Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Making the Connection

Eileen McNamara of the Boston Globe tells of a campaign stop by Gov. Dean in Wolfeboro, NH, and how what would otherwise be just another stump speech becomes a lesson in the dynamics of theatre:

His remarks vary little from a speech earlier in a high school cafeteria in Merrimack or from one he delivers two hours later at a high school gym in Laconia. The invasion of Iraq was built on deception. The nation is hemorrhaging jobs. There was no middle-class tax cut. There will be no real health care reform until people are placed before profits.

What, after so many repetitions, could be a tired stump speech is, instead, a call to action. Dean strikes the most responsive chord when he insists that his campaign is not just about him; it is about the retirees, the students, the seasonal workers, and the unemployed in his audience. Donors who write small checks. House party hosts newly active in politics. Registered voters who might actually vote this time around. Ralph Nader voters who are ready to move beyond protest and symbolism.

One of the things I learned in my years of studying theatre is that the difference between the stage and film is that there is nothing like a live connection between the actor and the audience to convey the message. We talk about the “magic” that happens when the audience becomes as much a part of the performance as the actors, the scenery, the lighting, and most important, the words of the playwright. The audience realizes subconsciously that they are being drawn in and made a part of what is going on; it isn’t just the willing suspension of disbelief – it is the hope and desire to connect with the characters and make them real. And the first rule of acting is that if you, as the actor, believe in everything you do and say – making the character a part of you – the audience will connect and the magic happens.

Of course, the immediate response is, “Well, it’s all make-believe. They’re just actors, it’s just a set, and when the lights come up, we all go home.” That’s true – but it’s not the same audience that walked into the theatre. In some way there has been a change in each and everyone who participated. It may be immeasurable, but the change is there, the message has gotten out, and that is the whole point.