short: I never got to meet the other actor, or the director/playwright in person!
That by itself was a first and it created changes that thankfully I was prepared for. I knew from the first day that the bonding and connection that always happens during rehearsals or shootings is not going to happen, at least not in the same manner, this time around. I am happy to say that this particular problem, was not as bad as I had imagined it to be! It was not the same, but we did get to know each other, and we did bond! I have to confess that in some ways not having to commute to the rehearsal location was a relief for it gave me more time to practice on my own, warm up, etc.
The session itself and the aftermath of it was a different story as I was so desperately unready for what it would be like to perform in front of my laptop, for a group of people who were equally sitting behind theirs and could only see me from waist up and were going to focus on my face for the entirety of the performance! Even with all the rehearsal sessions, it was still disconcerting to see myself on the screen while I was acting during the actual performance! I had to constantly force myself not to look at myself, not to notice, and react to, my own acting, and not to try to adjust my costume. Acting in front of the mirror! Not a bad practice method during the early days of rehearsal but not something that any actor likes to do during the actual performance!
The session was a reading as I mentioned above, meaning that we were not required to be off-script entirely but it was also a semi-performance considering that we did use minimal props and some costumes and were not simply reading off of a text but rather acting it. Therefore, comments about “acting” were unavoidable afterwards! The most interesting of them all, came from my housemate and life partner who had seen me perform on stage and in front of a camera many, many times before.
As soon as the performance and the subsequent Q & A was finished, we each left the rooms we had each gone to, for me to perform and for him to be an audience member, and met in the living room! His very first comment completely took me off guard for it was not about the play itself, staging, my acting, costume, etc. Rather, it was about my facial expression something that people had rarely ever commented on.
It is almost impossible to notice that many facial expressions when the actor is on stage even if the audience members are sitting very close to it and thus comments about facial expressions are not what theater actors expect from the critics or spectators! Even when acting in front of a camera, one knows that the camera is unlikely to focus on one actor’s face for longer than a few seconds and thus while facial expressions might be a little more noticeable in a film than in a play, it is still not the number one comment anyone will make about an actor!
This time, however, things were totally different. Not only a closeup of my face was on the whole time, but also the fact that I had only my upper body to work with, was not able to move around, and have been advised not to make too many grand gestures with my hands in front of the camera, naturally resulted in me having to rely on my facial expression to convey how I was feeling! I had never before noticed how much one relies on the whole body when acting and how little of a job the face sometimes plays in conveying information!
There is good news everywhere about the vaccine and I do hope that we can someday soon return to our “previous” lives, not sure if “normal” is what I like to call that previous existence, but it is hard not to wonder what will happen to acting as a form of art if we were to continue these online performances /play readings! A very small part of each actor’s body will become the focus of everyone’s attention and the only tool she has in her disposal to communicate with the spectators!