The Bubble Rule bursts (sort of): August 26th, part 2

Continued from here. Funny — this post somehow seems extremely important, one of the most important ones I’ve ever written, and that made me stop before publishing last night and reminds me of the extreme queasiness I felt on the day I’m describing. Have been to the bathroom twice now. Just write it down, Servetus.

***

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 11.06.53 PM

***

Up till now I’ve been writing about this performance descriptively and analytically, with an eye toward what my own observations might bring to fellow fans, especially those who have not seen the play, but also those who want to remember what they have seen. My notes from Tuesday night (which were delayed in composition) are exceptionally strange, even by my standards.

[And I interject to mark that as I force myself to revise this post, my stomach now empty, the Old Vic has announced they will film the production. I’m still going to write everything I know down, though, as this was a truly life-changing experience. Read or ignore at your pleasure.]

When you walk into the theater space, past the bar and into the seating, you immediately hear a very subtle monotone noise of something like drums or a very low percussive stringed sound. It evokes the mood of the play and sets your teeth on edge. Except my teeth are already on edge. I find my place, tuck my bag under my seat, and sit down and clasp my hands together and wait for the liturgy to start. I say שהחינו (Blessed art Thou … who has enabled us to reach this season) because it feels like that kind of moment. Maybe it should have been גומאל, although the journey doesn’t feel anything like over yet. And breathe deeply.

As I see Guylty sit down in the side stalls a bit later, my heart rate is still twice normal and my jaw is clenching. I am worried about proximity to Armitage, and my stomach is completely unsettled about seeing him play. I am sitting in the very front row. F19 stalls. I had seen pictures of how close I’d be to the stage, but still, I couldn’t credit it. LondonFriend told me that she felt the people sitting in the front row of the theater had a special responsibility, and she’s right: there will be no way not to be seen here. I can’t gauge it at all, but I decide that if I get too desperate due to proximity I can clap my hand over my mouth, or wait until a point when the audience is looking elsewhere and simply walk out of the theater.

The beginning is very atmospheric. The theater already smells inside as if someone’s cooking over a wood fire, and something begins to disseminate jets of smoke or fog from the margins of the stage. The lights fall. The movement begins. Proctor (Armitage) is the last to enter, and my view of him is obstructed, and that’s a good thing at this point, I think — I have established he’s there, but I don’t have to see him.

I’m familiar with the play from all the re-reading of it I’d done this summer, and so I know immediately that we’re seeing something incredibly special, an unbelievable piece of artwork that elevates a problematic source to an entirely new level. This turns out to be really useful, because I become engrossed in the play itself and watching all of the movement before Proctor’s first entrance in Act One. We’re seeing the show after the actors have had an additional night off, and of the performances I will see this week, this one has the highest level of physical energy. As the girls proceed to challenge each other over what they will admit to having done in the forest that night, my body becomes even tenser, watching Mercy Lewis (Zara White) threaten to hit Betty (Marama Corlett), and witnessing the malevolence in Abigail’s (Samantha Colley) every posture. When, standing not far from me, Abby throws Betty across the room, I and ever other audience member seated in that first row flinch.

And then he’s there.

***

The Crucible,Theatre Photocall, The Old Vic Theatre, London,UKJohn Proctor (Richard Armitage) ascends the stairs into Betty Parris’ room in Act One of The Crucible. Source: Geraint Lewis Collection.

***

My heart and my stomach leap, and I breathe in deeply through my nose, trying to grab some additional air, though luckily my body stays still. Here he is! Maybe twelve feet away from me. The real Richard Armitage playing John Proctor. I don’t twitch although my whole body would like to. Oddly, my first perception of him physically involves his hairline; my eyes focus on the texture of his hair against his scalp, and this will be a decisive perception all the way through my watching of the play. But the scene begins and it’s clear that it’s John Proctor. I don’t need my hand over my mouth; it’s enough to bite my lips. What a presence — he scares Mary Warren home, and then walks over to Betty’s bed, and as he says, “You’ll be clapped in the stocks before you’re twenty,” I relish the way he says “twenty” (Yorkshire accent most pronounced in this of all the lines in the play, I think later) and

I.

am.

lost.

