Saturday, January 22, 2011

I saw past the blemish to the beauty

Never Done: Saw a staged reading of a new opera of Enemies, A Love Story, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, with a new libretto by Nahma Sandrow

This is the second time in as many months that I have written that the thing I had never done before was to see a world premiere of a work that Nahma either translated or wrote, which has a lot more to say about what Nahma is out there accomplishing than what I am, except that I think that supporting and learning from our colleagues (Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone) is a vital part of the creative process. Really. I once took a master class in acting from Marian Seldes in which she spent as much time (literally) teaching about how to be a good audience member as she taught how to be a good actor. I will probably never forget her modeling how to sit in the audience, leaning slightly forward, in rapt attention -- her point being that the job of the audience member is to give as much attention and energy to the actor as the actor is giving to the audience. Her class reminded me that my friend Barbara teaches first graders how to listen, and they practice sitting across from each other making encouraging sounds like, "mhmm" and "oh." (I found this out because when I still lived in Portland I used to go help her take her class apart at the end of the year, and I found a piece of butcher paper with an illustrated three-step tutorial on how to be a good listener.)

This being New York, and the theater community being small, I later found myself in audiences with Marian, where I saw that she does, in fact, sit perfectly still -- fidgetless -- and completely attentive, with an interested look on her face. Unlike Edward Albee, who sat behind me recently during a Public Theater production that I thought was well above average, and also both politically and emotionally ambitious, and also had one of the best raised poor characters I've ever seen on stage, and he alternately slept and complained through the first act, and then didn't come back for the second. I myself usually fall somewhat in between. I aspire to be like Seldes, but I sometimes fight back the sleep, and sometimes I succumb.

I think I was a good (which as I think about it, means that I was an ethical) audience member at Enemies. I wasn't as still as Marian suggests, because I was still fighting off a sore throat, and needed to sip tea, and once to unwrap a vitamin C throat lozenge. But I paid close attention, and I gave the actors my energy and attention. And here's the thing: it wasn't necessarily so easy to do, because even though I was super interested in the libretto and the plotting, and even though a couple of the singers were wonderful, the guy who played the main character swallowed his words, making it really difficult to understand, and the music was ... well the music was ... well the music was ... I hated the music. There, I said it. I hated the music. It made me want to act out. It made me want to whisper judgmental things to the people I was with. But I didn't. (Unless I am right now. Which I am a little worried that I might be.) Instead, I sat and paid attention to the parts I was far more interested in, which took at least five mides (middot) to accomplish: patience, equanimity, humility, decisiveness, silence, and calmness. And diligence too. In the end, I think everyone was the better for it, but I know I was.

I live with someone who does this extremely well -- he sees right past the blemish to the beauty, whereas my mind tends to get stuck at the blemish. (There are some downsides to this -- cleanliness and order are not his strong suits, but they are mine.) I've been trying to get better at seeing the past the blemish to the beauty for years, and have started to see some real progress recently. I'll take my experience at Enemies as a success, and will keep building from there.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this experience, Jenny. I learned a lot today.