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The Performer versus the Artist

Théun Mares

Friends, this afternoon was X's final rehearsal for the retreat performance. The rehearsal was at the College of Music, UCT. The room was a piano practice room, tiny! No room to move, so the audience, X's mother, the guitarist's mother and I sat outside in the corridor opposite the open door!

X was nervous, but sang like a dream, and moved like only a heartfelt professional star can move! There was no sound equipment, all the instruments were muted, and X used a dummy mike, but she held that mike and sang into it with all her heart, and without any strain projected into the words of the songs every fibre of her being! It was one of those rare moments in life, a moment that is never coming back - one and a half hours of heart-rending beauty shared with a few fellow travellers upon the Path with a Heart! A mere rehearsal on a Sunday afternoon, but for me personally so much more poignant than the glamour of a performance! Words can never express the raw nerves, the open vulnerability of the artist in rehearsal giving his or her everything with the clear intent of being able to deliver an utterly impeccable performance, for perfect it is never likely to be, no matter how well rehearsed! I found myself fighting back the tears for most of the rehearsal!

Audiences only get to see and to applaud the finished product, and although every artist lives for that moment of being on stage, yet deep within his or her innermost being there is always an indescribable melancholy and, all too often, a devastating sense of emptiness! This is something only a performing artist can grasp! Performances are like wonder-full meals that take hours of preparation, but that are consumed within a few short minutes by diners that, although more than generous in handing out compliments, nevertheless leave the table gorged and bloated, and thinking only of going to bed!

The performance is great, yes, and the audience goes home well satisfied and already planning when they can attend the next performance, but how does the artist share the blood, the sweat and the tears that have gone into making that performance? How does the artist share the journey that has taken years and years of an utterly ruthless and most unforgiving training, the great many disillusionments and failures that threaten to strip one of any sense of self-belief, and the endless disappointments that eat away at a hope that is not allowed, can never be allowed, to waver even for one moment? Do those few moments of success upon the stage, even with thundering applause at the end, do true justice to a journey never shared, simply because it is not shared, and neither can it be shared?

Hence the melancholy and the sense of emptiness! To walk onto an empty stage at the end of a performance in which one has given one's all, and to look into that empty auditorium is to know with every fibre of one's being what it is to be alone, and what it means to empty one's cup so that finally it may be filled with that all-one-ness that makes for the good, the bad and everything in between! Performers are lonely people that seek out one escapism after another after every single performance! But the artitst learns to savour the journey until he or she has be-come the journey! How can one justify seeking to escape the Path with a Heart?

But by far the greatest source of the artist's melancholy lies in the difference between rehearsals and performances. When an artist walks onto stage and gives his or her everything, of course, the audience will be on its feet, shouting and screaming and clapping! Many will say this is only but right, for surely it is the artist's just reward for having delivered a truly memorable performance! But those few rare individuals who are in the know applaud more quietly, and do not shout bravo or demand enchores, for they know just how very empty is that moment of success! This is the distinguishing mark between the performer and the true artist!

The performer goes through the rehearsals so as to exist for the limelight and the recognition that comes with success! The artist lives for the rehearsals so as to give expression to his or innermost be-ing, the performances being mere stepping stones, mileposts, marking the journey! To the performer recognition is every-thing! To the artist, vulnerability to criticism is the journey to all-one-ness! The performer exists for acknowledgement on stage! The artist lives to receive criticism in rehearsal!

When I looked into X's eyes at the rehearsal this afternoon I saw that openness, that vulnerability that comes with wanting to learn, and even though she had her nose up against a brick wall, and a dummy mike in her hand, she sang into that mike and to that wall with all of her heart, but also with the nervousness that is born of the expectation that she is going to be corrected, criticised, any moment! How does one express this in words, other than to term it humility in learning what it is to love? X's eyes were reflected in the eyes of her accompanists, no matter how much older and more expreienced than her they are! As I stood in the corridor facing these four people in that tiny rehearsal room, I was, like so many times in my life, totally overcome by the unspoken re-quest in their eyes: "Tell us how we can improve our skills!" How can I possibly verbalise my feelings in that moment? The point is I can't! A handful of friends met, their hearts touched each other's ever so briefly whilst they shared for one and half hours the journey upon the Path with a Heart! When they meet again it will be for the performance, and another milestone would have been reached, another retreat will be over, and they will smile at each other, hug, and go their separate ways in pursuit of their learning, their rehearsals, to achieve the most impeccable performance they are capable of!

Strange how life works! Why, at this precise point in my life was I taken back to the College of Music, with the Ballet School just across the narrow little street named Lover's Walk, to rehearse X for this retreat?! Never have I felt the impact of the Cry of the Eagle more profoundly than this afternoon! And to top it all, as fate would have it, I was alone, like all the many years during which this specific spot in Cape Town had been my "rehearsal turf." Yes, X's mother was present, and, yes, I could sense that with all her heart she was supporting my purpose in willing X to give her best! But strange how alone I was! Strange how the Cry of the Eagle sounded in my ears! In being back at UCT after so many, many years, and specifically now that the Cry of the Eagle has been sounded, I truly felt the aloneness of the all-one in handing over to humanity its heritage! Consequently for me, the re-treat started this afternoon! Never have I felt more humbled by the truly wonder-full privilege of being able to tread the Path with a Heart!

I just wanted to share this with you all.