Saturday, December 22, 2012

The First Actor

Thespis, a Leading Man
Glaucus, a member of the Chorus

Time: 6th century B.C.
Location: Ancient Greece. Backstage at Athens Amphitheater. 10 minutes until Curtain.

Glaucus: (Enters from wing, calling off-stage) Thank you, Ten!

Thespis: (Enters from opposite side as Glaucus, doing vocal warm-up exercises...culminating with) drrrrach-ma. drach-MAH! DRACH-mah.

Glaucus: Stop worrying, Thespis. You will give an Olympian performance tonight. And if that fails, you can always rely on your lovely face.

Thespis: But I will be wearing a mask.

Glaucus: Even wearing the mask of Tragedy, your unique qualities shine through, my boy. Like a star in the heavens! No doubt, after tonight’s performance, Zeus himself will reserve a spot in the night sky for your soul to sparkle when you die.

Thespis: Does my face look lovelier when I speak in this direction, (turns head) or facing this direction?

Glaucus: Where will your audience be? Speak in the direction of their ears.

Thespis: But what if I misspeak, Glaucus?! What if tonight, in front of all the free citizens of Athens, I, Thespis of Icaria, flub history’s first line?

(Groups of women and men are arriving for the show.)

Glaucus: Welcome to Athens Amphitheater, my ladies, sirs. Have you come to see tonight's Choral performance? Most excellent. We have a very special treat for you tonight. (to Thespis) See how the nymphs and even the satyrs...

Thespis: Satyrs! (Leading man smile, as if for the camera.)

Glaucus: ...much admire your comely good looks.

Thespis: But is god-like beauty enough, Glaucus?

Glaucus: I said good looks.

Thespis: I don’t want to be known merely as a mythical physique, an Adonis.

Glaucus: (under breath) Narcissus more like.

Thespis: I want to be remembered, nay Glaucus, celebrated, for my skill as …as an…what do we call this? Is it choric refrain anymore? With only one singer? We don’t even have a name for this in Greek. Am I really the first...ever…to try this?

Glaucus: In my knowledge, dear Thespis, which admittedly is not so vast as your own, I have never before heard of a Chorus member attempting a solo. Since the dawn of Chronos, there has always been a Chorus. We are the necessary foundation of a story well told. How else would the audience know the playwright’s meaning? Without the Chorus to explain it to them? In song? But never before has a single member of the Chorus stepped forward, by himself, under his own spot of torchlight, and spoken in the voice of another man or acted out the deeds of another man or pretended to be another. Indeed Thespis, this is a new kind of theater.

Thespis: How does one person pretend to be another?

Glaucus: Hmm…alright, let us start with your name.

Thespis: Surely you know me, Glaucus. We have sung together the stories of gods and heroes in  wildly dithyrambic refrain for 8 years. Thespis. Of Icaria.

Glaucus: Dear Zeus. Yes, I do know you, Thespis, my boy. Now introduce yourself as the person you pretend to be.

Thespis: Oh! Of course. Right! (grabs Glaucus by the forearm in a Greco-Roman handshake. Casually introduces himself as if to a business associate.) I am Pericles.

Glaucus: You are? Really? Is this how a statesman, an orator, a general of Thrace greets his warriors?!

Thespis: I am Pericles?

Glaucus: Mean it. Again!

Thespis: I am Pericles!

Glaucus: More authority! Again!

Thespis: I am Pericles! I am Pericles!

Glaucus: (tents fingertips together and nods) Goooooood.

Thespis: This will instill fear and respect for Pericles in the audience.

Glaucus: Not the audience. The armies of Thrace. If you pretend to be Pericles, then pretend to stand where Pericles stands. (turns Thespis by the shoulders toward audience.) On a hilltop, above the valley where Thracian warriors have assembled to receive his command.

Thespis: Yes, I see. And then, I shall roar like a fearsome lion. (roars) To ensure fear and respect in the audience...(catching on) armies of Thrace!