Where I glimpsed him, earlier, in the play’s opening, and wondered if this was going to be another instance of feeling that I had just glimpsed or touched him with my eyes and he had slipped away, I now sense his full presence.

Richard Armitage, and he’s here, and he’s playing and I’m watching and not just watching, I am in the middle of it all. Immersed. He’s now two feet from me. I can feel the energy radiating off his body.

Armitage begins the next moment of the scene (telling Abby to put their relationship out of her mind) standing in left profile toward me, glaring for all he’s worth, and then moves closer toward her as he tries to press his insistence that their affair should be forgotten — and suddenly it hits me —

This is it.

It will never be any better than this. Never. No matter what happens.

This is flow. I am witnessing, experiencing unmediated connection between Richard Armitage and the primal energies of the universe. He is totally in what he’s doing, fully concentrated, fully involved, building the borders of a world with his acting, making this ephemeral thing for us and us alone to see — weaving together a world that will evaporate in a few hours, but in which, while we are there, we will be totally occupied, our every perception controlled by his connection with the sublime.

Sorcerer, indeed.

While it could be glimpsed in pictures, this is what I was supposed to see. This is why I was brought here in spite of everything.

Flow personified, embodied, demonstrated, projected. Taught? I have seven chances now and only seven to see what it is he is doing and how he does it, to try to plumb this secret of the universe. I lean in even more intensely, turn my sense receptors up to maximum, keep my eyes open as much as possible, breathe as deeply as I can and lose myself in looking.

***

3870831b“A wild thing may do wild things.” Abigail Williams (Samantha Colley) springs into the air as Proctor (Richard Armitage) looks on, in Act One of The Crucible. Source: Rex Images.

***

Looking. And the heady way that looking makes me breathe, makes me a part of everything that is going on around me. This is the thing that feels most real, that will feel most real all the way through these performances. Theater like worship.

I don’t fully understand why suddenly nothing else matters, at this early point, but at some point around Thursday it will hit me in a dream: The fascination with Armitage comes from the way it re-induced flow in me, and short of being able to attend a rehearsal, this is the closest connection to that process I will ever have. Yes, his person fascinates me, because I want to understand the man who creates the flow; yes, his appearance incites positive feelings in me — but in no sense I am witnessing an “act” here — while Richard Armitage is not John Proctor, the figure I am seeing on stage, too, is the “real” Richard Armitage. I’m not dichotomizing between man and art and indicating a preference for art over the man — because what becomes clear during this week as that at these immanent moments, the man is his art. This thing that he’s creating — it’s here that he’s at his most real, doing what he wants to do, making a beautiful thing that he wants to make for all of us. I am not only observing the thing, I am in the same room with him while he’s doing it, and as the play progresses, at times inches away from that creative process.

There is no “more real” of a Richard Armitage than this manifestation of John Proctor that he builds for us. On that night I am so captivated that I only sense this dimly, but it’s true nonetheless, as I think again and again — This. Only this. Only now. Nothing else matters.

Energy pours off him as he twists around Abigail’s attempts to capture him. His voice is deeper (but not hoarse to me — a longer post on this at some point, perhaps), and he uses the scratchiness he produces to good effect. At two places in Act Two I see things in the play I hadn’t seen before because of his acting, or find something plausible that has always bedeviled me about the play. He knows to play not only Proctor’s noble qualities, but also his ego, his defensiveness, his very real awareness of his sin — and to indicate how those things stand in the way of his navigation of this fraught, impossible situation. His brutality with Abigail in Act One is contrasted with the extreme tenderness with which he plays the opening of Act Two on this evening. And his physicality — Armitage’s real strength as an actor, his ability to fit his body into any position — it’s used here to perfect effect. He forces us to see him, to see Proctor. And when the action of the play finally reduces him to tears, then with his whole body. At the end of Act Two, when the court officials take Elizabeth away and he collapses in pain, his back is to me — and I can see every muscle in it move as he sobs.

