Denis Diderot said, “The actor that plays from thought will always be at his best; he has considered, combined, learned and arranged the whole thing in his head.” On the other hand the Russian actor, director and philosopher, Stanislavsky said, “An actor must put his life into all the imagined circumstances and actions of the character until he has completely satisfied his sense of truth and until he has awakened a sense of faith in the reality of that character’s sensation.” That’s just about it. Nothing more.
Bongani was standing alone, waiting, in the dark wings whilst his inner voice resonated these phrases in his head. It was his debut production in mainstream theatre. His heart was beating out of his chest and his legs were trembling. He was, often, jumping up and down on his toes feeling the weight of his body escaping through the welling tension that grabbed his joints. He attempted to release the energy that was resting itself on his fingertips. This was followed by bending back and forth with his hands supporting him from his waist. He could not feel his backbone. The tension was high. This is it. All those excruciating long hours of rehearsals, the yelling of the director, the annoyance of the actors missing their cues, the gossips, the arguments, the laughter, the calculated hours of sleep. The waiting. It all comes to this moment.
Whilst waiting for his cue, he was listening to the flawless dialogue unfolding, the clear pronunciation of each word, the nuances, the correct emphasis on each syllable, all played upon the stage. He could not believe the moment has arrived. The moment he had being dreaming about, the moment of standing in front of an audience of hundreds of people to put his mettle to test. The thrill of delivering a great performance, the glory of getting into the characters’ skin, the moment of receiving assurance from the enraptured audience in appreciation. This is the moment to own the stage, to rule, to feel wanted, and to be seen. This is it.
It is the moment every actor within the performance industry embraces with excitement and satisfaction.
Bongani then fixed his eyes on stage. The changing colours of lighting continued to paint the stage like heaven waiting to welcome him. He could hear the continuous changing reactions from the audiences as the scenes interchangeably progressed. Their bursts of laughter from the goofiness of comic characters, followed by their applause of appreciation, their rage when they disapprove the devious ways of villains, their silent cries from the sad scenes were unfolding like a part of the performance package. He wondered if he is also capable of commanding the audience to react in that manner.
He impatiently turned his head to look behind him, and stared at nothing but the coal black wall. Doubts slowly paralysed him. Confidence was slowly escaping his body. His mind started running wild. “Perhaps this is what my mother was warning me about.” He thought to himself. His mother did not want him to do acting. “You will waste your time with this acting of yours!” His mother would yell at him. “Acting does not have money!” Still, Bongani couldn’t take her word. “I know mother was right. There is no money in acting. I mean, most actors are bullied for their economic rewards. Although they may be treated like stars, but beneath their belts they have to face the directors who threatens their careers, the stage mangers who manipulate them, and the producers who demand something for their personal satisfaction before hiring them not to mention their agents who continuously betray them.” Bongani’s mind continued to run wild. “This is not why I am doing this though. This is not it. There is something more than this that drives me inside. There is something that pushed me to be standing right here, this moment. As the pace of the dialogue continued to unfold on stage, he took a glance at the other corner. The stage manager was there. Her head was buried on the hard copy of the script. Her body was hunched over towards the blue light brightening her script. Her eye glasses were fixed tight on her face as if to zoom in the text from the script. She was whispering lighting cue commands into an intercom. Her finger was running through the text on script to keep track of the progress as the actors unpack it to the audience. She seemed assured, confident and professional.
“Can I be as professional as her?” Bongani questioned himself.
He felt the strength of confidence oozing out of his body in quick succession. “I can’t do this. I can’t make the audience laugh and applaud like they do. I cannot be as professional as she seems. Mama was right, this is not for me. This is a waste of time. I should have listened. Look at me now. I am waiting in the dark wing, squeezed in these costumes, pinched by this hideous wig, powdered by this itchy makeup all to get on that stage and fumble the lines. And on the other hand I have critics waiting to tell me how awful my performance was and that I did not make sense here, I forgot my lines there….” Bongani took a pause as he panicked. “Oh no, what if I do forget the lines, or no one recognises my performance? What if I fail to control my emotions? What if the audience doesn’t understand anything I say? Damn!” “What you are experiencing right now is called Stage Fright.” His inner voice intervened. “It’s every actor’s nightmare. Don’t let it get hold of you. Remember what the director told you, if you happen to forget your line, do not apologise to your audience. Just find your way around and move on. But do not apologise. Whilst you are at it, do not forget why you are on that stage. Right now, you need to breath.” His inner voice coached him.
Bongani took a breath and pulled himself together as he regained his confidence. On stage the lines quickened. The dialogue took the urgency and familiarized itself in his head. The stage manager signalled him to stand by. Bongani argued with his inner voice. “This is it. The cue is getting closer. I feel like going to the bathroom….but there is no time to go there….beside you just came back from there few minutes ago.” It feels like the dialogue is increasing the speed. The urgency of nervousness increased like mercury rising. “I need five more minutes…. there is no more time….the cue is getting closer. This is it. No turning back…. stand by….I can’t breathe…What do you mean? …. You are still alive aren’t you? …. Okay take a deep breath….breath in… Breath out slowly….relax…..here it comes….two more lines and then you go in….the cue is almost here…. ready? …. Here it comes….here it comes….this is it….go, go, GO!
He entered the stage with confidence and stood in front of the audience without uttering a word. All the lights focused on him. All the eyes were fixed on him. Ears listened attentively. And he just stood there with confidence….like he had all time in the world. The silence filled the auditorium. It was like everything stopped working. Backstage at the corner, the stage manger’s finger was fixed on one position, pointed on the line he had to say on the script. His fellow actors stood fixed on stage waiting for his line. The director in the audience, next to his distinguished guests, was scratching his chin. He was cloned by the fear of witnessing a disaster about to happen. With panic, the stage manager whispered to the lighting desk through the intercom: “Oh My Word, he has forgotten his line! He has forgotten his line! Kill the lights! Let’s advance to the next cue.” The lighting manager at the desk replied: “No, no, no, I think he knows what he is doing…let’s give him a few more seconds before we jump to the next cue”. After few seconds that felt like hours, Bongani finally opened his mouth, projecting his voice to ensure that the last person at the back-row receives it equally like someone in the front row:
As he took a bow and the curtains fell, the audience stood on their feet and applauded in appreciation. The shouts of BRAVO were heard from the audience.
“Did they really understand what I meant or they simply loved the sound of my voice?” He wondered.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo