An Unspoken Spark // by Alexandra Silber
Actor Alexandra Silber feels a bond that transcends words while waiting in the wings.
I came to know of and work with Transport Group at the beginning of 2011 as a cast member of their immersive production of Michael John LaChiusa’s Hello Again, directed by Jack Cummings. It was my first job in New York.
When Jack gives me another chance to write for this series, perhaps I will tell you all about rehearsing this show above the old (sadly now closed) Pearl River in SoHo, the parrot that lived there named Rudy, and the seemingly centuries-old elevator that Nikka Graff Lanzarone (who played The Whore) was constantly getting trapped in. I can tell tales of our 3 a.m. tech rehearsals lit by the late-night streetlights of our beloved New York City.
I can also recount with vivid detail my epic hours-long audition for the project in which I read and sang for every. single. female. character. in the play, and yes, sure, brought little props and different outfits for each (and perhaps more remarkably, that everyone just sort of let me do that…).
I can recount the company’s first publicity photo session filled with a little bit of nudity and a whole lot of laughter, and I, newly arrived in New York City, wore not much more than Bob Stillman’s arms.
Ultimately, I was honored to play The Young Wife amidst a cast of some of our most gifted singing actors—as brilliant as they were brave, and it’s been a joy to see them skyrocket personally and professionally. It has been equally thrilling to still be on the same text thread with all of them 10 years later. It is a testament to the ferociously devoted companies Transport Group builds, but also to the indescribably powerful bonds the theatre fosters, building families out of an aggregate of strangers.
But I am not going to write about those wonderful memories.
Today I am going to write about a memory emblazoned permanently on my mind as perhaps one of the greatest theatrical moments of my life. A small moment. A moment in which I did very little. Being an actor can be virtuosic, but just like in life, sometimes the magic happens in the silences.
On December 18, 2017, I was participating in a benefit concert of Man of La Mancha for Transport Group—a blinding collection of Broadway’s finest had been lined up to share the leading and supporting roles, and to sing every note of the score with a full orchestra. I was assigned some lovely moments that evening to offer my take on Aldonza—the whore Don Quixote perceives to be not only an angel, but his true love.
None of those moments was more precious to me than the scene leading into the finale of Act 1—the anthem of the evening and delivering the message of the play itself. I spoke a few words, I looked Jason’s Quixote in the eyes, and then? I listened. I bore witness to Jason Danieley singing “The Impossible Dream,” and it forever, alchemically, changed me.
At this time in my life, I was rumbling with a crushing experience with a chronic illness (that I have now, gratefully, recovered from and cured). I didn’t know how to operate in the world, I didn’t know what it meant to be well—what kind of healing to ask the Universe for.
Jason (a genius I’ve respected for decades and a friend I’d made my Carnegie Hall debut with a few years before), was facing his own personal “windmills” that frankly, aren’t my stories to write about.
Both in rehearsal earlier that day, and backstage before the scene, we didn’t speak of any of it. We didn’t know the details of one another’s’ struggles exactly, nor do I believe we needed to. But as we stood in the wings preparing to walk out together, I felt something connect us—like a chord of light wrapped gently around each of our hearts, not tugging, not forceful in any way, just joined. Anyone who has ever been in the theatre will tell you: there is no breaking-open of the heart quite like those moments silently shared in the hush of the wings.
We strode out and began the scene. Eyes locked, and unadorned. I had been in hiding with so many people in my life during that time, yet I felt no need to “hide” from Jason, no need to protect myself or preserve anything for my dignity. Our actor-selves just asked one another a question:
What have you been through?
Some questions are medicinal, just in their being asked. “What have you been through” is prime among them. It’s transformational to be in the presence of another human being with both a willingness and a capacity to hold space for the truth of another. Even while stuck in the dense mud of our own realities, even as our bodies are “scorned and covered with scars,” may we all endeavor to be the kind of person who says:
Though I may not see this experience of life through the same set of eyes, I see you. I hold your feelings, fears, vulnerabilities, and recognize our common humanity. I take your concerns to heart. And in remaining here with you for this moment, we are both transformed.
That was what happened to and for me when I stood beside Jason as he sang “The Impossible Dream.” It is what happens when songs are really prayers.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I don’t know that the world at large really knew how to listen. Perhaps it didn’t wish to. I am not immune—it is terrifying to really listen—and perhaps part of that culture is what made me ill, and it has only been in this silence of quarantine that I have had a chance to heal. Who knows? After this year, I don’t think I know much for certain anymore.
But what I do know is that hurriedness is so entrenched in the ways that we communicate, that when something significant is shared between people, it’s often not given the proper time to breathe. To settle. To marinate, and ultimately absorb.
What would it be like if we were to normalize long pauses, deep breaths, and unencumbered gazes filled with compassion and without expectation?
What if in our scenes and pauses and songs-as-prayers, we could, with our creations, push through the unfathomable cracks, the great gully-trenches and dried-up canyons of every broken heart? And what if in those songs the lyrics were:
“And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest…”
What if in the making of art we could strive, with all of ourselves, to stand for something good? To tell the truth. To fight evils. And what if our greatest glory isn’t in the winning, but in the striving?
I don’t think that is an Impossible Dream.
Because we do it in the theatre.
When we are brave.
And, as I was that night with Jason, sometimes when we are just so broken open by life’s trials, that we cannot help but listen and get lucky.
The song ended.
The experience of it left me trembling.
Jason turned, and extended his hand to me.
It was a gesture of something shared.
We walked off stage arm in arm.
May we all strive, dear friends—with “our last ounce of courage.”
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