February 19, 2006

Acting For Beginners

Three of the walls are made of glass, and outside half the sky is decorated in varying shades of grey. Deep pockets of coal, smudged between strengthened steel, lead and industry. The other half of the sky, however, shines with light emanating from a buried sun, giving the raindrops, being blown back and forth, a feeling of life and vibrancy, each drop a dancing iridescent rainbow dubious of its fate. The KL tower audaciously penetrates the atmosphere, while the Petrona’s towers blend easily onto the shifting palette.

Inside the studio, my hand is on my diaphragm, focusing on its tides as I breathe. It is the first day of a ten-week acting class I have joined. There are twenty-four of us in this glass bubble, beneath the rain, breathing and chanting. In the next four hours, we will learn the following:

The actor’s stance: feet shoulder-length apart, arms by the side, looking forward, relaxed, focused waiting to move; a variety of warm ups. At one point, I will be chewing like a hungry lion as I roar; how to give an appearance: walk forward, stop, turn, face the teacher and simply stand there looking at him, making direct eye contact. We will do this four times. The first time we present ourselves simply as we are, the next with joy, then sorrow, anger and lust. With each take, we will alter our body language, our breathing; we will be asked to find a partner who is our height. Then we will stand on the opposite side of the room from each other and imagine that we have had an intense seven-year relationship with this person, and now, we will never see the person again. We are told to make eye contact with the person, and when we feel comfortable, we are to walk toward them, meeting in the middle of the room. We will then turn and walk away still staring at the person. The teacher will play Pacbel’s Canon in D. My partner will be a slightly effeminate Malaysian man. I will breathe and look outside, noting that the rain has stopped. I will concoct a scenario about how our love affair must end because he has not told his family that he is gay. I will be proud of myself for being the type of person who can do things like this on Sunday afternoons whilst living overseas. The music will play. Our eye contact is intense. We will be standing face to face. I will think, “acting is not learning to be someone else; it is simply learning to be yourself. Fully. It is much like mediating or writing.” We will walk away. I will be emotional and will have a hard time breathing for a few minutes. I will like the sensation of submerging myself so deep into these foreign emotions. We will then switch partners. My new partner will be a young Malaysian girl. It will be easier because I will be freed from my own homophobic insecurities that no matter how I try to ignore still blur my vision. The exercise will be the same. The music will be playing, and I will act like I am in love with this girl. For a brief moment, the line between acting and reality will disappear and nothing will exist in the world but her two eyes staring at me. She will start to cry, heavier the closer we get. I will reach out and hug her. She will hug me back. I will hold her hand as we part, never severing eye contact. We will walk away. She will be sobbing. I will wonder what is happening. Who are these people? Who am I? I feel such pity for her. She appears to be in so much pain. We will not be allowed to talk, so I will try and contort my face to say, “You will be okay. Love will not always hurt like this.” I will smile, tying to comfort her. She will stop crying. Later, when we are discussing what happened, she will say she was imagining a family member leaving her forever. The teacher will admonish her for deviating from his assigned task. “You have to be able to put yourself in any situation, no matter how uncomfortable. Only then can you understand the emotion you are trying to evoke.” The music will stop. The exercise will be over.

But right now, I am learning how to say, “ba ba ba ba ba, cha, cha, cha, cha, cha, da, da, da, da, da from my gut and not from my throat. But more importantly, I am learning how not to be embarrassed. I am learning how to not judge myself in the face of others. I am learning how to be free from the shackles of humiliation, judgment, and ego. I feel silly and alive. I am smiling as I look around the room and see twenty-four other people doing the same thing, as half the sky shines golden and a slow falling tropical rain is washing the other half.

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