Acting Onstage and Off: The Masks of Everyday Life
“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” Tennessee Williams gave this profound quote after writing his world renowned play, A Streetcar named Desire. Williams, like most gay or bisexual people, grew up thinking that he had to be attracted to women because of the simple fact that he was a man. However after numerous attempts at heterosexual relationships, he finally accepted his sexuality in the late 1930s. The taboo continuation of the debate between gay, straight and bisexual reaches into a deep connection with the magic that is encompassed by a simple place: the theater.
The theater is a home for any type of person, primarily because it itself creates every type of person; any imaginable character can come to life and not only reside on the stage but in the hearts of the audience members. When walking into a theater, people are transported into any land they can think of: Oz, Narnia, the underground lair of the Phantom. It is this power that is contained in a theater that gives people a way of expression no matter who they may be in everyday life.
Yet what people seem forget is that no matter where they are in this world, a person is always acting. Onstage, an actor is just a person in a funny costume. But actors are everyday people, trying to impress or put on a happy face, or simply just get through their day.
When beginning my writings for English1102, I was drawn to the story of “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx, the story of two bisexual cowboys wrapped together by a star-crossed fate. The two cowboys, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist become workers together and eventually create a passionate and eventually tragic romance. Yet away from the beauty of Brokeback, the two men create lives of their own, marrying and raising families, never letting on to their secret bisexuality. It is only on their reconnections together that they truly see just how deep their love lies.
This two-faced life the men in “Brokeback Mountain” faced is what many people face in everyday life. Some go through the motions of a day, putting on a face to impress whoever they may come in contact with. Everyone at some moment in life is wearing a mask. Why is it that people have to wear a mask to hide who they really are in today’s world? What exactly is it that makes people think they aren’t good enough?
Media is the thriving and pushing force behind the daily masking people respond to. On TV, a reality show has become the farthest thing possible from “reality.” Shows about people changing their personalities and beliefs come about as comedies, getting into all sorts of trouble, just because they couldn’t be honest about the person they truly were.
People forget that acting happens every day, whether they think they are doing so or not. A person really wants to impress their new supervisor, but absolutely hates their methods of leading; but instead of being honest about how they feel about this new leader, they paste a smile on their face and respond with a simple, “yes, sir.” A girl has a crush on a guy that is in love with sports; she is a dancer and has never seen a sporting event in her life. However instead of seeing if he is interested in dance or who she is as a person, when asked about sports she immediately responds, “Oh, I love basketball!”
Reality has been blurred because of a mask of personalities. However theater is the release that most people forget to look for. When beginning another essay for the class I came upon the classic Broadway hit Into the Woods, the musical adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairytale stories. In this comedic-tragedy, the characters face the lines of fantasy with true and honest themes that people face in reality. The characters try to hide away into the fairytale lifestyle, but in the end must come to terms with their reality; they must break away from their masks.
So what exactly is the connection between these vastly opposite characters in Into the Woods and people in “Brokeback Mountain”? It’s undeniably known that the theater has a lot of gay or bisexual actors and actresses in its midst. Because of the theater lifestyle, constantly welcoming everyone and anyone with a passion for that beautiful limelight, gays and bisexuals are highly attracted to the idea of being a part of it. Having this outlet gives gays the opportunity to be whoever they want to be, and not be judged for their self-expression. The theater gives anyone a way out of reality; it is a chance to disappear out of a person’s own skin and to transform into a mystic being, a princess, a witch, or anything else their heart can create.
The theater is not directed to one direct set of people; it is open to anyone who wants to feel the warmth of the stage lights, feel their heart beating in their chest when they feel the audience’s energy, take that final bow in memory of a show and a cast that will never be the exact same as it is in that one moment. When criticized about his ability to write a strong womanly character simply because he was gay, Tennessee Williams was quoted as saying, “It’s bad criticism to say I can’t put an authentic female character on stage,” he continued. “A true faggot does not like my women. I do not have a faggot, a homosexual, a gay, audience. I write for an audience.” Who a show is being performed for is not the issue at hand; it is who in the audience the show will reach deep into their hearts and pull out the feelings they have tried to hide for so long.
As an actor, and young person starting a lifetime career in the theater, my motto has always been that if I can just touch, if I can just get through to one person in the audience, then my job as an actor is done. It’s not about the actor and what they get out of it; it never has been. The main job of an actor is to tug on the heartstrings of the people watching, to make them see that there is an escape from their hell of reality.
As I have twisted and turned over what exactly to create in this portfolio, I have realized that my motto needs to be encompassed into its message more than anything. Everyone needs to have their ‘mask-removal’ moment; that one moment when a person looks in the mirror and loves the person staring back at them, mask-less. Into the Woods so prominently reminds its audience, “Wishes may bring problems, such that you regret them, better that though than to never get them.” Being a part of a theater is not just having a name in a program, or standing on a stage repeating the lines someone wrote down for you. It’s a place of peace, a place of bare faces and honest people. It’s a place that proves to the world that it doesn’t matter what people think of someone; to those that matter, a person is perfect just as they are, without the mask that society creates for them. As actors, we must only follow our own plots, and hope and wish that one day, everyone will be mask-less.