Come Into The Fire

Dateline: Monday

This past Friday the author left Shreveport, Louisiana in a little red car and drove to Columbus, Ohio, arriving in said town at about 4:00 (local time) Saturday morning.  At 9:20 am (local time) he joined with colleagues in discussing heady questions of Russian and Slavic drama at a comparative drama conference.  By 2:00 pm (local time) the author was back in the car driving the interstates of the United States on his way back to his house in Shreveport.  He arrived home in Louisiana about 5:30 on Sunday morning.  Why did he do this?  Don't ask.

Nevertheless in watching the world crawl by in mile after mile across the interior of the continent, there was a spare moment for contemplative thought. Long drives are part of the contemplative life.  Several topics eased their way into the author's mind -- everything from the relative benefits of breakfast cereals as road-trip snacks to the question of geography.

Add into the mix the wonders of late-night radio.  People who stay up all night and call into radio shows are different than the majority of people.  All-night people are purely creatures of technology.  In the "olden days" 'regular folk' would sleep during the dark hours and work during the light hours.  So we already know that late-night radio is geared toward people who don't live 'regular' lives.   

It turns out there are people who believe there is an actual planet -- not an asteroid, but a planet -- called Planet X.  Supposedly this planet will make a fly-by of Earth's solar system sometime during the month of May. When Planet X does its fly-by (not surprisingly) Earth will fall victim to cataclysms undreamed of by the apocalyptic writers of ancient times.  The Earth will stop rotating.  Massive earthquakes, storms, tidal waves, and general chaos will ensue.  A woman who serves as spokesperson for a group of extra-terrestrials called "Zetas" gave all this news with all the passion of someone giving the hog futures from the Chicago Board of Trade.

If you happen to be reading this from the vestige of a ruined continent after the devastation of the Planet X fly-by, please feel free to say, "I told you so" to me.  I can bear it.

Needless to say, this author is somewhat skeptical about the possibility of another planet becoming peripatetic.  But what I find striking about this (as with every apocalyptic, dystopic announcement of this kind) is the evident need in some people to blow off some steam by projecting the eminent destruction of the Earth.

Which leads me again to think about geography.

Acting is all about geography.  An actor on stage must traverse the scaffold.  She treks a journey across a fairly small section of real estate.  When directing his masterwork production of The Inspector General, Meyerhold restricted his actors' available geography by staging most of the play on small platforms -- squeezing anywhere from half a dozen to more than two dozen actors on a wagon about 3 by 4 meters in area. No room for the actor hide in that miniscule geography.

Acting for the camera is even more curious in its use of geography. The actor might work in a huge sound stage in front of the screen in which expansive computer-generated vistas will later be added.  Yet the actor and director are left with the geography of the lens.  Regardless of the mind-blowing epics imagined by our best directors, the filmmaker must reckon with the reality of the geography of the human body.  Regardless the size of the vision, the human body must fit within the sights of the lens.

Most people, even in the global village with super-sonic transportation, live large parts of their lives in relatively small pockets of geography. I work in a theater building.  I come to my office.  I walk to the rehearsal space.  I walk into the auditorium or onto the stage.  Sometimes I even venture into the lobby.  I go home.  In my town I have my regular haunts.  Small amounts of geography.

In the next several months I will be moving from Louisiana to start a new life in another somewhere.  As I write this column, I contemplate talking with a group of voice students for the last time.  Every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the past year, I've met with these good young folks.  But after tomorrow these regular meetings will end.  And these good young folks will start their travels without me to remind them "Relax," "When in doubt, physicalize," and the hundreds of other things I say.  What will I say to them as they move on with their encounters with the geography of sound?  What should I say?

Geography is an amazing thing.  Our notions of space can shift and change with our moods and our circumstances.  When a Polish director meets a young woman who is the daughter of an old neighbor from Warsaw in a theater lobby in Iowa City, the world can suddenly seem small. When you lose track of your traveling companion at the carnival, the world can suddenly become amazingly immense. Riding on the Ferris Wheel, a person is lifted above the Earth to an awesome height and then plunged back into the smell and noise and life of the midway in a regular cycle.  Earth grows and shrinks before your very eyes!

But as actors, the greatest geography is the miniscule acreage of the eyes -- the portals that open up into infinite geography of the human spirit. Is it not appropriate that the smallest part of us is the gateway to the wide, unexplored expanse that makes us uniquely us?  For the best part of us is that we are human, even when we imagine the death of Earth at the hands of Planet X.  We are humans, not Zetas.  And when true humanity occupies the stage or the lens -- the geography is full to overflowing.

Now that's a world worth exploring.

©2003 Nathan Thomas

For more commentary and articles by Nathan Thomas, check the Archives.


Nathan Thomas has earned his
living as a touring actor, Artistic Director, director
stage manager, designer, composer, and pianist
He has a Ph.D. in Theatre and is a member of
the theatre faculty of Centenary College


Nathan Thomas

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International Magazine of Theatre, Film & Media

May 2003

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