C is for Characters and Connections

masks

When I was young, I developed an infatuation with the theatre and I decided I wanted to be a scriptwriter and actress when I grew up.

As a matter of fact, you might remember an earlier post about my first venture into writing which happened in fourth grade when myself and a couple of girls from my class decided to create our own play one day on the playground. I’m not sure what prompted us to do this. If memory serves, it was Melissa’s idea so maybe her parents had taken her to see a play recently and this inspired her to create her own? Maybe it was something we had talked about in class? I don’t know. It seemed like fun so I went along with the idea. I was always big into make-believe.

Our fourth grade teacher was impressed enough with our efforts that he allotted class time for us to perform our play in front of everyone. I don’t remember what our play was about and I don’t remember how big of a part I had in it but I do remember quite clearly falling in love the day I stood in front of the class even if I wasn’t sure exactly why I felt this way.

That moment sparked something inside me and ignited an obsession to write. I wrote pages and pages – all plays. In my mind, I fantasized about performing in front of my peers again although the other girls in my little group went back to jumping rope or playing tag on the playground, their careers on stage short-lived. There wouldn’t be any more plays performed in fourth grade.

It didn’t deter me. I kept writing. I kept imagining.

When the opportunity presented itself later in high school to study theatre with a small group locally, my parents agreed to let me go for it. I was always a quiet person so I’m not sure that many people believed I had much hope on the stage but I was determined enough to give it a try. As it turned out, I surprised us all, myself included.

I joined the group with big expectations … and a lot of fear. After all, the other kids in my group were far more outgoing, a little bit older, and certainly more experienced when it came to being on stage. Aside from my brief stardom in fourth grade, my stage credits went to torturing parents as my friends, cousins, brother, or anyone else I could coerce into engaging my obsession and I performed whatever I had come up with for the day.

I learned a lot about the theatre, not just acting but what goes on behind the scenes as well. And of course, the experience would not be complete without actually performing something. Our director chose a series of monologues written by students around our age called Sometimes I Wake Up in the Middle of the Night and assigned us each a character with our own history and experience which we as actors helped to create and develop. My character, Lisa, was the youngest of the bunch and the most naive.

Unlike most plays that tell a story and the characters interact with each other, our series of monologues meant that each actor had her own space on the stage and when it was our turn to speak, we took over the audience.

I suppose I could have been terrified and sure, on opening day, a part of me was. Family and friends would be attending. We’d made posters and shared them across the community. The newspaper wrote an article about us. When the curtain opened, there would be people occupying those seats, a lot more people than my fourth grade class. Those people had paid money to watch us perform so they’d have bigger expectations than a group of kids getting out of a math lesson. My director had her doubts that my quiet personality would fill the stage and so did I.

But you know what? Something magical happened what I stepped onto that stage. When the spotlight hit me, I came to life. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I wasn’t me anymore. I was Lisa and when I spoke about my loneliness and fears of the dark, the audience responded and I felt a strange connection that I’d only just hinted at before. By the time the spotlight went down after my first monologue and I sat in the darkness, I couldn’t wait until the spotlight returned to me so that I could continue to share my connection between Lisa and the audience. By the end of it, I’d impressed my director, my cast members, and the family and friends who’d come to see me and I’m pretty sure I’d done my part to satisfy the members of the audience that didn’t know the quiet Stephanie behind Lisa.

I’ve never stopped writing but every once in a while, I wonder to myself what keeps me going. After all, 90% of what I’ve written has never been shared and probably never will be. Being on the stage is very different from writing a novel but essentially storytelling is the same. The basic drive is bringing to life characters that will make the audience feel some sort of connection. On the stage, that connection is immediate. In a novel, I won’t know when you gasp or laugh or feel sad but I can hope that emotions still exist on the page. There is a dialogue that exists between the writer and the reader. In some way, our worlds come together and we share some common bond, even if it is only temporary.

Which books do you think have most successfully created connections with readers?