Watch Your Eyes

To say I am exhausted today would be an understatement. Still worth it (my part in it, at least), but yeah…definitely struggling today. It’s rainy, it’s the Monday after the time change (which is worse than the first day after, I find), I’ve had very little sleep over the past few weeks, I’m sick, and there’s always the same old MS fatigue that I get to walk around with every day.

However, the factor that tipped the scale today would have to be the biog broadcast gala of the Canadian Screen Awards that Tim and I covered from start to finish last night! For the first time ever, we checked in as media in the middle of the afternoon, found out spot on the red carpet, greeted people as they arrived, then headed to the press room to cover the awards – the non-broadcast ones and the broadcast ones, as well. It was insane in the best way!

Touchwood always takes amazing care of us, but I feel like they keep outdoing themselves from year to year. This event was bigger for us than it has been in previous years, and thanks to our employer we were able to get more quality phootos and videos than we usually do, as well! We got to talk to a crazy number of people on the carpet, some of whom we already knew, and many we were meeting for the first time. Some virtual legends like Helen Shaver, Martin Short, and the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes! Not to mention a couple of our longtime favourites, Yannick Bisson (and his wonderful wife Shantelle) and legend in her own right Megan Follows!

Whaaat?! How is this happening?! We ask ourselves that a lot. A LOT.

Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, but also makes us giddy as hell.

To boot, we were in the coolest corner of the carpet, right at the very end. It was literally cooler, as a door to the outside had been open up until things got going, and every single person we talked to mentioned that it was far more comfortable than the arrival area around the corner. I suspect we were also in the figuratively cooler corner of the carpet, as the media outlets to both sides of us also knew how to have a good time, and we all made our own fun together while we waited. They were also all a lot of fun to watch work, and we all commented on that with one another once the carpet wrapped.

There was a thing, a tiny moment with Helen Shaver, that reminded me of a similar thing that happened in my theatre class in University. I was in my final year, and even though I’d wanted to take theatre classes the whole time, it took me until my last year to finally work up the courage to give it a go. Got one of my best friends out of it, too, actually!

Anyway, Helen Shaver was talking about how she tries to get real and honest performances out of her actors to tell the story she wants to tell when she’s directing. She spoke, and then leaned closer to me, holding eye contact the whole time. I don’t even quite remember what she said because I think I stopped breathing, but there was a second or two that felt really intense before I eventually looked away. That moment or two reminded me of an exercise we’d done in class involving eye contact and the holding of power in a scene.

Our prof had us perform a scene over and over, but with a different character or characters holding power each time we ran through it. If someone had power, they could look at the person they were talking to. Anyone who did not have power could not meet the gaze of the power-holder(s). If they weren’t being looked at, they could look at whoever had power, but as soon as that person/people looked at them, they had to look away.

It was really interesting to see how differently a scene could play out by just using eye contact alone. None of us moved from our spots, we said the same lines over and over again, but the tone would change vastly from performance to performance, depending on who had power. Sometimes one person would have it all, sometimes more than one (so they could make eye contact and lend a sort of balance to the conversation), sometimes all but one would have power.

The one time I was the person who held all the power was…amazing. I mean, it was two minutes, but no one could look at me. Well, no one in my scene. I guess the audience could, but I don’t remember noticing them at all. I was busy “acting”. I had fun trying to psyche them out. I’d look around and then flick my gaze to one of them and watch themquickly shift their eyes to the floor or wherever suited them. Usually I am super shy, so this felt great. Even now, I have to consciously remind myself to look people in the eye when we speak to one another, and as a child I remember meeting people and only knowing what they looked like in profile or from the neck down, because I couldn’t bring myself to look at their eyes if they were looking at me.

But then came the round wherein I was stripped of all power. Like, all of it. I couldn’t look at the prof, I couldn’t look at the other members of my class, and I certainly couldn’t look at the other performers sharing the scene with me. Basically floor and ceiling. I could look down and look up, but looking “out” was not allowed. I had no power, Captain!

And it sucked, guys.

I kept trying to push through the scene, but I found myself panicking a little bit. There was nowhere I could look because it seemed everyone was staring at me and not looking away at all, so I started backing up from where I’d been standing the whole time, and felt my back bump up against the chalkboard behind me. With nowhere else to go, I slowly sank to a crouch and stared at the floor in front of me. I felt like I was about to ask if we could stop now, when our prof called a halt to it on her own. I actually felt a little shakey and off after, but at least I could breathe again.

It was such a powerful learning experience – and somewhat emotional one – that I found myself writing about it in that actor journal thingy they make you keep as part of your final grade. There are, of course, no rules within the general public that says you can’t make eye contact with certain people around you. In fact, eye contact is usually a good sign, showing that you are present in the encounter; that you are listening and/or engaged. It shows you are paying attention.

I mean, unless you’re me with, say, Helen Shaver, and just concentrating so much on making and holding eye contact that you forget to listen. For example.

But I think one of the things I learned is that, unwritten rule or not, eye contact as a tool of power actually works. If you’re listening, too, then all the better, because you can get a much better read on a person if you include their expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc. And no matter what, stronger and more real connections are made through eye contact than anything else. More than spoken words, or words on a page, more than a voice on the other end of the phone; across species and around the world.

The eyes have it.

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