“This might appear pretentious but the only thing which interests us is what is accurate and true” (Lecoq)
In acting, creating a character is like being a sea anemone.
You’re the chosen substance: anemone. Tendrils. Whatever the tendrils are made of.
You’re in seawater, you move the way the sea moves.
Or you’re not in seawater, you’re dead on a rock.
Or you’re in wind, or you’re stomped on.
Or you’re back in the sea again and a kid pokes you and you retreat.
Being a person is the same.
When I was sick, when I left the house I often felt as if I had no skin; as if the wind were blowing grit into my exposed organs.
I still feel as if I have no skin, but in a different way—now, it’s as if there’s something between me and the world that’s more like a mist, something obscuring, impossible to see or see through.
The substance inside the mist, that makes the mist, is solid and coherent enough for me to feel content in this invisibleness, this half-being-and-not-being, seen-and-not-seen state.
I went to study butoh because I was attracted to its grotesqueness.
I thought that I was sick of the falseness of everything.
I thought every surface (of people, home decor, well-structured short stories) was sneering at me, winking when no one else could see, filthy in its complicity as I was filthy in mine, with this great pointless lie.
I thought butoh, by seeming horrible and desiring neither to achieve entertainment value nor to instil any point, might be free of this complicity.
I wanted to be free.
A few weeks into acting school, I held a party.
That day in class, we had learned to laugh and cry in gradations of 0 (neutral) to 7 (maximum), and we had done physical improvisations wherein we randomly dropped our pants.
We were delighted with ourselves.
At the party, all night we interrupted conversations to command each other to laugh or cry at specific degrees, or to drop our pants.
We learned that there is no singular or authentic origin of an action.
You can cry because you can’t comprehend the world or because you are engaging the precise physical process of crying.
Its practice is the same, its origin irrelevant.
Part of the reason I failed as an actor is that my choices were too conscious.
I failed to transform—which is, to enter a state in which you can simply be, without thinking about being.
I was a self-conscious person. At acting school, I was so afraid of what my words might look or sound like that I barely spoke to a single person outside my cohort. I tried to overcome my fear of appearance by having as little of one as possible.
When I was in high school, I skipped a sports class to go into town and shoplift.
The former necessitated the latter: if my friends and I went into town in our uniforms, we would immediately be clocked, reported as people who should be elsewhere.
I made the discovery of shoplifting out of this necessity. The skipping wasn’t pre-planned; we arrived at school and simply got on another bus out instead of going to our first class.
Once free, we understood our freedom was both limitless and something in need of protection.
We took the first clothes we saw, put them on underneath our uniforms, left the store and changed in the public toilet.
I still remember the fabrics and colours: a deep red tank with a velvety blue, maroon and silver mandala on the front, and a clingy black skirt.
I wore them all day with my incongruous black school lace-ups and felt like a new kind of cyborg.
I have only discovered with lovers a feeling of melting once I shed my body as female.
I know this shedding’s a trick of the mind, but it’s a potent one.
When I was an actor, I was a woman, and I was a bad actor and a bad woman both.
Always, my exterior was a cold skin, gel or rubber, something that made my skin inside it crawl.
Being seen was irrevocably removed from being, and being was faint and haunting, an echo, not something to be believed.
I envy marionettes; I wish I were a good enough actor to become one.
Oh, to be a lady villain with odd, cold eyes carved from some tropical wood!
It would be so much more realistic.
It would be so peaceful!
In Lecoq’s mime, we become things by watching them.
This is the simplest way to think of empathy, probably, but it extends beyond people and their feelings.
To draw a bull, Lecoq says, Picasso must first mime (become) a bull; to paint a tree, Cezanne must become a tree.
A painter becomes a shadow falling across a room.
An architect, to design an arch, becomes the arch.
By refining our quality of attention, we observe the world and become the world.
This morning, to please her mother, Emily stood on a ladder, watched a carpenter bee enter the hole it had drilled in the roof’s eave, then sprayed WD40 into the hole, killing the bee.
Emily killed the bee to please her mother, but she was upset afterwards.
I was upset too, seeing Emily becoming the bee dying in its hole.
Emily’s mother became the fragile wood threatened with holes, Emily became the bee, I became Emily.
I had her stand, and I brushed her down with my fingertips as if she were covered in dust and I could clean her.
In trying to explain mime—why the conventional understanding of it has atrophied and why its simplicity must be resurrected—Lecoq says children mime the world in order to prepare to enter it, that theater is an extension of the same game.
So we act at life in order to learn how to live, we mimic being a person with our bodies in order to become one.
It’s like a toy, breathing life into itself, practicing and learning incrementally how to be real.
Lecoq says the term “mime” has become so reductive that he has to make a point of redefining it; he says it has become synonymous with mimicry—a representation of form—that what he means by it is “the search for the internal dynamics of meaning.”
Part of the reason I love Emily is that she is so unconscious of her visibility.
Note: “lady villain with odd, cold eyes carved from some tropical wood” is a quotation from Djuna Barnes’s newspaper article “When the Puppets Come to Town,” published in the New York Morning Telegraph Sunday Magazine (1917).
Eleanor is an Australian writer living in Minneapolis, where they’re an MFA candidate at the University of Minnesota. Their work is published or forthcoming in Diagram and Award Winning Australian Writing.