Glaucus: (beat) I like where you are going. Choose something else.

(Thespis struggles to come up with a new idea.)

Glaucus: For example, draw your sword, thus. Instead of roaring like an actual lion, speak your line…with a roar in your voice!

Thespis: (draws sword) I…Am…Pericles!

Glaucus: It makes me shudder. You are so real. There should be a name for what you can do, Thespis. Let us pretend to be another person. You imitate or mimic the words and actions of a character in a story. Thus you are a pretender? An imitator? History's first mimicker?

Thespis: No, I don't like the implied guile of pretender. What about charmer? Because I charm the audience into believing that I am Pericles.

Glaucus: Good evening, ladies. Yes, many good seats left. Just beyond the urinals there. Upwind, I assure you! Thank you for supporting local theater! (to Thespis) Charmer sounds like spells and magic, a snake charmer. A charlatan. What you do, Thespis, is Art.  And Craft. It requires Art, Craft, and a courageous heart to step forward into the torchlight and stimulate our intellects, arouse our emotions, stir our psyches with only your words and actions. You are the leading man of the Chorus.

Thespis: Leading man? (beat) No, that will never catch on. Besides, will the audience accept me, Glaucus? Are they willing to accept that I, Thespis, speak FOR Pericles? That I truly AM Pericles?

Glaucus: (ruminates) That depends upon your motivation.

Thespis: My what? What in the name of Melpomene is motivation?

Glaucus: Ah! Motivation is “why are you talking? Why are you doing such-and-such?” In real life, when we talk or do something, it is because we want something. We are motivated to talk because we want something. Why does the hero talk? What does the hero want that motivates him to say "I am Testecles!" (pronounced "testa-cleez")

Thespis: (raucous laughter) The hero in this play is named "Pe-ri-cles". Good thing I am chosen as history's first "Leading Man". (movie star smiles to more passing satyrs) Thank you for coming tonight. Stick around after the show.

Glaucus: Quite true! I have no mind for memorizing lines. I would flub history’s first line for sure if I were standing in your sandals. I need the Chorus to back me up, to keep me in line, in step with the group mind. Instead of a Leading Man like you, I am your follower. Perhaps I could be history's first…uhh… Thespian?

Thespis: Brother, you should be directing this whole show.

Glaucus: What would that make me then? A Director?

Thespis: No, a tyrant.

(They share a knowing laugh.)

Glaucus: Speaking of tyrants, Pericles wants to defeat a tyrant. That is his motivation. He stands above the battlefield, addressing archers, spearmen, charioteers, and common soldiers, trying to rouse them to righteous indignation against an evil tyrant. Pericles appeals to their clan pride as Thracians, in an attempt to motivate them into fighting and dying for Thrace. When he says “I am Pericles!”, he is declaring, “Pericles has arrived! Let the fight begin!”

Thespis: And this is motivation?

Glaucus: If your motivation is true to real life, if we recognize and sympathize, then yes, I believe the audience will accept you as the hero.

Thespis: They are lighting the torches. And calling Places. The flutes will start soon. How is my hair?

Glaucus: Tousled. Like a hero’s. Got your sword belt? Got your sword? Good and good. Ok, here goes. Let us each put on our mask.

(They stand side-by-side. Both solemnly pull down a mask from atop their heads. Glaucus is Comedy. Thespis is Tragedy. Actors may pantomime if no actual masks are available.)

Thespis and Glaucus in chorus:  Ahhhhhhh…. (Glaucus repeats chant over Thespis’ final line.)

Thespis: (with a roar in voice) I…Am…(draws sword)...Testa-cleez!

(Glaucus chokes on chant. He pulls up his mask. Now his face is Tragedy. Thespis pulls up his mask. He is Comedy. Fade to blackout as the panting Thespis, oblivious of his flub, turns to Glaucus for approval.)