“Is the cross beautiful?”
Mea culpa, my friends, for missing my posting a couple weeks back. Last time you read from me was before a joyous Christmas break. On my birthday I did drop my phone four stories down an elevator shaft, but that’s a story for another time. Today, I would like to talk about a few thoughts on a great passion of mine.
Like many students at Benedictine last week, I was not on campus. But unlike most, I was not on the annual 27 (22 in record time, I hear this year) hour bus ride to Capitol Hill for the March for Life. Instead, I spent my week in the Twin Cities for the 47th Annual Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
KCACTF is a remarkable gathering of wonderfully dedicated collegiate thespians and stage artists. Some of the most well respected academics and very talented active professionals come to impart advice and experience to students and exchange ideas with their peers. The festival features a scholarship acting competition with nominees from works performed around the region throughout the previous year. Regional winners move on to nationals to compete for a nice sum of money. Various other events such as invited scenes, productions, showcases, exhibitions, competitions, and workshops fill the daily schedule.
“Cool beans, Stanton. But why were you even there?”
An excellent question. Since I can remember I’ve always enjoyed performing. When I finally learned to speak properly I never really stopped talking. I enjoyed being filmed for a class project, giving a speech for FBLA, performing as John Paul II in a biographical study, and leading the marching band as the drum major. I love the stage. It may be why I’m so greatly attracted to politics. The grand purpose of statecraft is service to the people and betterment of society, which is why I find a vocation in politics. But within politics is a narrative, a constructed story used to convince people of a certain idea. I love this part of politics more than I do in-depth policy talk. I’ve got a thing for the campaign trail, the strategizing, and the fashioning of the story. None of this, though, is quite like the stage. And before college I had never actually acted in the theatre setting.
So, freshman year I auditioned for the first production that semester, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I’ve never liked this play, but I thought, “I’m in college - might as well try something new.” I was cast as Balthasar and Capulet’s cousin: fairly minor roles. I didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, so I put theatre aside and decided it wasn’t for me. I still went to every play throughout the year, and I always found a good time in the Mabee Theatre.
In the early part of the second semester, a senior who was directing the final show of the season - Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman - approached me about participating in the production. What was cool about this show is that the majority of the play occurs in a pool: a man-made construction built on stage and filled with water. The actors performed in the pool. I reluctantly agreed, but this time I enjoyed myself immensely, even if I was sopping wet.
The bug had returned. Sophomore year I was determined to be more involved in the department. I auditioned in the early fall for the play Come Back, Little Sheba by William Inge. I was hoping for more than a minor role, but expecting no more than a supporting role. When the cast list was posted my name was listed as the male lead.
I was stunned. I am not a theatre major, nor a minor—I was a very green enthusiast. But, thanks to a phenomenal director, cast, and the overbearing fear to not disappoint in my first role, it became one of the most exciting experiences of my life. It was an opening to explore the theatre in a deeper way. I’ve since participated in student directed scenes, one-act plays, a debut of an original piece, and two theatre festivals. I’m actually currently working on my fourth main stage.
This is my passion. The theatrical process that I have discovered is my passion. But why? That’s the overbearing question you’ve been asking, isn’t it? What facet of this art is so compelling that it consumes my limited time and grips my interest? Here it is: through the theatre, more than in politics, I can create and reveal truth.
The best political narratives require some basis of truth in order to be believable enough and drive home the vote-winning message. The theatre, too, has truth. The difference is this: while politics is better with truth, the theatre is nothing without truth. The beauty and art of the stage can only exist as truth. It does not simply require truth to exist; the theatre is married to the truth.
Political narrators may sometimes find the truth as a roadblock to their objective. (It’s not that they dislike the truth or would rather go without it; to their credit, most love truth and justice, and would much rather live in a world with it and it alone.) The theatre, however, cannot go without the truth unless it seeks to lose the very core of its existence. A theatre divorced from truth is at best a venue of cheap entertainment, and at worst a lie on a barren stage, no matter how many lights and musical numbers you try to attach.
Politics is like my vehicle to a vocational destination. I like the drive, the feel of the seats, the way the car handles. But theatre is my coffee—if I didn’t have it I couldn’t keep driving. It allows me the privilege of an intimate and very real creation. What makes the theatre such a remarkable and almost spiritual experience is that no show is the same as the one before or after it. Every single showing of the same play by the same exact cast in the same exact venue is still different and completely unique. Actors are human, and they can be susceptible to a missed line, a different emotion for a scene, or have a different level of energy depending on how receptive the audience is to the play.
This is not the making of an elaborate fabrication for an ulterior purpose. When I’m on stage, and you’re in the audience, we are sharing the same moment, right now, in this present time, which is unique to us and to no one else. No matter how many hands I may get to shake on a campaign trail, or heart-warming or heart-wrenching stories I get to hear or tell, or the promise that, “Yes, ma’am, I’m gonna do everything I can to get your husband’s job back,” I will never have the chance to peel back the layers of reality and show you the essence of life in politics. Not like on stage. Not like in the theatre.
I don’t seek the applause at the end, or the affirmation of others. I do theatre because I love the community among actors and stage crews, because I love the intimacy of participating in my own creation, because I love the truth I can help reveal. The theatre is alive and vibrant and human in an oft-time mundane world. We go about our daily lives, enduring the grind of work and the stress of the current times. Sometimes this seemingly boring existence is too much, and we put ourselves on autopilot, turning off our purposes, dreams, and desires so that we can live with the (false) assumption that we amount to nothing more than onlookers on this rotating rock we call Earth. I partake in the theatre because it is here to tell you that you and the world are more than that. That you were made for something beyond “just getting by.” You were made for love, beauty, and truth.
“We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness…You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts!” ~Charlie Chaplin, The Dictator