I used to sing hyms for money both in Gambier and a few times here in Wellesley. Not being religious by nature, I was always astounded by the amount of Technical Theatre involved. Sure, they didn't lower Jesus down from the fly rail or make a tomb gobo, but there were lighting effects, entrances, and a script to consider. The number of times Jane Lentz ran up and down those stairs to check and see if the choir needed candles to carry, the bottle of Palmolive conveniently located next to the communion chalices, the fidgety eleven year olds waiting in the hallway to march out into the sanctuary and become acolytes, and even the two-hour choir rehearsals I sat through just to help the other parishioners not feel so shy about using their voices to praise God, all reminded me of a well-rehearsed play. In retrospect, I was probably able to notice most of these elements because I did not believe in it all myself, and therefore was not quite swept up in the effect.
I realize that if a sacred prop was not in its right place, a page lost on the book of common prayer, the wrong reading read, parishioners would not stand up in their seats and renounce their faith. Likewise, a theatre audience would not vow to never return to theatre because of a single technical glitch. But too many glitches, and the thing -- the play, the proclamation of faith, whatever -- just no longer exists. And that's a pretty big responsibility to take on.
It's pretty amazing the amount of behind-the-curtain work, artistically contrived or not, that has to go into making people believe. But, once it's there, we do indeed believe. Pretty nifty. In general, even more than being made to think, I think people like to be made to feel things, almost supernaturally, and this is one of the things that makes making theatre fun. Speaking of which ....
Tonight I played The Countess at Madison's (my 11-year old neighbor)'s Halloween-themed birthday party, which took the form of a Haunted House. Basically, my job was to make myself look like I had just crawled from the grave, using their available makeup, lie down in a coffin, and then scare the living shits out of them as I screechily emerged from said coffin. Then, I headed over to The Countess's "Blood 'n Breakfast" (I came up with the pun -- thank you; thank you), where it was my duty to try to convince the youngsters to sample some of my fresh products .... that is, after I replenished the bottles with fresh "blood" from Madison's mother, sitting in a chair behind me, fiercely hoping that the dyed-water pump tied to her collar would operate when she squeezed it so that I could say "LOOK AT THE BLOOD DRIPPING FROM THE VICTIM!!" and not have it be awkwardhe .
It's not easy to scare the living crap out of a bunch of ten-year olds desperate to seem cool in front of each other. To that end, we had a bonafide rehearsal at 4:30, and in between "takes", Madison's parents would run around to all the stations (Grandpa as the scary clown, Grandma as the wandering, gauzy ghost), frantically giving suprisingly Aristotilean notes like "On that first 'GET OUT OF MY HOUSE' dad, you can really go crazy -- really scare them there -- try to get them to leave!" And then there were the blocking notes like, "really let them see the blood squirting .... Mom, how can we get it so they don't know you're real ... so they don't see your face?"
Even though they paid me in $40 bucks and two pieces of cake, I still actually had a great time. I'm so glad I'm close to home sometimes, even if I'm not doing just the most scary and ambitious thing I can possibly think of, so that I can feel connected and part of these kids' lives still.
More significantly, it was wonderfully heartening to be doing something collaborative, selfless, and, at its heart, completely and utterly ridiculous. As I sat up in the coffin, with my hair in my eyes and my cape in my face, trying desperately not to let a girl whose diapers I changed 6 years ago recognize me as Adrienne, I realized that this was sort of play-acting concentrated. Our only job tonight was to make these kids feel so afraid that they forgot that they were in a suburban house they'd been in a dozen times before, with parents and care-givers and support all around. And we succeeded! Perhaps the best part is that they put themselves through it, and I really respect that in a kid. ;)
So what keeps us from jumping up, like Anton the Spanish-accented, adorable, 7 year old skeptic and yelling, "I KNOW YOUR TRICKS. I KNOW YOU!!"? I don't know entirely. But I'm glad that we don't.
I should mention that I scared the crap out of Anton about 20 seconds after he yelled that.