People say he owns the stage. The power that pours off of him. This simply was not something I would have predicted from his screen presence, as much as it alone changed my life. Armitage — devastates.

The lights fall and the applause is thunderous. I say שהחינו again even though you’re not supposed to do that. I feel like I’ve reached a different season than the one I was in two hours previous.

Guylty and I meet up. I am — beside myself. Now that I’m no longer watching, I’m filled with a crazy nervous energy of the like I haven’t sensed in my body in years, and I’m not sure what to do with it. Ab jetzt, I say to her, nur noch Deutsch, because I don’t want anyone around us to understand the crazy level of excitement I am feeling. I’ve been nervous all day, but now every synapse in my body seems to be firing, all at once.

We walk outside so Guylty can smoke one and share our impressions. The discussion pours out of me, and her as well — how he acts with every muscle, the movement of his back, his own motion, the viscerality of his delivery, the alternations in the play’s tempo that pull us forward and backward, our doubt that this production can be effectively filmed — and I, we can’t stop speaking. (Her impressions, substantially altered by her change in perspective, are here.)

A down-at-the-heels-looking man about our age comes by and bums a cigarette off Guylty and is surprisingly well informed about Richard Armitage as the reason we might be there. “Is he any good?” the man asks us. Guylty gives him the cigarette — part of the smokers’ code, I’ve always thought, smokers are exceedingly generous with their poison. An usher see it and rushes over — to protect us from begging? — and to shoe us back into the theater. Guylty tips her half-smoked one into the street and she says, “Meet you afterwards? Are we doing the stage door?”

“It doesn’t matter if we do or don’t,” I tell her. “It just doesn’t matter. It — he, Richard Armitage — will never be any more real for me than he is now — in the way he’s made himself real after these two hours.”

***

to part 3.

~ by Servetus on September 5, 2014.

41 Responses to “The Bubble Rule bursts (sort of): August 26th, part 2”

  1. […] to August 26th, part 2. […]

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  2. So glad you have posted this now, Serv. I have much to say about my own reaction to the process of “creation” that I only felt so acutely that night, at that performance but wanted to read your take first. Not sure whether it was a particularly good performance, or whether my senses were heightened due to half reliving this through your presence, or whether it was the immediacy of the front row. But you have described it perfectly, even though I was not hit quite as poignantly as you, and much of it did not come to me immediately but only hours later when I contemplated what I had seen. The air in the theatre, however, was buzzing with creative energy, I agree, and I don’t think I have ever felt the presence of creativity in a theatre like that before (although I frequently experience that with music performance or with paintings/photographs). Much of that is probably due to wanting to feel it, and willing Armitage to exude it. Not that he knew ggg.
    And yes, that cigarette in the interval felt almost post-coital ggg

    Like

    • One more post on this night left … second half and stage door … it was hard to write this for some reason, but productive. I’ve got a few more hours now and I’m awake so I’m going to try to do it before I go to bed tonight.

      I absolutely agree with your take on “wanting to feel it” (and I would say — observing later performances that week, the cast definitely respond to what the audience wants, or there’s an interaction, anyway, and I think I also saw evidence of Armitage in particular responding to audience indicators) — but /and: that is significant, too. I’m always so convinced I have no effect, but if I / we can will creativity into being? We just have to figure it out and reproduce it. He was the conduit this time but he doesn’t always have to be.

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      • I have only ever “liveed” theatre as an audience member, but I am sure that the actors on stage subconsciously perceive the audience attitude. While I never noticed RA glancing into the audience during his performance, I caught other actors’ eyes a couple of times. They definitely notice the people who sit up front. Not to put pressure on anyone who has front row seats, but they are the mirror of the audience. That time I was in the front row I was completely absorbed by the action but I did notice how I and others would occasionally lean forward, or cover their mouths with their hands in shock or fear, or sniffle, or silently wipe away a tear. I think the actors perceive what level of interest there is and how involved the audience is, and they react to that. So there is a clear interaction there, and indicating involvement probably also serves as willing and wanting the actors to “create” visibly.

