Alrighty, these blog posts are starting to turn into “the relationship between theatre and existentialism,” which is fun. I really enjoyed reading Camus’s passages on the actor relative to the absurd, because I had many moments of whoa connecting to my understanding of performance and creation of art. The view that acting can be a way of preserving the absurd through maximization of awakened experiences makes sense, because an actor has the potential to play so many parts and create many lives on the stage to experience. Camus makes an important distinction that not all actors are absurd/awakened people, but the profession or hobby is an absurd pursuit which may attract the “lucid heart” (77). Simply acting doesn’t automatically make someone aware of the absurdity of the world, but theatre may lend itself to the philosophical concept well. Also, there Camus is again with his theme of the heart—so far, I’ve mostly imagined the concept of the absurd as cerebral and aloof, wholly detached from the mechanical life with the absurd person observing as if in an orbiting space station. But I’m realizing that as much as absurdity can come from a click of detachment, it can also arise from being so entrenched in trying to understand life that you realize that it is futile, so the heart converts to absorbing the experiences in a heightened manner.
Theatre is certainly a heart-driven activity. One of the beautiful and thrilling characteristics of it is the ephemerality of performing live on stage; each moment is unique and depends on the energy of the room, the way your words and actions fall that day, how the audience reacts… all of these components and more shape a slightly different outcome. A unique iteration occurs and then that episode is gone—but, an actor has many opportunities to have absurd experiences over and over again. Today we have the means to easily record performances, but when it was more complicated than whipping out an iPhone to “capture the moment,” Camus describes the implications of theatre’s fleetingness on an actor’s career choice (78). In this profession, recognition comes in the action of doing the acting, as compared to an author who can leave a legacy through their written, documented work (hi Camus!). For a performer, “not acting is dying a hundred times with all the creatures he would have brought to life or resuscitated” (78). In this quote, Camus emphasizes that maximization of awakened experiences preserves the absurd. I’ve had some absurd incidences on stage—after repeated rehearsing, my body knows what it’s doing so thoroughly that during a show I have moments where time prolongs and I can step out of the intense focus and take in the scene as an observer, keenly aware that I could do anything in this second, that I’m still performing, that the audience is looking at me, all in some meta state of tranquil hyperawareness. In being mechanically prepared, my consciousness has a chance to escape and experience the event from a different angle.
Camus talks about losing oneself to find oneself, which also connects to the meditative or out-of-body experience that you can get while performing. Losing yourself can be performing so intently that you pop into a different plane and realize the world’s absurdity. Finding yourself can mean being so immersed in the story that you deeply identify with the character and notice their characteristics even in off-stage life (79). Camus claims that an absurd actor can experience and travel the whole course of an “exceptional life” in 3 hours when it takes an average audience member their whole lives to do so (80). But beyond preserving absurdity, the magical thing about theatre is that it is meant to draw in an audience member and help them think in novel ways. Performance aids in self-discovery for both actor and audience. You’re meant to view a state of life and emotion on stage that might not be fully familiar but that you can begin to understand better because you’ve experienced it through this medium of visual storytelling. Despite the possibility that there is no meaning in the world, theatre can still help us have vast and transformative experiences.