54, acting, art, Art is the future, artists, entertainment, Jefferson Park, marine, matinee, performance, play, post-war, Robert Belushi, social, stage, Summer People, The Gift Theatre, theatre, veteran, war
I want to spend the rest of my life meddling around in the buzzing community of struggling artists. The young adults who juggle fast-paced, low-paying side jobs to buy brushes and canvas, to fund head shots for auditions, to stamp stacks of submissions. No one will pay me for this – at least no one I’ve met – but these are the people that set me on fire.
Still, I will argue against my formation of a crituqing bias. Frankly, my friends are just good at what they do. Not because I love them and not because they are my friends. I just got lucky and found the good ones.
My friend, Rob, is in a play that closes this weekend, Summer People. He plays the role of a troubled marine, just returned from war, who escapes to a remote campsite to deal with post-war trauma and avoid returning to his family. The marine doesn’t go by name. He lives on campsite 54. Signs in under an alias with the campsite director. He’s characterized by escape, both in his interactions with the families on the grounds, and in intense war-torn flashbacks. His turmoil is internal, but he sweats suffering and the burden of the actor who plays him is to show this. 54 clenches his fist, squeezing his thumb down to the bone almost always, especially when he becomes uncomfortable. It’s obvious that he desires connection, but every time it inches towards him, even a little bit, he runs scared back to his hideaway on the shore.
Even though the play, in its screenwriting, lacks a bit of fullness and some originality in a few of the plotlines, there are moments when this character – above the rest – embodies a considerable amount of depth. Yes, he’s a consistently suffering character in a setting that resists the added burden of him. But suffering isn’t green like the color. Doesn’t have four corners like a shape. It sure can look like something…but, what?
It is the pressure pushing color away to white bloodless skin, clenching the handel of a shovel? What of these stuttered responses, silence, stillness where successful sentences should be? Suffering can be deep, like the hole 54 dug in the sand to try and bury every memory he had from the war. Is it any secret that he couldn’t escape them, or the pain that they caused? Suffering is persistent, like kids coming around, asking questions, causing trouble, being kids. Like people in your way when all you want is to be alone. Only questions when you need an answer. Sickness. Sadness. Fear. Rage. Regret.
An actress read a non-fiction piece at a reading I went to last month. She said that she becomes the characters she plays, to a degree. And that when she’s between characters, she’s not as sure of her. I’m not sure how true this is of my friend, Rob, but he’s been playing 54 for months now and it’s coming to an end. I saw the real Rob in the character of 54, and I can speculate at ways that I see 54 in Rob, but the jury’s still out on that. What the jury has decided is that 54 is a chance character. He could’ve been played sterotypically, and suffering would have remained an ethereal, unreachable term that we use without understanding. But in this production of Summer People, 54 was played by a heart artist, a true performer. A potentially flat character was given shape, he developed fullness, and was thus, crafted into a visual representation of the internal struggle that a post-war marine might have – a battle that someone like me would never have access to were it not for mediums such as these and acting such as this.
Art is the future.