Whoosh! Issue 73 - October/November 2002


By Catherine Michaud
Content © 2002 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 2002 held by Whoosh!
1993 words

Happy Prologue to the Swelling Act (01-02)
Strange Matters to Beguile the Time (03-04)
Fair Is Foul (05-13)
A Poor Player Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Stage (14-17)
We Will Proceed No Further in This Business (18-20)


Happy Prologue to the Swelling Act

The Region 1 DVD has a packet of beach sand included as an extra

Program for the 2002 Shakespeare by the Sea Productions: Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing

[01] I had arranged to meet my friend Michele, a prosecutor, at the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts around 3 PM on July 26, 2002. I was hoping to see her make her closing arguments in a carjacking/evasion case. We had planned to head to Hermosa Beach afterward to see a free outdoor production of Macbeth. Although I am passionate about the Bard, and I do not mean the one from Poteidaia, normally I would not drive two-and-a-half hours to see a Shakespeare play -- not even a free one. However, I had to drop a friend at LAX anyway, and I had not seen Michele, who was one of my best friends in college, in six or seven years, so the trip was dual-purposed. As it turns out, this particular production starred Renee O'Connor as Lady Macbeth.

[02] I happen to be an enthusiastic fan of the wonderfully corny show Xena: Warrior Princess. Although I am not a rabid, convention-going Xenaphile, I admit to owning the entire video collection. My curiosity to see O'Connor in another role without the safety net of retakes overcame my inertia.

Strange Matters to Beguile the Time

[03] From the courthouse, we drove to the play in separate cars. The traffic was bad, and Michele missed a turn. Feeling ravenous, we had to stop at a Subway for sandwiches. Hence, we arrived at the park with only moments to spare. We sat in the back at the top of the hill behind a tree trunk because all the unobstructed spaces were taken. This was not tragic though. I merely had to crane my neck occasionally to see around the tree.

[04] The production was quite good overall because the acting was fantastic. Patrick Vest who played Macbeth, was excellent, delivering his role with a growing insanity and malevolence as the plot developed. Renee O'Connor , who performed her role with perhaps fewer nuances than he, was the perfect temptress: sensual, deep-throated, and strong. Her hair was a rich auburn color, and for this role, the makeup/hair artists had fitted her (or perhaps she had fitted herself, as this is a non-profit gig) with long, invisible extensions that flowed nearly to her waist. She is tiny in person, although that did not become noticeable until afterward, because Patrick Vest is not himself a big guy.

Fair is Foul

[05] I had already planned to try for autographs, one for me and one for a Xenaphile friend of mine back East, even though I am conflicted about requesting autographs of stars in general.

[06] The line was long for O'Connor but almost nonexistent for Vest, so I asked him for one first -- he did play the title role, after all. Then I stood at the back of the line for O'Connor. Most people had brought cameras to take her picture. I had already decided against that as being too much. Too much what? I do not know really. Perhaps it is too much to ask from someone I do not know. I had the same reservations photographing strangers in Europe during a recent vacation.

[07] The line moved quickly. As I neared the front, I could not help but notice that O'Connor looked like a deer in headlights. She was pale in her makeup, her wide, green eyes were enhanced by stage mascara, and conversation with her fans was nonexistent. Not, I think, because she disdained her fans -- she had an air of sweetness about her -- but because of the sheer number of people and amount of attention. It was as if she was overwhelmed by camera flashes, greetings, fans, bodyguards, stage managers, and producers. No one seemed to notice the awkward freneticism of the moment. Hundreds of people wanted something from this tiny, pale, frozen, wide-eyed, and empty-faced woman. What did we want? A piece of her. We were lining up to dine on road kill.

[08] Perhaps it was I who was overwhelmed.

[09] Just as the group ahead of me asked for pictures, Michele saw some people she knew, and dashed off to speak with them. She then had me turn around to introduce me to them. When I turned back, I found myself staring into the belt buckle of a large man who was holding out black-gloved hands toward me. I was confused and tried to edge around him, as I felt the invasion of my space, but he stepped with me. I realized he was a bodyguard. Another large woman dressed the same stood a few feet away, creating a human gate to Renee O'Connor.

[10] The fellow towering over me instructed the people ahead that only one picture was allowed. I asked asininely whether she was still giving autographs. "One," he said gruffly. He took the programs I had vaguely proffered and handed them up the line toward O'Connor.

[11] I looked around to see if Michele was behind me; I knew she would let me have her copy of O'Connor's autograph. She was still off down the hill talking with her friends. I turned back to have a signed program shoved at me. I had not seen O'Connor sign it. Indeed, I had my back turned to her. I did not even receive it directly from her hand but through the mediation of several anxious protectors. Determined not to seem like a rude and complete idiot, I think, I hope, I piped something like, "Thanks, Renee. Well done."

