#19: Sebastian at the Iowa Caucus

Dear Friends,

I’m not called to rehearsal today– four of my five scenes are in the second half of the play, so I’ve got a light schedule when the company’s working on the first half.  But there’s always stuff to write about:

Whenever I’m playing a role, it’s like having another pair of glasses to look through.  It can get pretty consuming, and you can find yourself making the weirdest connections between your life and the role you’re working on.  Last night I was watching the Iowa Caucus on C-Span, for Pete’s sake, and it occurred to me that all those confused Iowans were a bunch of Sebastians walking around.  Bear with me, I’ll explain:

Although Sebastian’s tale is by no means the central focus of Twelfth Night, it’s still a really interesting story, when you think about it: His dad, who was presumably an impressive, reputable man, has recently died, and now he (and his sister) are on a boat (heading who-knows-where) when the ship sinks, his sister dies, and he gets rescued by pirates.  Not a good year for Sebastian.  And he’s young: all the descriptions of him and his sister (who is identical to him) are that they are fresh and innocent, somewhere between boy and man.  So that means that he’s at that age and level of experience where everything is HUGE, new, and scary.  I think he was probably pretty sheltered; I don’t think he’d ever really travelled before, or encountered much tragedy, or ever fallen in love.  And now, all of a sudden, he’s completely alone, hugely impressionable, and just wandering around this foreign land, encountering circumstances that are so outside his realm of experience that he can’t help but feel that either he’s insane, or everybody else is.  (Madness is a major theme of Twelfth Night, by the way; our text coach Gale counted something like 40 occurrences of the words “mad” or “madness” in the script.)

Okay.  So all this stuff is percolating in the back of my head while I’m watching C-Span, which was covering the caucus of a little precinct in Des Moines.  It’s transfixing to watch: all these focus groups, each one supporting a different candidate and trying to rally the required 15% (in this case, 57 people) to make their candidate “viable,” or ballot-worthy; people (in this case, wide-eyed Iowans) walking around from focus group to focus group, sensing a great deal of responsibility in the decision they have to make, trying to make the right choice.  What’s truth?  What’s spin?  What should I believe?

There were essentially two groups of people at the caucus: the persuadable and the persuaders.  The persuadable were the people walking around, open to suggestion, weighing their options, trying to figure out who, or what, to believe.  The persuaders were those people who were smart enough or dumb enough to believe something really strongly– strongly enough to try to convince other people to believe what they do.

I think Sebastian’s an example of the persuadable.  I think he’d be walking around that caucus slightly suspicious, but slightly enamored, of every candidate in the room.  Nothing is certain; anything is possible.  I’m like that, too; I’m always a little bewildered by people with deep convictions and unswavering certainty.  Isn’t there always something they might not have considered?  Which leads to the question, which is more naive: to have no opinions, or lots of them?

Playing a role, to me, is an attempt at forgiveness– in the sense that you’re taking a walk in someone else’s shoes and attempting to consider the world from a different perspective.  Consequently, you open yourself to the possibility that there is a truth that’s different than yours– or larger than yours, anyway.  Which is great– those are the seeds of compassion.  The flip side, though, is that the more open you are to new truths, the less certain you can be of any one.  Hmm.  Is THAT why actors are crazy? 





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