Chapter 02: Greek Chorus, Weep For-Us*
* a rhyming couplet
The Greeks had it right when they invented the Chorus, a device oft used in the theatre to represent the mass conscience, the us-ness. The word, in fact, contains the Greek roots Chor-, meaning “many”, and -us, meaning “us”. Many us. While Ajax runs about on stage, the Chorus weeps and bellows and neighs and stammers, acting as his foil. While Medea contemplates bloody acts, the Chorus stands by, singing and dancing to a Greek song we cannot hear but know by heart. Even Electra, with her seven heads, cannot undo the power of the Chorus and its collective winning smile.
But what can you, the individual actor, learn from a Chorus? A: That acting is an ensemble. We must become one with the All before becoming one with only the One. That is acting. To speak lines as one body, one mind, is to disguise yourself in a crowd and still be heard. That is where you will begin your training: in the crowd. To recall our previous chapter, have you ever seen Cornish game hen in anything less than a pack unless they be about to be killed? Acting solo is a killer. But if the hens were to act as one mind, one body, they should not be et so easily. We are fortunate they are stupid. Otherwise, they would become the master, and we the slaves. The killer would become the slave. To the hens.
Right now, I want you to put on your shoes and go outside. Find a group of people and be with them. It doesn’t even matter if you know them, you will disguise yourself in the crowd using acting. Don’t try to control what they do and where they go, simply be part of their roaring river, see where it leads you. And only when you are ready, try to influence their direction, their mass opinion. You might be surprised what you learn. If you are caught and asked to leave the group, you have become the killer. If, however, you are successful, answer the following questions:
Did it feel natural?
What did you say?
What did they say?
Did they say it naturally?
Why did they say it?
And then what did you say?
And so on.
Don’t be afraid to give in to the mass. That is the only reason we can eventually step forth alone and kill and win awards. Ensemble building is one of your most powerful tools as an actor. I was an ensemble member in a 2002 production of The Vagina Monologues and found that when I allowed myself to be part of the mass vagina, I was uplifted, feeling something very close to enlightenment. When the show closed, we all went round the pub and drank as one mighty body. But when I caught a cab for the ride home, I had split from the collective body. I had become my own killer. And I threw up a lot.
But one day, you too shall hunger for this meat, you shall grab a spear and leave the safety of the village to hunt for game. And when you return, you shall be a man/woman.