"The GODS, Enjoy Themselves in an ORGY."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

posted by Cat Walleck, Master of Fine Arts Program Class of 2009

These were the first words I read on page 1 of Good Breeding last spring, when we first got our copies of the script that was to be our first third-year M.F.A. project. I have, for the last two and a half years, spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours poring over my body—learning all about the myriad of ways I can use it as my instrument—but it wasn’t until I got to Good Breeding that I truly realized just to what extent I would need to be “available” to my audience.

Melissa Smith, our conservatory director, is famous amongst us for her provocative saying: “Real acting is like standing completely naked in a room full of strangers, and turning around—slowly.” Of course, this intimidating and sexy woman announcing this to a bunch of nervous first-years was shattering enough, and then to imagine oneself having the courage, the generosity, and the killer rear view to pull off such a stunt is potentially debilitating. Or, maybe, exhilarating?

What would it be like to be nude onstage? The idea buzzed around our class: “Do you really think we’ll be actually naked?” “Is it only the characters playing Gods?” “What’s your Good Breeding diet?” I can’t speak for everyone individually, but most of us found ways—from carb cutting to yoga—to assuage our body image issues in pursuit of this higher cause. In college, I’d played parts where I stripped to my skivvies, but never truly in the buff. That was sort of the last-hold-barred: I realized that I held on to my costumes—even just a few inches of fabric kept me feeling safe and, to a certain degree, protected from an audience.

Day one of rehearsal, our generous and warm director [Timothy Douglas] went right to it. We got over the presentational quality of it in a heartbeat, and Tim led us in a meaningful discussion about what that opening scene meant to us—what it feels like to be seen, to experience extreme personal pleasure, and to be available to that level to the audience and for one another as an ensemble. Of course, it was hysterical that after this talk, the playwright, Robert [O’Hara], told us how impressed he was at our deep discussion, but really he just thought it would be cool to open with an orgy.

Even since we started running the show, one of my favorite moments has been our entrance—walking out onto the stage, looking right into the eyes of the people who have come to witness our show, wearing basically my birthday suit. And of course, we then turn slowly to a killer beat.

It’s been liberating. In a career where weight and fitness are omnipresent devils, and the images of the L.A. physique and the romanticized Starving Actor are everywhere available, I have learned to be particularly conscious of my own and others’ approval and judgment of my body. And I’m not going to lie—I definitely do as many push-ups as possible right before I head to places. But for at least that first moment, I have nothing hiding me from those people I’m looking at, except some silver straps of Lycra and oodles of glitter. Now, I know to look for that level of transparency and availability for my audience, regardless of the costume—or lack thereof.
 
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