Inspiration, stealing Petra

By Diana Ashjian
March 17, 2005

Shawn Rice

I only looked up once accidentally, pulling myself back into reality. “Oops” I thought to myself, “it’s ok just keep dancing around and playing drunk. No one noticed but the one I made eye contact with I’m sure,” I told myself. On March 11, the opening night of “Miss Julie,” my name was Petra and I was the housemaid of an estate in Sweden on Midsummer’s Eve, 1890.

“Miss Julie dances with the stable boy,” I sang out while I purposely stumbled and felt the electrical buzz only pure adrenaline could elicit. And for the first time in a theatrical sense I really felt powerful. The stage was mine (to be shared of course).

It was then that I felt I knew the mystique of gypsies and the romance of Shakespeare. The magic inside the wand of a magician and the electricity that lies inside a streetlight that changes from red to green and whispers, “go.”

You see, what I really felt in my performance is that we are so alive. Imagine lights bright enough to blind you not only from a crowd, but also from the physical restriction of solely being you. Weeks of grueling rehearsals and late night train rides led me to become a thief who got off “scot free” and a sort of medium between what’s real and what isn’t.

I stole some fabricated person’s essence right out of thin air and grabbed hold of some energy that could never exist offstage or even in dreams. I became imagination mocking hum-drum monotony and wasteful, useless worry.

It seemed like every moment was marked with the intangible that finds the weight of gravity for the first time. Well, every moment, that is, except for the one that pulled me outside my character and forced me to experience stage fright for the first time. I wonder who that person was that didn’t even know their beckon to me as they sat there and innocently watched the lights, the camera and the action. I also wonder if my next performance will hold the knowledge of an audience or if it will transcend reality the way an act is supposed to.

The way I see it, the next time I become the breathing creation of a character I’ll have already had experienced what it feels like to be a deer in headlights and there will only be room for Petra for every moment that she existed in the mind of August Strindberg, the author of “Miss Julie.” Until then, “Miss Julie dances with the stable boy” again March 17, 18 and 19 inside the theater of Grace Hall.

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Diana Ashjian

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