The Aesthetic Experience

Recently I was at The Globe. Yes, I know it’s a reconstruction, (actually I visited the carpark of the actual location as well!) truth is I am ready to give a standing ovation at any time to this fact as Sam Wanamaker is now my personal hero for all his hard work and patience on the matter of reconstruction. Visiting The Globe was a milestone in my life and I definitely will never forget it. 

Taking in the wonder that is living history, at The Globe in London England, 2014
Taking in the wonder that is living history, at The Globe in London England, 2014

The new theatre with Wanamaker’s name is unlike anything I had ever seen. I have read books, written term papers, watched movies, and seen plays ABOUT the time period (Jacobean in this case) but never had I been in a living history museum to one. Because truly that is what both theatres are: triumphs in preservation that people can now participate IN history rather than just witness it in books and pictures.

Inside the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse  photo by Pete Le May
Inside the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
photo by Pete Le May

The Globe iss in off season until the weather shifts to a more comfortable temperature – so my friends and I booked tickets to Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for The Knight of the Burning Pestle which turned out to be the perfect fit for us. It was exactly the right amount of historical nods: to entertainment: to experience. The groundling heckling, the archetypes, the space itself! Oh the space itself! It was all candle lit! No electricity!

We stood, yes stood, in the Lord’s Box which is to the immediate house left of the stage. We were basically on top of the stage, right by the balcony of musicians. (You can see it there in the picture ->) I didn’t even mind standing for 3 hours! I was so engaged by the space, the actors, the story – all of it was, in fact, overwhelming me.

I started to cry. I had a body rush of adrenaline and I wanted to laugh but I cried instead. I was having an aesthetic experience right there at the first intermission of Knight of the Burning Pestle. My friends laughed, half jokingly, at me for doing so – but I can’t blame them. It’s hard to explain what I was feeling.

Aesthetic Experience is “…a sense of being both an observer as well as a participant, a sense of being both detached and yet involved. A sense of timelessness in the event often occurs, and time is expressed as being either compressed or dissolved; that is, it is described as being extremely focused in a moment or a person or a place, while at other times it opens out and expands into a sense of the infinite, the limitless in scope or space…often a peculiarly heightened sense of wonder, elation, or awe accompanied by a fresh awakening to the sense of one’s smallness in the face of the vastness, the limitlessness…an experience involves often a sense bordering on delight.

-http://www.collaboration.org/98/spring/text/08.aesthetic.html
Me at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, post cry
Me at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, post cry/AE

I remember when I was in high school when my art teacher, Mr. Craig, was trying to explain to me what an aesthetic experience (AE) was. Technically this experience is “your personal interaction with a work of art.” He tried to explain to me that when I have that almost black out feeling, that body shiver, that catch of breath in my throat when I see theatre – that THAT is an aesthetic experience. My body is reacting to the art. I seldom get a full AE from visual arts, I sometimes get it from music, but the most intense ones are from theatre. I always felt silly for them when I was a kid, not understanding that the knot in my stomach from watching shows at the Pantages Theatre combined with the giddy feeling I was having – I just thought I was the crazy little redhead everyone told me I was (I was a bit high strung as a kid, gee that’s a surprize.) But that intense bodily response was a connection to the show, the actors, the theatre, the audience, the WHOLE experience. I was having an AE. It started when I was 7 and I saw The Phantom of the Opera. What a show to throw me! That show was built to give you an AE: everything was over the top beautiful.

And so I was hooked. I remember walking out of the theatre and beaming up at my mom saying “I want to be Christine Daee!” and my mom saying “Oh, hunny, you can’t be Christine, she’s not real. She’s an actress.”

And so here we are. The reason I’m an actor is because I’m an AE addict. I want to GIVE that feeling to people. I want you to feel that connection with art. I want you to have that feeling: that body buzz when the curtain opens; that head rush of joy when the sword fight is flawless; that stomach ache as the ingénue pleas for her life; THAT feeling. That is what I crave every time I step into a theatre.

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