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Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Proscenium Arch

I had a sweet singing voice as a kid -- the sort of accurate tunefulness that you don't necessarily expect to hear from a child, and a cute, wistful sense of feeling, you know the type. Oh, my pleased, proud parents! When Mum was a kid, she always wished she could sing. Her father (not a particularly nice man) told her not to be stupid, she couldn't possibly be any good at anything like that. As for my father, he loves to sing. Unfortunately he can't sing for too long without his voice getting hoarse, because he damaged his throat when I was still a baby with a few too many late nights of singing at his regular restaurant slot.

My father in particular was always very keen for me to sing with him. If he couldn't sing as much as he'd like, at least he could play the guitar for me. And thus it was that I ended up singing for grandmothers, aunts, uncles, godparents, family friends, the occasional work colleague or graduate student of my father's, and, really, all and sundry who passed through our house.

The first time my father suggested I sing for some family members, I balked. Squirming, I got up and tried to sing, only to duck away shyly. I didn't dare thus set myself up as worth listening to, and leave myself exposed to evaluation of the implicit claim. I didn't want to have to watch their real-time reaction, right there in front of me. I just ... didn't want to sing.

But I am not, and have never been, a shrinking violet. I hate that girly shyness modesty stuff. So the second time, I steeled myself, and sang. The response was positive, naturally. I do not think I really expected anything else. Responding without seeming proud was definitely one of the more uncomfortable parts of the stomach-churning experience. But it didn't put me off. Most of the time, when my father suggested I sing, I sang.

When it came to solos with the school choir, I quickly became blasé. But with small audiences, in the living room, there's always that core of fear in your gut. You can learn to set it aside to let the song through, but it never really leaves you. It was always there, from the sweet little performances as an eight year old until the day when I was sixteen and finally made enough of a fuss that my father had to stop telling me to "oh, come on, they're expecting it". On stage, it's different. On stage, you have the proscenium arch. It separates you and the audience. It frames what you are doing. It says "this isn't real", and under that cover you can be as real as you like.

Poetry is a proscenium arch. If it's a poem, you're allowed to speak floridly. If you want to exaggerate, it's merely hyperbole. If you want to spill your guts, well, nobody really has to respond to it as anything but a poem, do they? Verse is a particularly good proscenium arch: pay your dues to the gods of rhyme and metre, and you are officially excused the accusation of complete talentlessness and lack of effort.

The separation provided by my pseudonym 'Lynet' can act like a proscenium arch, too.

Nearly all forms of art have a proscenium arch of sorts. The effort to transcend that separation can sometimes mark a piece of art as particularly good, but at other times it's the cover provided by the form that allows the brilliance of honest expression. "I give to you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion," says Tennessee Williams. Well, that's what the proscenium arch is for.


L.L. Barkat said...

Interesting. I'm not sure I have any particular pro arch. Real name is out there. Soon the real story will be too (in March). Maybe it will just be the art of the words that gives some sort of screen. Still, I'm not so sure about that. It's not like there will be any particular form to hide behind. I guess we'll have to see what happens.

So, now, why do you like to have an arch? That's the most interesting question, I think.

Lynet said...

Gosh, yes! You've cut straight to the heart of the matter. I can tell you this much: I feel safer with a 'proscenium arch'; peculiarly enough I am more likely to feel like I am putting myself forward without one, and I think that would be true even if the facts of the case were the same apart from a small symbolic separation.

On the other hand, the best moments are those when I trust the people around me enough to speak freely as myself. Giving honestly of yourself is one of the most important kinds of courage there is, and to do so in person with no 'proscenium arch' in the way is particularly noble, in my opinion.

The Exterminator said...

I think your analogy of your name to a proscenium arch is more apropos than you might have suspected.

The proscenium arch is also a way of focusing attention on the action happening below it. Yes, it frames the events on stage, but not necessarily as a device for dividing them from the audience. The proscenium arch defines the physical limits of the action, and keeps it in focus.

So your pseudonym acts as a proscenium arch in that way, too. It frames what you write here, but rather than separating you from your audience, perhaps it brings your audience closer. Because it also defines how you see your blogging persona, and keeps the reader focused on what the part of you that's Lynet has written.