Christopher Cannell philosophizes about his time as an actor and a director.
For the longest time I was an actor. Now I am a director. I used to think of myself as being in the frontline troops of the theatre production, strutting out in the vanguard and putting my life (reputation) on the line for a greater good (the social and theatre scene of St Andrews). Generally, this meant having an uproarious time of it. Acting, don’t get me wrong, is very, very fun. Despite the stress that inevitably comes with piling lines into the brain minutes before rushing on stage, tech cues so tenuous or quiet you are worried they wouldn’t even register with the mice that inhabit the walls of the theatre, let alone the audience, or the silly costumes you have to wear, that you are worried will completely throw off your juju, acting is one hell of a lot of fun: there is no better word for it.
To put yourself out, whilst attempting to convince yourself of being someone else, and, most importantly, convincing the audience, many of whom will know you, is a rush like no other. Nothing beats coming off stage, having completed a successful show where nobody died and the lines were all said and thinking the audience understood most of it. Acting is also, as I have remarked many times before, a psychological problem: it is the very want to spend your free time pretending to be somebody else, which, on the face of it, doesn’t sound overly healthy. This, however, is probably what gives it that risqué flavour that keeps some always coming back for more.
Acting is, on the other hand, nothing compared to directing, where, at its most primeval and satisfying, you become the physical embodiment of a show. You become an observer of almost unlimited power to mould a space to your whim. You can be like God: all on the stage is encompassed by your mind and can be bent wholesale to your will, and if that is not the definition of godhood, I don’t know what is. You start the process, so you are the Aristotelian prima mobile; you work, like the Old Testament God, to a specific template of what you want the world to be, and you deny free will to your actors with a ‘predestined’ script; and, at the last, like Shiva Nataraja, lord of the cosmic dance of destruction, you destroy the world you have created by striking the set, dancing, and swaying with a belly full of booze until the actors around you have passed out, and you are left alone with the thoughts of what was, only memories in the brain that was once, all encompassing. God will be lonely after the end times, won’t he? And so you then start the whole process again, Brahma sprouting from Vishnu, and dreaming a whole new stage, a whole new existence into being.
To unify my two metaphors, and reach some anti-eschatological conclusions, acting and directing are perhaps best thought of, as are most things, as a binary. There is actor and there is director, much as there is god and man; there is, equally, the stage and the audience, where the actor is the soldier and the director the general, or the actor the angel, the director god and the audience rebellious angels and ignorant men, waiting to be convinced. You, in any capacity on the stage, exist in a binary opposition with an audience: they have come to see you, you must now convince them, of something, of anything, and make them leave changed. If everyone, from lowliest extra, to flightiest diva, to hardest-nosed director, understands this, then theatre has made its mark, and, as any accomplished art should be able to do, allow transcendence into a realm where troubles are washed away, where the will is subdued, if but for an hour, and all in white shall wait around.
Photo credit: Marian Firke