Reading John Stange’s previous blog post (check it out if you haven’t, it’s lovely) got me thinking about isolation, both in the story of “The Scarlet Letter” and in the playing of that story.
My character, Arthur Dimmesdale, lives in a self-determined isolation. No one points a finger at him. No one gives him a mark of shame to wear on his chest. Dimmesdale’s isolation is that of the man hiding in plain sight. He feels love from those around him that he knows he doesn’t deserve and is stealing with every breath he takes. Though he does the best he can to help others, he cannot escape the crushing self-loathing that comes with “getting away with it.”
Since no one is there to punish Arthur, he punishes himself, through actual self-torture, but also through self-imposed isolation. He keeps everyone around him at a distance, including the woman he loves and the daughter who doesn’t know him. He gains a trusted friend, yet keeps that friend as far away from the truth as he can. No one gets close to Arthur. No one touches him.
Now, this is all lovely intellectualizing on my part, but that last sentence – particularly “no one touches him” - came alive for me during rehearsal the other day. We broke from our usual work of talking through the script and how to best use our voices to bring it to life in order to get on our feet and physicalize the text. “This might seem stupid,” our director, Renana, said to introduce the idea. It was far from stupid.
In our little rehearsal room, Jennifer J. Hopkins and I played through a pivotal scene of reunion that, until we actually touched, had remained more based in idea than experience for me. In this run, I was able to feel the warmth of another’s touch and take solace in it as both actor and character.
For Matt, the actor, the solace came from a trusted colleague’s acceptance of what I was bringing to the scene. It was thrilling after days of working in a bubble called “Dimmesdale.”
For Dimmesdale himself, the solace was deeper. It became clear to me that Arthur had finally, finally allowed someone to pull him out of hiding. He was exposed, with the full sight of another upon him and with that other’s full acceptance. It’s freeing and beautiful, however fleeting it might be.
This was truly helpful, as it gave me the best sense yet of what’s on the other side of Arthur’s isolation. What he might just earn if he punishes himself enough, saves enough souls.
What I hope for now is to keep that relief of being seen in the final broadcast, even though most of our audience won’t see a single thing. To make the connection for Arthur from a music stand, into a microphone, through a laptop or a set of speakers or earbuds or what have you. I’m enjoying the challenge.