In the Winter ’17 semester, I auditioned for Ed Roy’s production of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade… or, Marat/Sade. Honestly, it was the worst audition I’ve ever had in my life. I forgot all of the words to my monologue, asked if I could leave, and ended up reading my monologue before singing the first verse of House of the Rising Sun off-key and leaving, almost in tears. It SUCKED. I almost cried in front of my professors and a couple of my peers (who were part of the production team of the show). It was easily the most embarrassing moment of my life as an actor, and I hope nothing I ever do, in theatre or otherwise, ends up being more traumatic than that audition was. But, by some stroke of fortune, Ed decided he wanted me in his show, so I got the role of a nameless patient.
That’s me in costume. I looked pretty darn creepy… wow. I wasn’t very pleased with how I look with a shaved head, but that’s alright. Hair grows back.
From my abysmal audition I learned to keep trying. I’m sure I could have left the audition at any time, but I stayed put – petrified by fear in the moment, but now it sounds more like a motivational speech. I can succeed if I try to succeed, and letting whatever saboteur, pirate, assassin, or terrorizing voice in my head tell me that I can’t is a step in the wrong direction.
My first task was to give my patient a name. Because it was an 18th century play, I gave my patient an 18th century name: Aldous, as in Aldous Huxley. Huxley was a 20th century author who wrote about a dystopian future where people sedated themselves with a drug called “Soma”, and focused on the class-divisions within the society as well as the outsiders – the native population of the land – were locked outside of the cities and regarded as savages.
Aldous Brown, my Aldous, was a child of an abusive mother, who kept him locked inside during the day and locked outside at night if she decided he was “misbehaving” that day. Misbehavior is a subjective term in a one-parent household, and even in traditional two-parent households, because it is decided by the emotional and rational thoughts of the parent(s). This can lead to a child being wrongly punished, which also summarizes Aldous’ entire upbringing. The key he wore on his wrist, which jangled around sometimes during the performance, was a key Aldous stole from his mother to sneak back inside on cold nights. By revolting against an unjust authority in his own world, he was able to survive long enough to escape to Charenton. I came to understand the importance of revolting and was able to carry the emotional intention of Aldous’ journey on stage, as a revolutionary.
I learned the importance of small roles in performative arts. Without the nurses, orderlies, and extra patients, the protagonists in the show would have had to carry more of the show and honestly would have had a very lonely rehearsal process. I was able to work with actors who are objectively more talented than me, and by working with them and watching them, I was able to learn techniques to improve my acting.
Observation of talented actors improves an actor. This is not up for debate; by mimicking one another (mimesis being the root word) we learn how to mimic each other, better. Practice makes perfect! My role did not provide me with monologues to say in front of an audience or intense emotions to emulate. But I have the text, and I have my experience watching other actors play the text. In private, I can perform those monologues. In private, I do perform those monologues. That is part of my process as an actor. The rest of my process involves a lot of text analysis, choosing character actions, motivations, states of being, objectives, and obstacles. It also requires understanding the themes and messages within a text. Even for my own, small role, as a patient with only a handful of lines and minimal blocking, I felt like I had to do all of this work in order to make it worthwhile. I did the work, now I can only hope the audience appreciated it.
I believe there are no small roles. This is not an objective evaluation of the size of roles, because I understand that there are larger and smaller roles. But this statement, that there are no small roles, is a line meant to inspire actors into understanding that their role is important for reasons other than the size. The size of a role is determined by stage time, and lines, in relation to other roles. The perspective of the audience and the perspective of an actor is different; the audience will see small roles as small roles. They might see an actor who says one line, that “bread is too expensive”, and another who says a five-minute monologue about the impact of the aforementioned high cost. But the actor should see that they have their role, and that they are responsible for making their role detailed and true. The time and effort it takes to find this truth is what makes their role “big”. An actor has to believe their role is valuable, and so long as they do not diminish it with arguments of smallness, they will succeed.
The real exciting part of all of this is when I get to talk about the show itself. I thought my role was important for world-building, and my character has a narrative that guides him through the entire production, but that narrative is something I think only I get to experience. If you want to hear about, email me – I’ll try and put Aldous’ experience with the play into words. For now, here’s Chris’ experience of the play, as a critical analysis:
Marat/Sade was about the futility and cyclical nature of revolution. It told a story based in the French Revolution, which I think distracted the part of the audience who did not know about the French Revolution. This was the only downfall of the play, in my opinion: people wanted to follow a narrative. I was able to understand it, but I also read and/or saw the play dozens of times, maybe hundreds by the end of the process. For first time viewers, the focus should have been on the theme of all revolution instead of on the history of a revolution. Revolution – like a revolving sphere – continually shifts the classes. But no revolution has saved or merged a class, not that I’ve seen. “New ruling classes” seem to emerge, specifically the merchants, the bourgeois, in this play. Although the French Revolution was centuries ago, it looks like the merchants are still on top.
I took this from Google Images. But, then I ran the picture through posterization software (it essentially just lowers the colour count), so now it’s mine. Is that how fair use works? I’m using the picture for education (my education), so I think it’s alright.
I loved Marat’s Liturgy. I was raised in a very religious household, and hearing someone challenge those beliefs reminds me that we can still have these sorts of discussions. I’m afraid to talk about religion, because of the rampant Islamophobia and staunch atheism that exists in the West. I love Jesus, because he told cool stories, but I also want to challenge the human institutions that exist in the name of our bearded friend. I have some major issues with the Vatican in particular; a city of gold is cool in Indiana Jones but one in Europe isn’t nearly as enchanting. It’s a waste of resources, a dragon’s hoard of knowledge and art, and a symbol of greed that shines brighter than any humanitarian effort the church has carried out since the Crusades. Did I say humanitarian effort? I didn’t mean it.
Words can only be said so many times, before we say them without agency. They become echoes of someone else’s beliefs, or echoes of our own beliefs, from the past. No matter, it is the fact that we say words without actively considering their meaning to us and to everyone that makes language lose it’s power.
Additionally, the final outburst of the liturgy, when Roux recites a Devil’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, is a reminder to me that words can have great power or no power, and that it can sometimes be determined by the listener. I witnessed some folks cringe and similar folks giggle at this same scene, and decided there must have been invisible, cultural differences between them that dictated their reactions.
Playwrights do not write the truth, that is the job of journalists. A playwright writes fiction that reveals the truth. All of Marat/Sade was focused around the truth of revolution; the aforementioned cyclical nature of lower classes revolting, overthrowing, and establishing themselves, and then being revolted against by the newest bottom drawer.