On Character (vol2)
I was 12 when I joined the Girl Scouts, and in the summer they took us out into the wilderness to camp, and one night also outside the camp, into the forest. They trailed the girls into a straight line, strictly without our flashlights, it's called Courage Trials: a few miles of rope between black trees, you grab on tight to its burning fibre, and you walk along, uphill, deep into the dark. You hear your breath, and everyone’s steps, and you try not to faint or bump into anything.
I was new in London and late to Punchdrunk, so I grabbed a classmate and went to the old Royal Mail building to watch the show, theatre students are entertained as education. I was handed the famed mask, not surgical, but covering the whole face, the artistic concept is that the audience is ambulatory but unseen, and something in me just flipped there, I went a little bit wild, yes, attempted to brain my way into the performance space behind the usher, touching the doorjamb, trying the hinges, convinced this was already a test, part of the play. The real entry was in fact quite boring, the gate at last opened to customer care, and when the masked customers flocked as one to the right I broke straight off, split off to the left into the dark.
There’s a stillness to floors that you devour for least light, the corridors, the passageways, the pitchest blacks — hearing fast heartbeat, to dare my desire to stair-climb, I surprised actors at rest, amid smells of the backstages from my childhood, the wood, the burnt paper, the cable rubber, swording against all that dark ever so safely, in these laboratory conditions, such controlled explosions, what’s the worst that could have happened, pushing toward what’s hidden within stage perimeters. I surfaced somewhere at the finale of Woyzeck, missed two thirds of the production, and at the end felt so stirred and so informed that I stood up my poor classmate, and slipped out to the Tube to be alone with it all, and my soles hurt from the three hours I tripped.
In my line of work all you have to guide you is character: every day is new, every day something is done for the first time, the situations, the technology are always fresh. You inquire, you decide, you moralise over firsts, and you hope you’ll have the spine, that you shall have the wherewithal, for whatever you find in there, for whatever finds you in there after you dived. We leave our original contexts, and build our selves like fiction, to be freer and be stronger, and are left for good with this restless fealty to character: the only rope, it makes all other tasks seem undignified.