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make eye contact

I stood in the door awkwardly. There were no free tables, just a couple of vacant stools in the corner opposite a girl who was typing away frantically on her phone. I sat opposite her and hoped she wouldn’t mind. After I’d ordered my food she turned to me and asked in Chinese if I could understand the whole menu. She looked me straight in the eyes and I couldn’t break away. I felt nervous to talk to this stranger and yet, curious too. I asked her where she was from, what she was doing in Shenzhen and if she spoke any English. Even when neither of us weren’t talking, we didn’t stop making eye contact. I wanted to look away but I knew everyone in the small restaurant was watching us talking, and if I looked down at my hands it might have seemed rude. Eventually my phone beeped and I looked straight at it to see what the message said. A few minutes later she picked up her bag, said goodbye and walked off into the night.

Why are we so scared to make direct eye contact with someone? Sometimes it comes so naturally that I don’t even notice I’m looking at someone and not breaking away, but other times I feel self-conscious and try to focus my attention just over their head. Usually this only happens with people that I find it difficult to connect with, or with people who are so intense they make me feel uncomfortable. With the stranger in the restaurant, I felt a bit anxious because we were discussing my Chinese level and I was constantly thinking to myself, am I pronouncing this correctly? What could I say next that would highlight my actual ability, etc. But then she was gone, the moment was over.

Moments. I attended an acting class last night for the first time in years. I was so excited to experience some real, live acting, as opposed to being in a dark studio by myself recording my voice. I felt like my 9 year old self as I walked in the door, remembering my very first drama class from 18 years ago. I was nervous then and I was still nervous now. Nervous excited, with a flurry of curiosity at whether I could actually still act. Then I put that worry away because we can all act. We might not be very good at it but whatever smidgen of talent we have can be nurtured and turned into something remarkable. Actually, for me, acting has always been a cathartic process. The minute it became even a little bit competitive, I wasn’t interested. I like acting because it always highlights parts of me I never knew existed. It allows me to deal with any demons I might be hiding, to bounce off my own experiences for the purpose of art. I’m sure there was a moment in time where I loved acting solely because I enjoyed being the drama-queen, the centre of attention. I got such a rush from pretending to be someone else. It was thrilling and I constantly lived in a make-believe world. When I got to high school though, something shifted. I realised that I couldn’t just ‘pretend’ to be someone else, I actually had to full-on BE that other person if I wanted my performance to be realistic. I turned to method acting and started taking it really seriously. If I had to be out of breath then you could count on the fact that 5 minutes before I had to be on stage I’d be running around the building until I could hardly breathe. If my character smoked, I would join my friends on their cigarette breaks. Somewhere along the way I wondered if this was too much?

Last night I remembered where these moments come from, moments where you forget that you’re acting, where you can’t even see that there is an audience out there. You’re making contact with your fellow actor, whether it be eye contact, physical contact or emotional contact, you’re connecting with them on an intimate level, creating a moment that resonates inside your very soul and sends sparks out into the audience, reeling them into the world that exists right now, here on this stage. Every single time it’s magical and it reminds me why I love acting. Lately I’ve been wondering where my inspiration had disappeared to, but after last night I know it was still inside me, lying dormant, just waiting to be reignited and brought back into being.

I am excited again. I barely knew any of the people in the class last night and yet I feel like I know them on some different kind of level now. I can’t wait to see what will happen in our next class. The amount of respect and patience people had for each other in the class was incredible. People voiced their fears, their hopes, their concerns and no-one judged. Everyone listened. Wouldn’t it be nice if the entire world acted like that? Listening to each other, making eye contact and being honest…it would surely solve all our problems.

Good to know I’m still a dreamer.

Acting, it is so nice to meet you again, I have missed you so much and I didn’t even realise.

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