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On Compliments and the Magic of Theatre

You know what I haven’t heard in a really long time here at BU? A compliment. A compliment from the complimenter delivered of their own volition to the complimentee about work they have done.

I have heard compliments about people not in the room. I have heard compliments delivered from a third party – “so-and-so says you’re really good at ______.” I’ve heard constructive criticism, GOD have I heard constructive criticism! But I think the last time I heard someone say to someone else that their work in class was good or inspiring must have been weeks or months ago.

I gave a compliment in one of my classes today. I said I liked the lighting of a certain piece and the professor asked me to articulate why. Why was it good? What moved me? Was it the 85 degree angle of the light or the brightness that was set to level 35.55553? Everyone knows that when lights are set at 85 degree angles with the levels at 35.55553 the humanoid audience members are programmed to react with 35% awe, 12% shock, and 63% amazement.

I get it. We are here to learn. Anyone can give a compliment, but it’s only truly trained theatre artists who are able to dissect a moment into its components and categorize what caused what when and why. I mean, it helps! Beating out iambic pentameter in monologues helps me find meaning and nuance, and articulating what I like can help me replicate it later. But the thing is… to dissect something…

you also have to kill it.

That’s what I feel like I’m doing sometimes! Maybe it’s naiveté, maybe it’s being “precious” with the work but when I sit down to break a scene into beats I want to scream! Where’s the magic, the discovery, the surprises? Why do we have to nail everything down into beats and words and structures? It feels like putting a newborn on a cold, sterile operating table and shining a spotlight into its face.     

Am I supposed to get some kind of thrill from this? Is that what a theatre major is? It’s easy to fall in love with the magic of acting, but is it the sign of a true professional that they enjoy this work I find so painful? Am I not a true theatre artist?  

Sometimes I just want to like something. I want to turn to the person who did an amazing monologue and say, “Wow, that was incredible! Not because you emphasized the third word instead of the fourth or because you shifted your weight to your right foot, but because there was some magic in the room and you brought about.” I want someone to turn and say that to me.

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