Monday, May 2, 2011

Writing Workshops LA: My Face Essay

So it's a few days late BUT nonetheless, here is number 2 in the blog series following my creative nonfiction class with "Writing Workshops LA."

Our teacher, Chris (short for Christine), told us to read Robert Benchley's short essay entitled, "My Face." She then asked us to write about our own. That is all the information she gave us. I kinda snorted at the ominous vague prompt. I was already thinking, "Great. Do I have to spend like an hour in front of the mirror 'staring' at my face and then write what I see? Jesus." However, in reading the essay a few days ago and understanding the freedom of following the theme, I knew ex-actly how I would write my face essay.

Here it is. Staring at you in the face (ha.)

*All my fellow drama nerds will appreciate this short essay. I hope.

An Actor’s Face

What I loved about acting was the way my face felt. Manipulating my eyebrows and mouth, smiling or frowning, and darting my eyes every-which-way, I was exercising my first creative passion.

In my first performance I was Mrs. Baywater: the town’s rich, old lady, who wore curtains for dresses and birds as hats, and had a fox for a shawl. Thick perfect ringlets hung on each side of my face, framed my eyebrows just the way I needed. Mrs. Baywater existed in my eyebrows and in my turned-up cheek. This, at age 14, is what I felt conveyed rich and snobby: my cheek looked down to no one. With the gift of knowing how to curve my right eyebrow, I questioned all my “townsmen” taste in attire and hygiene. Though it was the wild, wild, west, Mrs. Baywater saw no need to allow one’s hair or clothing to become “wild” as well. I raised my eyebrow every time I entered onto the stage; Mrs. Baywater had arrived. I would purse my lips: Mrs. Baywater needed attention. I would scrunch my nose: Mrs. Baywater was becoming annoyed with the conversation. My face told all details the playwright didn’t write down. My face was in charge of letting the audience know who I was and where I came from. Why and how Mrs. Baywater spoke and reacted always came back to my face. This is how acting and I found each other: through my face.

My favorite musical I did was South Pacific. I was just one of the nurses but I couldn’t have had more fun with my role. Being part of the ensemble frees you. Your imagination tells you who your character is-not the playwright. I was Rosie the Riveter. If Rosie the Riveter was a nurse in the south pacific who had an on-and-off again relationship with the solider, Dennis, then yes-I was her. Rosie transformed on my face every time I applied each of my lips with red, warrior, paint. Men call it red lipstick. Silly men. With each stroke of red as I pouted to the mirror lined with bright bulbs, Rosie said hello louder and louder. The tail to each eyeliner mark on my left and right eye had me daring any one to guess what I was thinking: this was my Rosie in South Pacific. After all the paint was placed perfectly, powdered, and set, my face tingled with the anticipation of being bad. ass.

My final role was intended for a man. George Orwell’s 1984 had its character, O’Brien as the leading officer of the Big Brother brigade. I read the play and felt most intrigued as an actress to depict O’Brien more than the frivolously-in-love, Julia. I wanted a challenge and my face smiled with agreement. Ohhowexciting, my lips curled.

When my face and I sat down with the text, we concluded that O’Brien did not necessarily need to all female or all male. A bit of both masculine and feminine qualities, O’Brien emerged on my face as stiff: concentrated so intently on the need to succeed. (Brainwashing is not for quitters.) My lips tightened and my eyes were centered. Never did I falter with looking “around” or “pass,” but rather, my eyes situated themselves on someone-always. O’Brien never glazed over nor did she bother with paying attention to anyone she was not speaking to directly. When she spoke, my eyes penetrated. My jaw worked intentionally for the first time and my face build itself upon that rigid jaw line I sealed to O’Brien. There was no ease in any of my facial features, and it took calm and collective training in my mind to work my intense and composed face. It felt empowering. My face was important and I moved like a gridlock into the place where eyes, lips, and clenched cheekbones hollowed my face in the stage lights and a walking skull tormented Winston Smith to submission. Big Brother was alive.

This face-I miss. Widely labeled by the public as “the actor’s mask,” I find that “mask” is not the sufficient term to convey how much your own face is involved. It’s your muscles. Your pupils. You are in charge of every subtle choice and action. This face-I miss, because I played.


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