[12] Her eyes met mine briefly, but they had the distant look I am sure I get when I feel overwhelmed. She became momentarily present, and her lips moved slightly to mumble, "Thank you," or some such thing. The next person was then herded forward. The distant look in O'Connor reasserted itself. I walked off to the side, holding one signed program in my confused hand and feeling my heart beating in my throat.

[13] I had not realized until that moment how nervous I had actually been. Then I immediately felt the urge to escape. It was as if somehow I had become this dumb, blind sheep, and needed to reassert my individual worth. Yet, I was also determined to acquire an autograph for my friend too. I found Michele and persuaded her to stand in line for one. She was shuttled through just the same, but because it was not a big deal to her, she emerged from the line without the disappointment I had experienced.

A Poor Player Struts and Frets His Hour Upon the Stage

[14] The poignant distaste I felt got me thinking -- especially considering that I do not feel the same way about getting authors to sign their books for me. In fact, I cherish my signed first editions. I recall the envy I felt at holding in my hands two of only six extant signed editions of Virginia Woolf's experimental novel The Waves, which my Master's tutor had received as gifts. So what is the difference? Why the distaste at getting autographs from performers? It has something to do with masks.

[15] Upon my return home, I tried to describe the feeling to my friend Kevin over the telephone. He said, "It's because they don't know or care about you." I thought, he is exactly right. I do not know or care about them either. I know and care about the characters they portray. I care about Gabrielle, not Renee O'Connor. I "know" Gabrielle, not O'Connor.

[16] The difference between a performer and a writer is the source. Writing comes directly from the author's mind. When you read my words, you are reading my mind. Edited, it is true, but my thoughts nonetheless. Writing, if it comes from the heart, is the closest thing to being inside someone else's skin whether it is fiction or non-fiction. It is for this reason that I am so nervous about sharing my work. Readers will literally be judging the contents of my brain. They will see what is important to me. They will see my hopes, my fears, my fantasies, and my disappointments. My grammatical errors. So, when an author signs her book, she is putting the official seal of her personality on a window to her soul. That is what makes it different for me. I feel as if I know something of the author, although the author does not know me. At least, I can know the part of her that she willingly shares through her work. It may not be a reciprocal relationship, but it is a real one. A respectful one.

[17] The art of performance is different. A character, unless created and performed by the same person, does not originate in the mind of the actor who portrays him or her. Indeed, what the audience sees, especially in film and television, is a combined effort of writer, actor, director, editor, cinematographer, costumer, stunt double, etc. An actor's greatest goal is to "disappear" inside a role. In other words, Renee O'Connor uses her experience, body, and emotions, to enact a role. She, herself, is hidden away inside that exterior.

We Will Proceed No Further in This Business

[18] The nature of performance creates a public that is absorbed with the acquisition of autographs, interviews, and small peeks into the private lives of stars. We love the characters they embody, and we secretly wish characters and actors were synonymous. This creates a weird hunger and desire to discover the reality behind the mask. We want our fantasies to be real despite knowing, intellectually, that this is a foolish wish. An autograph is a mere hint of the reality of an actor's personality. Yet, the personality is inaccessible to fans because of the nature of the art, because of the distance enforced by bodyguards and managers necessary to ensure the safety and comfort of the celebrity, and because of the need to tailor an actor's public image to enhance the star's career.

[19] My distaste was not because of Renee O'Connor, but because of me. I allowed myself to be sucked into a yucky adoring fan haze. Yucky because during those moments in line, I forgot that I was waiting to obtain a signature from a complete stranger who happens to be pretty good at a job that puts her in the public eye. Yucky because I want a signature to mean something. Yucky because it did not.

[20] I will continue to enjoy Xena: Warrior Princess reruns because it is a great show with great characters. I will continue to follow both Lucy Lawless' and Renee O'Connor's careers because I enjoy the work I have seen so far. Nevertheless, I think I will reserve autograph hunting for authors' readings.


michaud Catherine Michaud
I spend nine months of the year warp-- I mean shaping, young minds as a middle school English teacher. On weekends and holidays, I write, I travel, I frequent coffeehouses, and I spend as much time outdoors as I possibly can.

Favorite episode: Comedy - A DAY IN THE LIFE; Drama - WHEN FATES COLLIDE
Favorite line: Gabrielle to Xena: Can we cook with your juices? A DAY IN THE LIFE; anything by Callisto before she became vapid vanilla girl in Season Five
First episode seen: ONE AGAINST AN ARMY
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS



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