I’m from Romania, and there, when people are talking about “acting behind the glass,” they are usually referring at acting on television. I have no idea if this is true in U.S. as well, but either way, I discovered a new meaning for this expression: The non-metaphorical one.
Last spring I created a show for The Romanian Cultural Institute, called “The Window." It was happening in the storefront of the Institute, and the actors were literally performing behind the glass, for the people who were just passing by. The show was extremely visual, and though it featured no sound at all, the actors were still saying lines – only those lines were never heard from the sidewalk. We wanted it to be this way. However, even though you couldn't hear anything from the outside, you could hear very well from the inside. The actors could hear all the comments the spectators were making. It was a once– in– a lifetime experience. Imagine you are performing on a stage, and you can suddenly hear the uncensored thoughts of your audience. “Sexy outfit,” one may say as you make your entrance. Or, while your paralyzed character is trying to reach for a glass of water, you hear a group of girls cheering, “You can do it! Go, go, go!”
It made me think: How can you keep your focus and concentration when you can hear a live uncensored narration of every move you make? As an actor, you know you are judged in every moment of your performance, but how do you deal with hearing the judgment while you are still performing?
I have no “definitive answer” to this, but here are the two ways we tried. One is to use all your strength to ignore what you hear. The second is to embrace the input. In the first case, you have to use all your energy to dive deeper into the character – so deep that you can actually press the “mute” button on your surroundings. The great part about doing this is that it tremendously improves your capacity to concentrate in any conditions. To practice, just ask your roommate to talk to you while you are rehearsing a monologue.
In the second case, the skill that you work on is the improvisation. Without responding directly, you take into consideration and apply the feedback the spectators are giving you. You change the rhythm or the tone depending on the comments you hear. Even though it may seem that your concentration breaks, it actually increases. To practice, ask the roommate to comment on your monologue while acting, but this time, try to respond within your acting.
You are probably thinking, "What are the chances that you will perform behind glass anyway?" And you are half right. True, performing behind the glass is not the most common thing. But judgment is part of any actors life. Even though you may not hear it as directly as my cast did, you can still feel it. So, why not be prepared for it?
Ana Mărgineanu is a Romanian theater director. She recently started PopUP Theatrics, a site-specific theater company, in partnership with Tamilla Woodard. Ana’s work has been presented in the main cities of Europe as well as in New York. Her shows won multiple awards, including “Best Play” at London Fringe Awards ("The Sunshine Play") and “Best Show” at the Romanian Comedy Festival ("5 Miraculous Minutes"). She is also an alumnus of The Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and a founding member of The Internationalists. Ana worked as an associated professor at the National University of Theatre and Film, Bucharest, and she has lead acting workshops in Athens, Bucharest, New York and Mexico. For more information, visit www.anamargineanu.com.