The Performance Artist (From the Collection “Specter”)

The Performance Artist

Dress in all off-white like the tint of the sand in the hourglass. Let your hair hang loose and sweep it forward. Do your make-up, as you like. Turn the hourglass over, hold still and repeat: specter, specter, specter, specter, specter, specter – stress on first syllable. You must draw out the words until three-quarters of the sand has past, and then – and only then – flip the hourglass over. Repeat the previous four times.

The performance takes enormous skill.

Arthur’s voice is a deep baritone. Not that it matters. The audience never hears him speak.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. The movement feels so mechanical and the word monotonous. I wish I could sit in the audience from time to time and just watch someone else perform Arthur’s word.

As I write this I think specter, specter, specter, now willfully. It won’t let me be. Sure, my body moves, but specter does not. It repeats in exactly the same spot. I’m not aware of time, neither is specter. Make the audience conscious of the passage of time. Why not ghost instead? Specter will give them pause if it’s not a word they own. Hourglass will enrapture their eyes and ears until everything falls away except for silence, sand, and specter.

Arthur’s speech is slow. He walks with both hands in his pockets and his shoulders arched back. That’s all I really know about Arthur, aside from his script.

Specter is a word I must have seen before, or else why would it repeat over and over in my mind. I don’t recall where and when I saw it, but it calls to me for a reason. This reason must be to place it in a different context and in a different time so as to do what it was meant to do.

I told Arthur he has a voice too and that specter is not a difficult word to pronounce. He said he doesn’t have the patience to grow out his hair.

The audience seemed to respond with enthusiasm. This is what Arthur says. I don’t know if this is true because when I perform I am one with specter and the hourglass. He said he’s not comfortable with enthusiasm because this is not specter’s mood. We will try it with another audience in a different sort of venue.

We never speak of intent.

I tried a new experiment this evening. No, I did not alter the script in any fashion because Arthur insists that I follow the script word for word each time. I looked at Arthur as he sat in the audience, seeking signs of intent. He would probably disapprove of my tactics because he seems to think the performance, just as he has created it, carries itself in and of itself, but what matters is he is pleased with the response. The audience did not respond with that same enthusiasm as the audience of last week, that enthusiasm that makes him cringe so, and so Arthur has scheduled a repeat performance for this same audience for the same time next week. I’m concerned that this will taint the experiment because the audience will know exactly what to expect and are therefore sure to respond in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The audience – not surprisingly – fell into complete silence throughout all five cycles of specter once again, just as Arthur had hoped. I suppose it doesn’t matter if their response is due to their familiarity with the same performance performed in the same manner. What matters is that they fell into complete, uninhibited silence. The one thing we normally fear is complete silence because we don’t know what the other one is thinking. Yet silence can be a good thing. That is what Arthur says.

Due to the success of my experiment, I tried it again this evening. I hope Arthur couldn’t tell. While he sat, absorbing the reactions from the audience as usual, he seemed oblivious to my engaging with his intent. I repeated specter, specter, specter, specter, specter, specter on exact time and this time it felt as if my heart broke into a million different pieces. No wonder the audience fell into complete silence.

I’ve decided to confront Arthur with a most serious concern. His name appears as both the Author and the Performance Artist on the playbill of each performance, his and his alone. It is said that some audience members question the authenticity of the performance as the name “Arthur” suggests one thing and the performance suggests another. Apparently, these astute individuals can sense that there is indeed an individual underneath all this hair and makeup, one who appears prone to intense feelings. I’m not sure if this is a good thing. Still, I plan on asking him to at least include my name on the playbill as the Performance Artist, even if my name should appear underneath his.

Which makes me wonder – can the audience not differentiate the performer from the performance or the author from the script?

And yet, what would Arthur do without me, and what would I do without his script?

I have decided I will create my own performance. Apparently, Arthur and I have begun to lose distinction. One young lady with her hair swept back in a bun came up to me after the last performance and asked me for my autograph. When I signed my name, she stared down at the signature and turned to her friend and said admiringly, “Look! I got the Performance Artist’s autograph!” and walked away content.

I will write my own performance. I won’t use the repetition of one word alone like Arthur does. I will use a unique arrangement of words. Or no words at all.

I haven’t kept up with the latest on Arthur. I don’t know if he found someone else to perform for him, or if he has finally taken up his own performance. His specter still haunts me.

I perform in complete silence now, letting my subtle movements project meaning. I allow them to graduate into grander gestures when called for, and to minimize to stillness at the strike of the clock.

Silence can be a good thing. My fans know me by my name, but are satisfied with my unreadable autograph.

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