The lights warm my skin and my body tingles under the weight of a hundred pairs of eyes. I take a breath. Unlabored, unstressed – I am at peace. In this fraction of a second, as I shed my own skin and put on another’s, that I find a piece of myself. As I deliver my first line I am no longer Kamryn Rayne Hannigan. My own self rushes away into the audience to rest as I lay down my problems and quiet the whispers in my mind.
A friend of mine asked me this year what the point of theater is and the obvious answer didn’t settle right with me. The theater is of course for entertainment, but my heart contained a much more passionate response than I knew how to put into words. For weeks I wondered about this question. I understood the significance of my passion, but the idea that the only significance people may see in the theater is for their own entertainment bothered me.
To me, the stage is a living breathing companion. I’ve cried on it. I’ve laughed on it. I’ve lived several lives on it and it has seen me grow up. It is timeless. On the stage I am surrounded by hundreds of stories that people have told, the words and lives of characters swirl around me in age-old whispers. When everything sounds loud and the world threatens to drown me, I step into the shadows of an empty stage and in the quiet, I am able to rest.
But that describes the relationship between the stage and my own soul. I have hours upon hours of rehearsal to develop a relationship with the setting and characters of a show while an audience only has about an hour and a half to connect.
At face value it is fleeting. But, that, I believe is the point of theater. In this short time, an audience engages in the suspension of disbelief and in this that theater works its magic. Art itself is designed to inspire emotions. From literal artwork to the films we see in movie theaters, the point is to make people feel something.
I believe this generation especially needs this. We live in a world where everything is measured out and calculated to reach some end goal. We want things when we want them, not a second after. We plan our lives to the very minute. But in the suspension of disbelief, we put our lives on hold and allow ourselves to just feel, with no consequences. Just raw emotion and uncontrolled wonder.
Theater inspires questions about society and self that we don’t allow ourselves to ask. Typically, society requires us to wear a mask to please those around us and save anyone from discomfort. But in the theater, opinions come free and masks get left at the door. People must lay down the control many cling to like a lifeline and just watch as stories get told and questions get asked.
We hope to change the world this way as actors. With cleverly disguised life lessons, a retelling of history and questions that send audiences home wondering. Wondering about themselves and about the state of the world.
When I deliver my final line, I release my character’s final breath and sense my own self-stirring. Not yet. I hold the young woman I have become close to my chest and memorized her. She was beautiful. Now she slips away from me and leaves a piece of her heart with my own. I am now Kamryn, but not quite. I have learned and grown a whole life through the eyes of someone else.
My final One-Act experience is not quite over, but as I stepped on stage for what could have been one of the last times I competed, my heart constricted. This was my moment. My moment to lay everything on the stage. Not to advance or to win awards, but to tell the story I fell in love with. A story of love and loss and letting go but moving on to something even more beautiful. And my heart expanded, melting together with that of my character’s and filling the stage.
In this moment of hesitation right before the lights came up, I found the purpose I had searched for. The purpose of theater is to simply tell a story. It sounds almost anticlimactic, but a story can be a million different things to a million different people. The telling of a story can bring peace, clarity, inspiration, love and every other thing that makes us human. The telling of a story has made humanity.