November 4, 2011
by Mahira Kakkar
Brick upon brick
Is an effort.
Each time a little more clay
gets under your nails
or a little more skin
gets into the brick.
whether you sign your name to it
the thing is yours
And you too belong to something.
We had a talkback yesterday where somebody asked us, “How do you play these roles differently from the people who’ve played them before?” And the answer is: We don’t. We try to be as truthful as possible, to ourselves, to what we see with the vision and the imagination we have and we try to find the truth that we unearth – a truth that is different every day. Because the audience changes things with its responses, the way we feel and react as characters changes from day to day. But the play, the structure is the same and we bounce around within that, overturning stones, trying to see what comes up. And what is real on that day.
So strange to talk about truth and real in the context of a play, is it not? Philosophers have sometimes mocked artists, building castles in the air, trying to find truth through the ephemeral, through something that is written on the wind, through something that could with some justification be called false. But here’s the thing. Is the life of the soul and the mind not as real as this table and this chair that I am using at this moment? Therapists would argue that point heatedly.
When I am onstage and honing in on Orsino’s crystal blue, piercing eyes (Lucas Hall has marvelous eyes – I thank his parents) and trying to find my lifeline in them, what is real to me, is his face, is the ground beneath my feet, my breath arcing out and my thought doing its best to reach him and bring him home to me. I bring this up because yesterday I was feeling very ill. I had a severe migraine and then felt giddy- all of this while on stage. It was also arguably one of the best shows I had. Rachid Sabitri, playing my brother Sebastian, said that it was perhaps because I was ill that I had no extra energy to “act” and therefore it was truthful. I do know that I needed EVERY actor on that stage last night, including Nakeisha Daniel and Kim Maresca (Olivia’s ladies-in-waiting), who largely have non-speaking parts. I needed to look into their eyes to ground myself. I needed to listen to them because that sparked my next thought; without them I would have been lost.
I was hesitant to tell my cast that I was feeling unwell; I didn’t want them to feel that they had to be less than their glorious selves in an effort to take care of me. But I realized, regardless, we all DO take care of each other on stage – not in a koochy koo, schmaltzy way, but we do our jobs the best we can and trust the other actors on stage are coming from the same place. We all build this thing together each night.
I was telling Rachid, that as an actor I’m interested in finding moments that crystallize, when everything comes together in a big whoosh and you feel that all past and future are only relevant insofar as they have brought you to this NOW, and that generations have said yes so that you could be right here, right now, saying these words, looking at these people. All this sounds a little over the top, I recognize that. I work in making the unreal real; put my “over the top-ness” down to being a byproduct of that.
Yesterday each moment felt like “This is it. This is it.” There was no room for “Oh that moment is gone – wish I’d done it differently”- it was about now and now and NOW. It would have been a great feeling if it wasn’t going hand in hand with me also feeling that I was going to black out.
But I was proud at the end of the show. I could feel that that there had been flow, that we’d all hit the sweet spot a number of times, and we’d built something really good last night.
Tomorrow night we stop building.
Someone else will take over somewhere else and Twelfth Night will be done over and again but we as a cast will not continue with this production.
There is a sadness to this. As actors you learn to come together and make a family right away. You have to because of the intimacy you need to portray onstage. So you learn to do it quickly and become proficient at getting naked – emotionally and otherwise if so required, with virtual strangers. And you do it because....well there are so many reasons. Margaret Atwood talked about writing as a need to make a mark on the world, “negotiating with the dead” she called it. We actors don’t build something permanent- it’s in your mind and your hearts. Some days I do it for my personal fat lady, who’s the little brown girl in the audience for whom the world and all its possibilities is just revealing itself.
But you have to say goodbye.
And all of us know that even the longest running show will someday come to an end.
However, the thing is still inside us - we did it - we learnt how to scale this particular mountain, and it’s hopefully inside you, the audience. So it is a death? Or does a play, when it ends, still have a creative life, just as Denis O Hare’s performance in Take Me out, will always stay with me? I don’t know.
As I grow older, I become less interested in the answers and more interested in the questions. Or I should say, more interested in the various answers that a question raises. Towards the end of the play Sebastian and Viola go through a list. It is a record of who they are and where they come from. It is necessary for them to say this because the world they came from is lost to them. It is necessary for them to resurrect it through their words – essential to voice their history and try to recreate it in some ways. When Orsino says of Sebastian “Right noble is his blood”, my Viola falls even more in love with him. Orsino knew my father; he knows where I come from and is familiar with my history. He helps keep the memory alive.
So - here’s to you our audience. Thank you for coming on this journey with us. Thank you for keeping the play alive in your memories. Whether or not you think the couples in this play make it in the long haul, is a question for you - something perhaps you will take time to build. I sincerely hope you do. For without you, how could the characters in Twelfth Night and we as actors, possibly carry on?