• Katie

Death and the Meta Emotions of Theater

I can remember taking a Shakespeare class as an undergrad at USC. The instructor had gone on a tangent about how, as theater makers (specifically actors), we learn to have a self awareness about our own emotional experiences. Like, "hey, I'm crying because I am so sad right now, also I'm crying this is awesome - what does this look like and how can I evaluate what is happening right now?!"

A few days ago I attended the funeral of my aunt who died unexpectedly. We are unsure of how she died, though it seems to be peacefully in her sleep, possibly due to a heart that was tired. She was a constantly positive and cheerful person, almost relentlessly so. During family tragedies in the past, her disposition and compassion were a welcome relief and source of comfort and support. As we struggled to cope with the current set of circumstances, it felt that members of our family were uncertain how to proceed without her.

Much like my professor in undergrad, I have a habit I've been unable to break: to experience emotion while attempting to observe it, as well. While processing grief over my aunt's death, I tried to observe how others were dealing and how we interacted with each other.

There was a good deal of silence.

Silence in disbelief. Silence on the hour drive to the funeral. Silence in greeting long lost distant relatives after the niceties have been exchanged. The silence inserted in places during the Catholic mass that was supposed to be spent in reflection. "Let us reflect".

As someone who doesn't over share my own thoughts and feelings, I find silence onstage compelling. As a director, I love giving actors permission to "sit" in a moment with the audience. Too often there is a pressure for dialogue, for something happening, pushing a narrative or plot forward. The pressure for a poignant moment in a film underscored with an aching song. What about quiet?

In my opinion, the best writing comes from the study of messy communications, or lack of them in situations of great duress. I think some of my favorite playwriting comes from the ugly or tense situations when characters are forced to make decisions that perhaps they wouldn't make in if circumstances were different and the stakes lower. And I think those moments are given weight with a bit of quiet.

Maybe because I am an introvert I long for silence, sometimes. And sometimes dread it. But since we encounter so much of it in every day life I wonder why it isn't as acceptable in our entertainment - maybe because it is so undefined? Without the support of music or dialogue, a moment could be interpreted as something the artist isn't intending?

Perhaps I spend too much time thinking about these "meta moments" - possibly more than other people because of theater and the constant, never ending self observation and evaluation.

It's a big responsibility. This human observation.

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