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  3. …..and….exhale. Our reasons may be different, but probably not, but your reaction and feelings of seeing this unfold in person in front of you I think would be the same if I were to see this creation live. Except I would have fainted of course. I think he has given us a glimpse of how he ‘is’ his art, as you say, during interviews where he dreams the dreams of his character and things of that nature. To see him do it live, up close and personal….Wow.

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    • he was definitely not having an off night — I wonder how I might have felt had that happened — but then again I didn’t really see an off night. And in all those hours I only saw one moment where I thought, he’s not in character just now. His concentration is simply phenomenal. Charisma or whatever it is — I might have fainted if I hadn’t wanted to know so desperately what he’d do next.

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      • Mind over matter, will yourself not to faint. Lucky you had multiple tickets, who knows what could have happened. Lol. He must exude charisma….I personally think that is what is really happening when PJ and others comment that he has that ‘rare ability to be still and yet still command the screen’ when acting…I think that is his unique and phenomenal charisma shining through and drawing your eye to his presence…I am curious as to how you perceived him at Stage Door.

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        • I had an investment in not getting sick in any way in London. Being an American abroad, even with trip health insurance, can turn into a nightmare. I was very careful to always wait for the light and not jaywalk 🙂

          Stage Door coming up.

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  4. So glad you went. Even more glad you’re writing about it. 🙂

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  5. Servetus, thanks for writing these insights. I was there, probably only a seat or two away from you on at least one night, and I’ve tried to write about it and I just can’t. I can’t collect my impressions or thoughts at all, even a week later. You are so incredibly generous to write the details, not just for those who couldn’t see it, but those who were lucky and could, and who can’t articulate in any coherent way what they experienced. Many thanks.

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  6. Great post. I feel like I’m there with you, anxious nerves and all!

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  7. Gratulation, zu allem.
    Deine Beschreibung deiner Erkenntnis, dein That’s it!-Moment …
    Es ist so einer der Momente, in denen sich alles ändert.

    Erkenntnis. Erleuchtung.

    Ein Schatz. Unbezahlbar.

    Kein Wunder, dass es dir so schwer fiel, darüber zu schreiben.
    Danke, dass du es getan hast.

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    • This post was weird to write because I know exactly what I felt but I didn’t have words for it and I just kept circling around what I was trying to say … thanks for your kind words.

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  8. sigh Thank you! So, you know why him?.. why me?

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  9. […] from here. Warning that some things I say here may be controversial from the fan […]

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  10. Reading your extremely detailed descriptions/thoughts about the Play I regret that I didn´t buy a ticket in the first or second row of Stalls (mine was 1st row of Dress Circle). That´s because I was afraid of the close proximity and my reaction to it… That makes your detailed writings so valuable for me! Thank you sooo much! Just like “Hedgehogess” said: Ein Schatz. Unbezahlbar!

    Like

    • This was something I wrestled with while buying tickets and I originally had several shows with tickets further back. My thinking about that changed, and while I ahd a great experience, I wish I’d had more time — maybe another week of shows — to see it from further away. But it is what it is. Luckily we can all exchange our perspectives on the thing.

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      • When I thougt about buying a ticket for a second show on August 12 (after buying a ticket for August 14 at the end of June) I initially thought about getting a ticket on the other side of the theater – because of the entirely different perspective. But then it took me too long to make up my mind and my choice was down to 5 or 6 seats with obstructed view in the Dress Circle. Too bad… but thankfully we´ll get the video. And I know that next time I will get the ticket for the best seat available (my learning experience… no chicken next time :-)).

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I’m not sure why but I am tearing up.

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    • Thanks — it was the general atmosphere that night — and it felt like that for me, like G-d had somehow put this thing in my path and I was so grateful …

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  12. […] this and wanting: to do the same, mutatis mutandis. To move people to joy, to tears, to change their […]

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  13. This is the first piece I’ve read about your trip and it’s riveting I envy you being able to describe an experience with such nuance. I’ve come to think of you in the same way I used to think about RA — a talent as big as yours should be shared with and appreciated by a wider audience.

