Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Stage

In those days, the State made actors of us all.

Not stars, you understand, but extras, walk-ons, the kind of people who played their part and tried not to be noticed. Taking whatever roles we were assigned because to refuse was to risk vanishing into the nameless wings. Memorising our lines, learning the script by heart, because the slightest fumble, the smallest pause could be the end of us. Never, ever daring to improvise.

Every day we would step out onto the great stage of the city and find the play of History in progress. We would join in, not knowing whether the people we crossed in the street were fellow actors or part of the audience. Or fellow actors playing the audience.

We never asked what the play was about, what it meant, or whether it was a good play. We knew only that it was a tragedy, and that it had a certain desperate realism. It was all that we were allowed to know.

Somewhere out there were the critics - watching us, judging us. We had no way to know what they were thinking, no way to defend ourselves against the secret interrogation of their eyes. By the time we heard from them, it would be too late: the judgement would have been passed, the act completed. There would be no appeal.

That is why we never relaxed, never dared to step out of character. Even in the green rooms of our own homes we continued to wear the pose, the expression, because who knew what was behind the mirror or when someone might come bursting in through the door?

There were many of us in this play - an entire country performing in the theatre of oppression - and yet it always felt as though we were alone on stage, as though we were reciting a well-rehearsed monologue, and every eye was on us. If we made a mistake the curtain would come down and it would all be over. But if we were clever, and very, very lucky, we might just get away with it - escaping with only the wild applause of our own heartbeat to mark the unforgettable performance of our lives.

[Inspired by Das Leben der Anderen]

7 comments:

N said...

An evocative piece. Coincidentally, I am reading Orhan Pamuk's Snow and your post sort of fit my mood just now.

Chevalier said...

:) I couldn't help but think of V for Vendetta when I read the post...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Either too much Wagner or too much Mann.
Or maybe it was the cheese.

J.A.P.

Szerelem said...

It's such a good movie isn't it?

Falstaff said...

n: Thanks

chevalier: Haven't seen it, so can't comment.

JAP: Mann I get. But why Wagner? This is so not his style.

Szerelem: It is indeed. Though I suspect my take on it was a little different from yours. I found the bits about "no one who listens to Beethoven can be a bad person" childish and annoying - the one false note in an otherwise pitch perfect film. What I loved about it was the way it showed how the communist regime was as much a betrayal of socialism as it was a travesty against individual freedom. Brecht, I think, would have approved.

Szerelem said...

hmm well that's fair enough. That part was very idealistic and I think a large part of why it touched me was due to the actors. (Though I have to admit I am the kind who turn on the waterworks at the movies).
What I also loved was just how well it showed that faith and belief in the system eventually counted for nothing anyway. It just ended up being self defeating in the end.

Anonymous said...

I found it really interesting that the two protagonists the "good men" were also really good-looking and the others, the "wicked" ones, all looked really ugly and old and just non-sympathy generating.

n!