Monthly Archives: February 2013

Drawing Blanks

The other night I was on stage with my singing partner, leaning back on a chair as her next song began. Only it didn’t begin. The pianist played the intro, but when it was time for her to sing, no words came out.

This is the nightmare! The singer’s, actor’s, speaker’s nightmare: Forgetting. Drawing Blanks.

It happens to all of us. No matter how much or little stage experience we have, no matter if we’re just starting out, or seasoned for decades, it happens that we come to a place and forget entirely where we are. And it never ceases to be frightening. The very thought of it, the anticipation that it could occur and does occur is probably what keeps most people off the stage and out of the public light. And yet…what actually happens? What do we perceive versus what’s going on? How much of our fear is real and how much is imagined?

What happens to time? Time – ha! Time does us the honor of stretching itself to both ends of eternity. Things that once felt like seconds are stretched into hours. Or so it seems.

And in those hours, what happens to the brain? The brain – ha! The brain goes into overdrive – reaching, searching, darting, probing. Is it this? Is it that? What word is first? What line? And we stumble along in the dark recesses of our minds. Blank.

What happens to the body? The body….well…the heart rate quickens, we begin to perspire. We lose the color in our cheeks or suddenly gain it on our neck, on our chest. Our temples throb. Our breathing sputters. Send in the paramedic – we’re heading into cardiac arrest! I’m dramatizing for effect. On the outside, most of this is invisible, but inside the body is on high alert. Somebody might as well be holding a gun to our back. We want to shout. We open our mouth yet no sound comes out.

And is it ever lonely! We can be solo on stage or in a crowd. The moment we draw a blank, everything recedes leaving us out there exposed. We turn to our fellow actors, singers, musicians for help, for comfort.

Such was the momentary plea in my partner’s eyes….what is it? Fill in this blank. As the seconds stretched into minutes, I searched my own brain for the word. I knew the song, knew her line. I couldn’t retrieve it either. If I had, how would I have communicated it to her? Speaking it aloud may only have drawn more attention to its absence, to its masquerade as a mistake. I could have been clever about it and offered it to her completely in character. But what did it matter. I drew the very same blank.

I shared her pain – I’ve been there. Soon my own palms would begin sweating, my fingers tighten around the microphone I held ready for my turn. God, why do we do this? Why do we risk it? What kind of masochists are we?

I could not help her with words, but I could help hold the frame. I straightened up in my chair and strengthened my intention. I kept a cool gaze. Behind it my eyes blazed with belief and support…”You’ve got it,” they beamed. I flooded the stage with power. I stayed in character. Soon enough she had turned back to face her audience, centered herself and a second later was off and singing. Our pianist did not miss a beat – he stayed glued to her throughout the 30 tiny seconds that felt like 30 minutes.

And what did the audience do? They waited. For all they knew there was nothing the matter. This was exactly what was intended. And yet they did know. Deep down they sensed that something was off, that before them stood a singer and human being momentarily out of phase. They felt her struggle, drew in their breath and held up their own part of the theatrical frame. As the words came to her and she took back her song, they enveloped her there and then in their loving applause.

These events are what humanize us stage artists. They are what make live performance so thrilling and daring. The recognition. The seeing ourselves in each other. We think there’s a judge, an us and a them. Performance shows us time and again that we are all in this together, and that sometimes just holding space for someone to falter and catch themselves is the only thing there is to do.

Because it’s happened to us all.

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Emptiness and Origin

Emptiness is the void. Silence is the void. The place of origin from which all comes and to which all returns. Silence is key. Without it there is no music. Debussy said, “Music is the silence between the notes.” Think about that. Music is the silence between the notes.

Silence is space, space is physical – the earth, the chair, the wall. Space is air – the atmosphere. Space is resonance. If singing the notes of a song is music, the silence that follows is divinity. It is where the inscrutable is felt and heard.

The call to art emerges from that void. The courage to heed the call, to undertake the study, to find the teachers and read the books. The impulse to explore, to discover, to drop what we are doing and sing, to throw on a CD and dance, to immerse ourselves

in the rhythm of music, to play, to turn a new page. It all comes from the emptiness. The determination to practice. The fear. The doubt. The voices in the head. Ours, theirs. The persistent tuning into what begins to move within us, to uncoil itself and express itself. That bone-level feeling of destiny. The inspiration for the first step and then all subsequent steps that begin to be felt, to be known as the career that slowly begins to unfold. It all comes from the emptiness. All utterances, tones, expressions, exhalations, intentions. And into the emptiness they return.

Galaxy

The silence following a song can be deafening, can it not? That moment that hangs heavy in the air just before the first sound breaks in – a sigh, a gasp, a chuckle, applause. That silence, still pregnant with the sweet echo of purposefulness and connection. Of origin.

We must cultivate the silence in our work. Learn to empty ourselves again and again – between phrases, between songs, between acts, between performances, between days, between seasons. We must learn to trust the silence. Learn to move within it, shape it, harness it, use it, speak with it. So that we continually resemble that from which we came and which is continually seeking to express itself through us.

What is emptiness to you?


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