Playing Through the Pain

It’s my cat’s fault.

Specifically, it’s the fault of her favorite chair, the chair I’ve been using for my home office.  It’s from somewhere in the mid-60s, its internal swiveling mechanism is unstable, and it wheels around my apartment on broken casters.  It’s also torn to shreds – because the fabric it’s made of is rough and makes a certain calico of my acquaintance very happy.  When I’m not using it, she’s claimed it as a combination bed, scratching post, and jungle gym.  When I am using it, I’ve been subconsciously adjusting my body position to compensate for how wobbly it is.  And since we’ve had two and a half years of a pandemic (it’s still going strong, you guys) that has had me using that chair a lot, I’ve been doing a lot of compensating.  Until this past Wednesday, when my body finally told me enough was enough, and I pulled something in my lower back.

Which wouldn’t be the biggest worry in the world, and wouldn’t warrant mention on my actor’s blog like this – except that I had a show to do the next day.

Now fortunately, this show is a ten-minute piece that’s part of an evening of one-acts.  I enter, remain standing the whole time, play my part, and exit.  We had to do a bit of reconfiguring of the backstage traffic in between shows, and who assists with what set-up – humiliating enough, as it made me feel like something of a prima donna (I can’t bend, you guys, oh woe is me).  But the actual performance I was there to give?  I could still give it.  No problem.

Well, it always feels like a problem.  I’ve had to play through the pain before, as have we all.  Back in the early days of Classical Theatre of Harlem, we had extraordinarily physical productions that more often than not took a toll on me.  I remember rolling my ankle in a leap to the stage on one show, scraping my foot against a courtyard railing during a chase scene in another.  Unless something has gone catastrophically wrong, the audience isn’t aware of anything.  But you are.  You know that, after all the work you’ve put in during rehearsals, you’re now forced to hold back, not playing at your full capacity.  It’s infuriating.

But that very frustration tends to provide a nice jolt of adrenalin, and when you combine that with the fact that you’re presumably acting – staying in character, projecting strength and vigor even when it’s left you – the audience stays with the show.  The injury doesn’t derail anything.  The show goes on, the audience applauds at the end, you take your bow – which now has a subtle new element of triumph, as you’ve successfully overcome this newest obstacle – and go home to rest.

Of course, there’s a reason I’m writing all this in the weekly blog post – I couldn’t take that moment of triumph this time.  I can’t properly bow at the moment, you see.  Lower back trouble.

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