Michael Billington







On Acting


Welcome to Michael’s ‘Intimate With Strangers’ Page 6


‘Let us give a new play,’ said the Director to Maria, as he came into the classroom today.

‘Here is the gist of it: your mother has lost her job and her income; she has nothing to
sell to pay for your tuition in dramatic school. In consequence you will be obliged to
leave tomorrow. But a friend has come to your rescue. She has no cash to lend you, so
she has brought you a brooch set in valuable stones. Her generous act has moved and
excited you. Can you accept such a sacrifice? You cannot make up your mind. You try to
refuse. Your friend sticks the pin into the curtain and walks out. You follow her into the
corridor, where there is a long scene of persuasion, refusal, tears, gratitude. In the end
you accept, your friend leaves, and you come back into the room to get the brooch.
But - where is it? Can anyone have entered and taken it? In a rooming house that would
be altogether possible. A careful, nerve-racking search ensues.

‘Go up on the stage. I shall stick the pin in a fold of this curtain and you are to find it.’
In a moment he announced that he was ready.

Maria dashed onto the stage as if she had been chased. She ran to the edge of the
footlights and then back again, holding her head with both hands, and writhing with
terror. Then she came forward again, and then again went away, this time in the
opposite direction. Rushing out toward the front she seized the folds of the curtain and
shook them desperately, finally burying her head in them. This act she intended to
represent looking for the brooch. Not finding it, she turned quickly and dashed off the
stage, alternately holding her head or beating her breast, apparently to represent the
general tragedy of the situation.

Those of us who were sitting in the orchestra could scarcely keep from laughing.

It was not long before Maria came running down to us in a most triumphant manner.
Her eyes shone, her cheeks flamed.

‘How do you feel?’ asked the Director.

‘Oh, just wonderful! I can’t tell you how wonderful. I’m so happy,’ she cried, hopping
around on her seat. ‘I feel just as if I had made my début... really at home on the stage.’

‘That’s fine,’ said he encouragingly, ‘but where is the brooch? Give it to me.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said she, ‘I forgot that.’

‘That is rather strange. You were looking hard for it, and you forgot it!’

We could scarcely look around before she was on the stage again, and was going
through the folds of the curtain.

‘Do not forget this one thing,’ said the Director warningly, ‘if the brooch is found you are
saved. You may continue to come to these classes. But if the pin is not found you will
have to leave the school.’

Immediately her face became intense. She glued her eyes on the curtain, and went over
every fold of the material from top to bottom, painstakingly, systematically. This time her
search was at a much slower pace, but we were all sure that she was not wasting a
second of her time and that she was sincerely excited, although she made no effort to
seem so.

‘0h, where is it? Oh, I’ve lost it.’ This time the words were muttered in a low voice.

‘It isn’t there,’ she cried, with despair and consternation, when she had gone through
every fold.

Her face was all worry and sadness. She stood motionless, as if her thoughts were far
away. It was easy to feel how the loss of the pin had moved her. We watched, and held
our breath.

Finally the Director spoke. ‘How do you feel now, after your second search?’ be asked.

‘How do feel I don’t know.’ Her whole manner was Ianguid, she shrugged her shoulders
as she tried for some answer, and unconsciously her eyes were still on the floor of the
stage. ‘I looked hard,’ she went on, after a moment.

‘That’s true. This time you really did look,’ said he. ‘But what did you do the first time?’

‘Oh, the first time I was excited, I suffered.’

‘Which feeling was more agreeable, the first, when you rushed about and tore up the
curtain, or the second, when you searched through it quietly?’

‘Why, of course the first time, when I was looking for the pin.’

‘No, do not try to make us believe that the first time you were looking for the pin,’ said he.
‘You did not even think of it. You merely sought to suffer, for the sake of suffering. But
the second time you really did look. We all saw it; we understood, we believed, because
your consternation and distraction actually existed.

‘Your first search was bad. The second was good.’ This verdict stunned her. ‘Oh,’ she
said, ‘I nearly killed myself the first time.’

That doesn’t count,’ said he. ‘It only interfered with a real search. On the stage do not
run for the sake of running or suffer for the sake of suffering. Don’t act “in general”, for
the sake of action: always act with a purpose.’

On Acting
















On Acting