    I was excited to hear the play will be recorded, but can’t imagine it’ll be any where near the experience you’ve described — the smells, sounds and energy. Not to mention the mind-blowing experience of being in a room with RA for 4 hours (or more) performing in this play. Can’t wait to read more of your analysis!

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    • thanks for your kind words. You’ve been reading along with me for so long while I’ve been learning.

      I think the download should come with an instruction: light sage smudge pot. But yeah — the unmediated proximity. It was wild. I still can’t get my mind around ti fully.

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  14. […] Richard Armitage is not religious and he follows an idiot atheist who’s got a big reputation on Twitter. But his religion (or lack of it) is not what’s important to me about him. […]

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  15. […] fangirls have a stance in-between. But, actually, I can observe everything in detail and have an incredibly transformative reaction to something, and still relativize my own observations and put my emotions in context! That’s […]

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  16. […] one does this perfectly, me least of all. But in the wake of all the inspiration I was exposed to in London, I was wondering what would change for me. Because I felt changed. I remember waking up on Thursday […]

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  17. This is soso beautifully written 🙂 and i am so glad you had this total experience with everything else that was going on, felt like punching the air reading this and saying: yes, it was aaaaall worth it for this 🙂
    I don’t know what he’s got but he’s got IT. I’ve not been as close in any of per performances, my closest was a side one in E right, and the first time was circle but yes you can physically feel the presence all the way to the back at the hall, that and the eyes. He might as well be next to you it is that tangible. And so is the voice, it not projected , it’s sort of vibrated across the air to you, as if it has physical shape. Yes it’s part of acting but it’s him at his most intense, as if when he acts these things in him warm up and he starts projecting vibes and they intensify the more he immerses himself.
    And then he collapses it all back down when he is off stage, no idea how he does it. Maybe those are 2 of his states, the vibrated and the still state 😉

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  18. […] What an amazing manifestation that was — I think the memory will always leave me a little trembly. Then there was stage door Richard Armitage. Richard Armitage(s), I should stress again, perhaps? I still haven’t managed to make myself look at my photo with him from that night, but here he is at the stagedoor after that performance, an excerpt from this photo. […]

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  19. […] about it. As you can see, I have no shortage of material to put on the blog, still.) That night when I saw Richard Armitage at work in the flesh for the first time was a highlight of my entire lif…. It felt like a self-betrayal not to document it as it […]

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  20. […] Richard Armitage. I still don’t know how badly I want to watch the Digital Theatre video, for the night I first saw you in the flesh was among the nights of my life I will always remember. When I am an old woman, gasping my last, my […]

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  21. […] gone on pilgrimages. We’ve had (personal and less personal) encounters with him, with heartening or affirming results. Many of us would say he’s a life-changer. We’ve got (however tongue-in-cheek) shrines. […]

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  22. […] So for me, anyway — Armitage was a focus point of flow, and that recognition was underlined when I saw him perform in London: […]

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  23. […] you that there could be a significant parallel for me here. I could’ve gushed just like this last August, and it’s amusing to think that maybe Armitage is performing behavior he’s […]

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  24. […] on stage again, I had that visceral feeling that I had on the first night of Armitagemania, and at the first time I saw Armitage on stage in London. It doesn’t happen all that often — maybe one other time in the last eighteen months […]

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  25. […] I had loved The Crucible so much. Seeing it was transformative. I felt like I’d do anything to see that play. And even though I was excited by the script, I […]

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  26. […] The first night I saw him on stage was life-changing. I will never forget that moment. Love, Love, Love, although not the masterwork of theater that The Crucible was, was still worth every bit of time, money and effort I spent on it. He’s right — there’s an energy that goes out from the stage that is not like anything I’ve experienced on a screen. I’ve accepted (in the course of all the vagaries of this spring) that there may someday be a stage performance I won’t be able to see — but it won’t be for lack of trying. The jolt from The Crucible has lasted me for years. […]

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