Trying to be Perfect

I didn’t know at the time that acting on stage would be so crazy. Be crazy. Crazy.

“Run around the room screaming,” the director told me. I stood there a 16-year old, having just recited a monologue from Romeo & Juliet. I spoke as a mummy, tightly bound, wrapped in the concept of my own perfection as a “good actor.” Whatever that was. But I controlled the experience, and when I was done my auditioners from their seats behind the table across from where I stood at the front of the room, looked at each other. They were silent. Then one said, “run around the room, behind us in a big circle around to the front, screaming. And keep doing that until we tell you to stop.”

I did it. Flushed, humiliated, fully silly and totally out of control. Could they see the wrapping of my mummy cloth streaming behind me as I streaked around losing face, losing my cool? Crazy acting.

I screamed at first like a lost heron had stolen my voice, crowing some wild croaking. Then around the second or third lap I was an angry banshee, and as I grew tired, a keening, wailing mother in grief screamed out of me. The screams I didn’t recognize, yet they were all me. And I stopped. And they were pleased.

Panting, sweaty, hot, feeling not cute and lovely as I had been, but ugly, undone, uncool. I was not me. I was more than me. I was beyond me, beyond what had ever been possible for me before.

I could not know then, now 20 years ago, that his would be a career for me. Who knew this day would lead to a lifelong process of screaming and running in what became my way of learning? Learning what might break me free from safety and ego, would unleash me wild and true to my audience and more significantly, to myself? As perfect as I had tried to be entering the Shakespearean stage, I had no idea what perfection truly was.

I still do not know. No lifelong quest could give me the sense of rightness in my efforts to be good, or good enough. Would I have been able to predict, as I whirled around the room in a blur, sure I had colossally bombed the audition, letting go of “good acting” would be the metaphor for all creativity in my life? It’s true that because I was ultimately cast in the play, some part of me believed I had indeed found my way to perfect after all. As if screaming and running burned off the layers of control, somehow graduating me from trying to be perfect. Humbly I tell you now I seem to still think one day I will.

Published by jchmcpherson

Arts, Education and Writing

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