‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”
William Shakespeare wrote these words in “As You Like It” some four centuries ago. And while he was then speaking of the seven ages of men, I have discovered another area in which his words can be said to apply.
During the Easter break, I visited and stayed with my niece Julia, and her mom and dad. Her constant attention to me was almost embarrassing, but most certainly sincere and welcome.
Julia had made a calendar before my visit, and would, each morning before going to school, check off another day till I was going to arrive. Actually, it was something of a royal command. She, playing as Disney’s Princess Jasmine, was hoping, expecting, demanding that Aladdin (that’s me, folks) would come to visit.
“One man in his time plays many parts,” especially with children. I was playing the part of a Disney hero before I even arrived. In fact, over the years I have done much acting for my co-actor and “director.” I have had to adopt the identities and voices of an astonishing array of heroes and villains.
“Now you be the evil Jafar,” Julia would tell me, so then, with only a moment’s notice, I would put on my smoothest, oily voice and play the part of the infamous Disney villain.
This time, while visiting, I also became Princess Jasmine’s father (she thought I did the voice very well, and insisted I do it that way forevermore), the Genie (Robin Williams would either laugh hysterically, or sue me), Rajah (the tiger, who did nothing but growls and mews), and the Captain of the Guard (shouting mostly commands.)
Just when I was getting tired of living in a never-ending Disney movie, we discovered the cartoon “Tutenstein” on the Discovery Kids channel. Well, actually, she’d already watched some episodes, and I’d only heard of the show. One night we watched one episode together, and the next morning she wanted us to play it.
Sometimes I amaze myself, at how rapidly I can become a character. Within a minute, I became Tut-ankh-en-set-Amun, a 3,300 year old boy mummy from ancient Egypt, trying to deal with the modern world.
Julia became Cleo, the character who was a 12-year-old volunteer at a museum. She was the one who awoke Boy Pharaoh Tut, or Tutenstein, as she also calls him.
Then there’s a wise-speaking cat with high pointed ears named Luxor, who could, no doubt, have quite a conversation with Salem, the black cat from the TV series “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Yes, I was Luxor, too?”with an appropriately over-dignified vocabulary. Maybe I sounded a little like Mr. Howell from “Gilligan’s Island,” mixed in with Morris the Nine Lives Cat Food Cat.
Anyway, Julia?”I’m sorry?”Cleo, showed me her rock collection. In character, I exclaimed over the stones and also various toys with a sense of genuine wonder that I’d almost forgotten I’d ever possessed. Seeing things from other perspectives. I think that if I’d looked down at my arms and legs and seen mummy wrappings, I would not have been too surprised?”well, not for a minute or two, maybe.
What I was doing was pretending with her, using my theatrical and literary experience to assemble the known traits of a character as I went along with the impersonation.
Have you ever pretended with a child, to be someone or even something else? Maybe you don’t call it pretending. Maybe you call it acting, or even playing. It’s all the same, really.
Any decent or great stage actor in the world will tell you that when he is performing at his best, he is forgetting his real self and becoming, thinking and reacting like the character he is portraying. He is doing his most excellent work when the audience believes, if only for a short while, that he actually is that character.
But you don’t need a big audience to inspire you to rise to this level. It is just as noble to act this way for an audience of only one, especially if that one appreciates it.
I suppose it all comes down to this: not being afraid to try to play with a child on his or her own terms, and not feeling embarrassed about it, because you are doing it to amuse that child. Oddly enough, in the process, I also amused myself.
Go ahead, let a child ask you to play a part, any part you are at least somewhat familiar with. Think about it a bit, and do you best. Pretend. Act. If you put on a really good performance, it will bestow fond memories upon you both.
To children, all the world is indeed a stage, and if you’re lucky, you may be asked to perform on it with them.