Yesterday, a professional musician read aloud The Prayer of St. Francis. The man wasn’t performing for the crowd. He was reading as though the prayer had been written for him.
The intonations and musicality of his voice lured me into loving the words. I questioned the opposites contained in the prayer. Are they better served verbally? Or silently?
Does an effective “channel” speak love or just show it somehow? How is it easiest to receive vibes of pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy? Is it best to transmit consolation, understanding and love with an act of invisibility?
People who personify the virtues listed in St. Francis’ prayer are rare, but Susan Boyle came to mind. Did she have years of invisibility? Did it magnify her beauty?
The prayer says, “It is in dying that we are born…” Being, instead of being seen, disciplines the ego and makes room for giving.
I wanted to know: How can I construct my own invisibility?
This question first arose in the early 1970s in London, Ontario. I joined the London Little Theater Group and was given the role of a seductive secretary in a murder mystery. I was overjoyed until I realized my character was murdered in the first minute of the first act. My only lines were repeats of phrases spoken by my lover/boss. I was taking shorthand while he dictated a letter. I didn’t even have to do a dying scene. The lights went out, a shot was fired and when the stage was lit again, weeks had passed.
That kind of invisibility was easy. The mystery revolved around my character and I didn’t have to do a thing. I sat bored and impatient backstage, waiting for the end of the performance so I could do curtain call with the rest of the cast.
Stan, a professional actor who had retired in London, was a small, quiet man with powerful stage presence. His role in the play suited him – a quiet, polite, detective who matched the cunning of a yet-to-be-famous Columbo. His role required a deftness that caused players, and certainly audiences to forget he was on stage.
“How will Stan ever be invisible on stage?” I asked the director.
“It’s one of the most challenging roles for any actor,” he said. “It’ll be especially tough for Stan because everyone likes to watch him.”
“Does that mean the other players have to do a good job of distracting the audience?”
“That’s important, but Stan can’t count on that. What if the other players don’t pull that off? The story relies on his shadowy observations and impeccably timed responses.”
During rehearsals, I popped in, did my one minute on stage and left. I didn’t have a chance to ask Stan about invisibility. He was continuously engaged with fellow cast members.
We had a packed house each night of both weekends. I wanted to watch Stan in action, but had to stay backstage. It wasn’t until the cast party that I finally had a chance to pose my question.
“Stan, apparently you mastered invisibility every night. I’d love to know how to do it. Is it the opposite of acting?”
“It’s a wonderful and artful challenge. It’s customized with each play, each cast and each setting.”
“But how do you do it?” I asked.
“I think myself into a state of not being available. I’m absolutely still. I don’t draw attention to my character in any way. I work with the timing of the other actors as I blend in with the scenery, the movements, and the mood. I imagine myself small until it’s time to step back into the spotlight – big as life.”
“So…you are turning your visibility off and on in accordance with what’s around you?”
“Yes. For me, being invisible requires more acting than being center stage. It’s draining. It is the most intense, yet rewarding, acting I have done. It’s terrifically fulfilling.”
Here I was, yesterday, listening to a professional musician invisibly read a prayer. I listened to Susan Boyle sing the St. Francis prayer with the power of coming out “big”. I remembered a gifted actor teaching the art of invisibility.
Am I any closer to knowing how to channel the virtues named as opposites in the prayer?
I’ll have to see how invisible I can be. However,I’ve learned one thing. An act of invisibility is a supreme act of giving. Self-willed or not. Both have purpose.
Can you become invisible?