Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Naked in the Back of the Room

Sitting there in the bright teal-and-white '50s-style diner booth, looking around the room steadily filling with people, a thought occurred to me: I'm naked.

I wasn't literally naked, of course. It's February, and this is a crowded, popular public diner, so, you know, being actually naked would be both freezing cold and inappropriate. 

The amazing actors & director
All that to say, the nakedness was mental, not physical. It was all internal. On the outside, I was wearing dark dress pants, a black cardigan, strands of fake pearls. I was dressed for the part I was playing that night. A writer, sitting in the audience, waiting for her new work to be shared with an audience for the first time. Trying to look confident... but that's hard when you feel totally vulnerable and, well, mentally and emotionally naked.

However, and I don't mean to get too titillating here*, that naked sense of anticipation and exposure is also undeniably exciting.

When the play reading begins, the experience slowly unfolds as something akin to a first date.** In fact, it is very much like being on a first date. Only instead of fumbling through an unscripted exchange, you've already scripted out the entire conversation, and if it doesn't go over well in the first few moments - you're screwed, because unlike in a real conversation, you can't shift gears. The words are set. Autopilot is a go. Someone(s) else is speaking your pre-determined words. You have to hope you got it right, and that the audience will therefore get you.

And oh God, here it comes, the first joke, oh hell damn monkey monkey monkey, what if they don't laugh?

And then they laugh.

And then the actors ease into the parts even more. They are breathing life into the characters. They're doing great.

In other words, the conversation is going well. And you realize, like, whoa. You might get a second date. You might get a metaphorical phone number. They get it. We're connecting.

And all that connecting between you and the audience is made all the more magical by the fact that many of them don't even know that you're there, sitting in the back, feeling a little less naked but still plenty nervous - a writer-creator watching her creation brought to life by other people.

That's what last night's play reading was like for me. I tried to avoid too much conversation during intermission, wanting to wait until the whole story was shared (ugh, intermission! again with the hell damn monkey monkey monkey!). I still felt too vulnerable. The story wasn't finished. Don't get me started on having to deal with an audience halfway through one of my shows - or on having to do a greeting reception-line at the end of a show I've performed in - those are posts for another day.

When the second act concluded, I went up to sit with the actors and participate in the talkback. The conversation following the reading was terrific. Thought provoking. A real exchange of ideas, reactions, questions, suggestions, insights, affirmations.

The conversation clothed me. I no longer felt naked and vulnerable - rather, I felt part of a larger artistic whole, warmly wrapped in that exhilarating feeling of sharing a story.

Those are the good nights, folks. May all of us writer-types be granted the inspiration and fortitude to keep writing, be blessed with actors and directors and audiences like these, always nurture this love of story - and not be afraid of sitting there, naked, while someone else speaks, reads, or shares our words.

*Who am I kidding? As soon as you USE the word "titillating," you ARE titillating. It's magic that way.
** Yet another situation where being naked in a public diner would be really awkward.

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