I'm frankly surprised: I did a search for this word in the Aviary, to see when I'd ruminated on it previously, and came up with only one occurrence -- yesterday. That was only in reference to Friend Melissa's upcoming dance exhibition. The reason this surprises me is that I think about it quite a bit in terms of human (read: my) behavior. I think it's pretty undeniable that one does not become an actor without a certain persistent "Look at me!" impulse, and naturally I feel a bit conflicted about that. I don't think that's one of the better bits of acting technique, I really hate obvious artifice and insincerity, I do hate to be scrutinized, yet I must admit that I have a very basic urge to perform for an audience.
I've had two rehearsals over the past two evenings, one for each performance I'm doing this weekend. Tuesday night was for the benefit performance with Bond Street Theatre, and I spent a couple of hours cavorting about Monty-Python-style in their loft rehearsal-space-slash-apartment. I had come from il day jobo, and so was dressed in appropriate gear for the scene: button-down shirt, slacks, etc. As we progressed, however, I cuffed up my pants so the hems wouldn't drag (I was shoeless) and, as I got warmed up, stripped off my shirt, so I was wearing only my undershirt. Suddenly I found I had more energy for making physical choices. I was very interested in the choices to be made in the character's posture, his pace and quality of movement, and all the rest. Getting warm and losing the little suggestions of restriction that office clothes suggest contributed to this, of course, but there is also a large mirror in the studio that did not escape my attention.
Presume for a moment that there is a difference between an impulse toward exhibition, and vanity. They may be so closely related that they're like married cousins (ew), but let's still say they've got a distinct DNA strand or two. Vanity presupposes an attractive visage, or at the very least the potential to attract in that way. Exhibitionism, however, has more to do with being seen than being admired and/or being wanted for procreation purposes. Those of us excited by looking wretched in front of large groups may not necessarily be all that vain. What vanity I do suffer I try to be aware of, and keep in check with equal parts objectivity and self-deprecating humor. It's a lucky thing that I have nice eyes; they just read past my long, crooked nose that way. That sort of balance of power, if you will.
Last night the rehearsal was for the reading of Tom Rowan's play, Burning Leaves, and it actually took place at Tom's apartment, on 40th Street. The whole thing was a bit unconventional: in an apartment that had recently been moved into, an unfamiliar neighborhood, it was late to accommodate various schedules. Unconventional does not in this case mean unusual, mind -- New York conditions of living and renting often necessitate unconventional solutions. Nevertheless, I had a lot of time to kill before rehearsal, and in that time I think I got a little uncomfortable, a little introspective, so that when I arrived for rehearsal I didn't feel all that engaged, much less demonstrative. It's rather a new group to work with, too, yadda yadda yadda. I had my reasons. I was self-conscious, and slow to warm up. Gradually I became more comfortable, and my acting choices improved in both their execution and the quality of choice. This time, however, I did not find the comfort to improve from exhibiting myself. Rather, I found it in gradually letting go of the worries related to exhibiting oneself.
Oh, balance! You are such an elusive spirit! When I began looking seriously into Eastern philosophy, I ultimately chose to align myself with Taoism instead of Zen Buddhism (this was way back in the day, when I was so young I didn't know what a hangover was [not really] and I didn't have necessary stretches to do every morning). There were many reasons for this choice -- although the concept of Zen had a strong appeal for me -- but the most convincing reason has to do with the difference in the way Taoists and Buddhists generally approach the problem of human desire. Buddhists believe the only way to spiritually improve oneself is to rid oneself of all earthly desires, and possibly, ultimately, all spiritual desires as well (they don't have koans for nothing). Taoists, on the other hand, acknowledge desire as a natural aspect of humanity, and one that's part of the whole process. Transcendent thought and action is available in any part of the whole. Instead of urging you to let go of all desire from the word "go," a Taoist might say, "Good luck with that," and mean it. I think desires are good to transcend. I also think they're good to learn from.
So I keep performing. The farther along I get, the more that desire for exhibition changes; perhaps it grows more mature. I'd like to think it does. I'd like to think that I'll become more intelligent and balanced in my performance as I continue to live and learn and, so far at least, I believe my progress has been evident. In the long view. When I was in my hometown for The Big Show, I ran into my high school drama teacher in a restaurant, the very day of the event. I hadn't seen or spoken to him in over a dozen years, and I was shy to approach him. Once I had, however, I wanted to audition for him. Not to be cast, obviously. But maybe just to be seen.