Fact, Fiction and Bullshit; Honesty in Art

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

My first year of college, during one of our first acting classes, our teacher had each of us volunteer to tell any story that came to our mind relating to one of a bunch of objects in the center of the room. People picked up objects and told stories from their lives. Some were funny, some were sad, some were personal, some were casual. One guy picked up a ring and told us it reminded him of one that had belonged to his sister and told us the story of how she died. By the end of it, people were aghast. He finished the story and the whole class whimpered in sympathy, moving in to hug and cry and learn and grow as theatre students tend to do. And then he said
“I’m fucking with all of you. I don’t even have a sister.”
And everyone laughed and praised his “acting” and how good he was at just making up a story like that on the spot.
Except for me. All I could think was
“Wow. What a dick.”

Ten years later I went to The Liar Show, a show where four people tell stories of things that have happened to them and one of those stories is a lie.  Peter Aguero told a story about standing up to his abusive father.  It was full of emotional honesty and raw vulnerability.  It was hard for him to tell, a confession he had never made out loud.  His voice broke when he told the story and he had to leave the room after telling it.

And then he turned out to be the liar.

Everyone was shocked.  No one has seen this coming.  His own mother thought that the story was true and she was in the story.

I wanted to be pissed off that it wasn’t true. I wanted to think he was a dick, just like I had with my classmate. I expected to feel ripped off, manipulated, annoyed that I’d been touched so deeply by something that wasn’t true. But I wasn’t. And I couldn’t figure out why.

And then Peter told me that the first part of the story was true but the actual fight had never happened. The fight was what he had wanted to happen. And THAT was the difference. The story he told wasn’t a lie. It was wasn’t true but it was what he wanted to be true. It was fiction. He had honestly said what he needed to say, what he was scared to say in front of an audience. He just changed the story to make it more compelling. It’s still the truth, in a way.  It’s still honest.

Because when Peter finished his story I thought “Wow. That was a really hard story for him to tell.”
And when my classmate had finished his story I thought “Wow. I think this guy is full of shit.”
And I was right.

People can tell when you’re telling the truth. People can tell when you’re being vulnerable. People can tell when you’re scared to say the things your saying.

Also, Peter’s not a dick. That may have helped.

Too many solo shows I’ve seen have been tied up in what REALLY happened, so the story gets messy, the ending is unsatisfying, because it’s got too much reality. The audience doesn’t care about your life, they care about your truth. And it’s your job to clear the way to the revelations your experiences have brought you.  Sometimes that means bending the truth so that people know what you learned and how it felt.  Maybe your ex didn’t slap you but it *felt* like he slapped you.  Just say that.  And change his name.

Most, if not all, fiction is a confession in disguise.

I’ve pimped for Peter Aguero before and I’m going to do it again because he’s doing another production of Bare and this time the stories are all his and they’re all about the darkest time in his life. I’m doing two acts in it and I couldn’t be more excited. These are new acts and you won’t see them anywhere else because one of them is damn specific and the other one is dead depressing. BUT I’m really proud of them and they’re totally worth seeing.

Check it out. Have your heart broken and your naughty bits awoken, perhaps simultaneously. Wednesday the 25th, 9pm at Under St. Marks Theater: 94 St Marks Place. All for a mere $5.

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