Last day in Fairbanks. One more matinee at 1:00pm. The Empress Theatre has been so good to us! Huge props to CJG, John, Anna and Cassidy! Even bigger thanks to Nellie and Erica, who have been our assistants. They've done all the little and big things that keep us sane before during an after a show! A better crew we could not ask for! Thank you also to my friend from Russia, Oksana, who came to see the show, and Nicole, an amazing teacher I met when I was an artist in residence at Tuntutuliak. And my Uncle Walkie. And . . . So many more.
Last night, as the show started, Allison and I both felt something. In the first scene, there was a natural feel, like we weren't acting, we were living the words. As we came together to breathe, as we do in between each scene, we saw it in each others' eyes. "Can you feel it?" "Yeah!" "This is amazing!" "Yeah!"
As the story progressed, it's like we fell further and further into the story. By the time intermission rolled around, Allison and I were in awe. And a little bit scared. "This feels way too real."
The short time in between scenes is spent setting up the stage for the next scene. There's alot to do in the transitions, we are almost constantly on stage. But sometimes the biggest job between scenes is putting away the character and the emotions of that scene. After I play Elder, who loses Child to the flu in 1918, and gives up the old ways to become a Christian, I can be an emotional wreck. It's one of the most difficult parts of our history to reconcile. The massive loss of life. The missionaries convincing us everyone died because we weren't Christian. That one year reverberates within our cultures more than anything. And playing that moment out is grueling.
But then, it's time to reset, jump off stage, put on a scarf and play Son, a mid-20s Inupiaq man who was adopted outside and has come back to meet his Mother for the first time. A huge character and emotional shift, in less than a minute, whilst moving table and chairs around. Yet, it's just another moment in the life of a performer.
I've been a professional performer for over 12 years now. I've told stories heavily laden with emotion, in front of tens of thousands of people. I'm used to the way emotion is used to tell a story, to help the audience connect with the story, learn something from the story. So, wandering through heavy emotions in front of an audience is not necessarily difficult. It's a skill you learn and use to the best of your ability each time you perform.
But, when the story transforms to something more, something almost real, that can be a trip. After intermission, the realism grew. In between each scene, when we breathed, our eyes were wider. We could also tell how present the audience was with us, as though we could feel their breathing, and how it changed with each emotion that washed across the stage.
When the last line was spoken and the lights went down, we knew what had happened between us on stage. A rush of emotion, real, not acting, emotion, surged through us. We hugged and looked each other in the eyes. "That was amazing!"
Then we turned to the audience and took that first bow.
Now, if it happens, it always happens during that first bow. The lights come up, you see the audience, you hear the applause, you take that first bow. Then, when you stand up again, there they are, people standing up. A wave of humility lurches in my chest. "They felt it, too. It reached them." We bow again. And when we stand again, the whole audience is on their feet. And you realize, we are all standing together, because we were all there, in the story. And that story, despite the turmoil, the struggle and the pain portrayed, infused us all with hope. It lifts everyone.
I admit, I have had my fair share of standing ovations, but I can tell you honestly: There are some things you get used to, but some things I don't think I will ever get used to.
Perhaps people have different reasons for standing. But in my heart, I want to believe it's because of the hope.
Thank you all again for all of your hope, love and support,