1.10.12 We are all acting out roles we’ve inherited, and we are all evaluated by an audience that understands us incompletely–– that’s the message Shakespeare taunts us with in the “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy and in many other passages of his plays. The idea is discomfiting because we yearn to be acknowledged for our individual qualities. We want to think of our lives as true reflections of who we really are and our decisions as our own.
For people who live in the public eye, the tension between character and persona is immediate. Think of a presidential candidate traveling to Iowa knowing his job was to become more “likeable.” Or a mayor, addressing the public for the first time as the voice of the city. Or think of an editor, writing to you. Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have famously made the transition from playing other people to playing themselves on the big stage, but parents do it with their kids every day on much smaller ones.
This week, Spencer Peterson’s feature looks at how the actors at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton live their lives on stage playing other people and maintaining the Shakespearean tradition of poking fun at the lines between characters. They play three shows a day at times, channeling shifting roles year after year, lines rattling around in the heads during their most banal everyday moments. In the story, actor and playwright Ginna Hoben reveals an illuminating detail of her craft: “When I can see an audience member’s face directly, it forces me to tell the truth. You can’t lie as easily when the lights are up.”
Since Shakespeare’s always urging us to read the allegory, and since my job involves telling the stories of people who want public attention, whether they claim it or not, I’ll take a lesson from Hoben’s lines. There’s truth and fiction in every role, and delivering the lines with the lights up always takes courage.––Giles Morris