An Unexpected Lesson in Life, Loss, and Acting

Recently, I’ve been brought face-to-face with a few new challenges, after coming face-to-face with a brand new play. Let’s talk about Failure.

Challenge #1: At first glance, this play seems to be primarily about loss. And I honestly thought the last thing I needed this year was to dive into a play dealing heavily with this subject. Suffice it to say, this year has been a little harder than others so far. And I’m guessing I’m not the only person this rings true for. But let me assure you (and myself, for that matter): This play is not totally about loss. It’s not. I promise. It also has a great deal to do with love. Hence, the second part of the title, A Love Story.

Not to say that loss doesn’t have a big role to play in this piece, because it does. So here’s Challenge #2: How do we make that work on stage? How do we keep an audience engaged in a play where everything wrong seems to be happening? How do we, as the actors, stay above it and not get sucked down into a spiral of feelings and emotion? Okay, that’s a lot of questions. But lucky for us, the answer seems to have come, neatly gift-wrapped, in the pages of this play.

I’m sort of dancing around the answer right now, because I’d like to keep as much of this play a secret, for those of you planning to see it. I’d really love nothing more than to share this story with you, in the theater, on the night you decide to put your two feet on the ground and walk over to 17th and Sansom. But for those of you playing the home game, part of that answer is what I’ve just suggested – that you put your feet on the ground and move. How do we, as storytellers, stay honest and alive? We simply keep going and push forward. Because there’s a whole lot to tell and just enough time to tell it.

If you didn’t already know, I’m kind of a big fan of words. And there are a LOT of words in this play. Which is great. Because the best thing we can do with language like this is get out of its way and let the audience discover it the same way we did when we first read it. So Mr. Dawkins has given us a few gifts here: He’s given us beautiful language to play with, and he’s taught me a very unexpected lesson in life, loss, and acting (though I don’t know if all were necessarily intended).

What I’ve taken from it is this: I can spend my time worrying about what my reaction in this moment is supposed to be, or what I should be thinking here every night. Or I can just focus on pushing forward into the next moment. Because with a story like this, there’s simply not enough time for all that other stuff. Now, that doesn’t mean we speed through the entire piece and end the show in 20 minutes. And that doesn’t mean we ignore the moments that actually call for pause. As in life, we must give each moment its due time. But we must also recognize when it’s time to move forward, whether we want to or not. If we stop and wait too long, try to hold onto a feeling, we’ll miss the next moment and stop the flow of the river that is this play (and the audience will most likely fall asleep). So, take from that what you will, because I don’t think it’s strictly limited to just acting or theater.

I think I’m incredibly lucky to have landed in an art form that mirrors life as much as it does. Not all the time, no. But every now and then, you find that gem of a piece. I do think this is one of those gems. It’s important to talk about things we don’t always want to talk about – things that seem to be the only certainties in our lives, yet for some (obvious) reasons, we steer away from discussing and thinking about them as much as possible. So when presented with an opportunity to actually look it in the eyes, I’d suggest you do just that. Looking back on my initial hesitations with this piece, I think I can say now that I seemed to have found this play exactly when I needed to find it. Or maybe, it’s the other way around. Either way, I’m incredibly thankful for it.

If what I’m saying still sounds like I’m talking in circles, it’s because I sort of am. Because if I said any more, you’d have no reason to come see this play. I’d have given it all away by now. But then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’d still come. Maybe right now, the best thing for us is to be with other people. Isn’t that why we do this, anyway? “This” being this theater thing we love to do so much? Don’t we really do it to be with other people and share in an experience together? I sure do think so. But I’ll still keep quiet on this one, because who doesn’t love a good bit of surprise?

So next week, please put your feet on the ground, walk out that door, and into this story with us. Because after May 26th, it will be gone, nothing more than a memory for those of us who came together to share in something unique, unpredictable, and (hopefully) unforgettable.

– Brendan Dalton

Brendan Dalton (John N.)

Brendan Dalton (John N.)

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