What started out as a joke slowly turned into a sad reality. “10 feet below stardom” became our running joke during my college production of In The Heights, since we were literally ten feet below the action happening on stage. I was a pit singer for the production, so what this meant was that I along with four other students sat down in costume rentals singing to help give the production more vocal power and energy.
The show was great to work with, but once the performance days began we realized how little recognition we would get during the shows. It was always so difficult to come up into the lobby and see everyone giving all the actors flowers, hugs, or taking pictures with them. As pit singers we usually got, “Oh, I didn’t know you were in the show,” or “How come we didn’t see you on stage.” After the first couple of nights, I realized we were starving artists.
Art is seen as anything that can make you feel something, is thought provoking, and has the possibility to change someone’s life or outlook. All artists want to be appreciated and noticed in order to demonstrate these qualities of art; therefore, an actor is no different. Like any other artist, he or she wants society to marvel at what they do. In Franz Kafka’s story, A Hunger Artist, he focuses on the titular character to demonstrate how pride greatly affects the Hunger Artist.
In Kafka’s piece the Hunger artist, who even after his spectacle of starving himself, continues to starve. The hunger artist had stated that his reason for starving himself was, “because [he] couldn’t find a food which tasted good to [him]” (A Hunger). While the hunger artist says he could never find anything, I find this statement to be quite contrary. The Hunger Artist wants to prove to society that he can continue to go on his fast, “Why stop right now after forty days? He could have kept going for even longer, for an unlimited length of time” (A Hunger). I think this idea that humans have to prove themselves come from human’s sense of pride. The pride that the hunger artist has for his work demonstrates his stubbornness to continue to keep his audience in awe of what he can do. His audience is important to him, and he is catering to their needs in order to keep his “art” alive. His need to cater to his audience is demonstrated as an insatiable hunger. His wanting to see people admiring his work recognizes the insatiability, whether it is in passing or not. I believe that the hunger artist fed off the attention that he would get when people would come to watch him, which is one reason why I connect theater to this piece.
The Hunger Artist is trapped both physically and emotionally within a cage. Physically the Hunger Artist is put in a heavily monitored cage that is used as a spectacle for his society. His physicality in the cage is similar to that of an animal, which is why Kafka closes the story with a panther using the cage of the Hunger Artist, “it was clearly refreshing to see this wild animal prowling around in this cage, which had been dreary for such a long time,” (A Hunger). By putting the panther in the cage, Kafka contrasts the characteristics of the Hunger Artist and the panther, which I believe ties into the course themes. The dreariness depicts his decline from Hunger Artist to animal, because he realizes that he was set out to do one thing. The Hunger Artist illustrates a sense of self whenever he retreats back to the comfort of his cage. The symbol of the cage emphasizes the fact that he is trapped, not only in the cage, but also within himself
Another Piece that Kafka had written that makes me think of being trapped is A Report to An Academy. In this story, Red Peter is seen mimicking the actions of humans in order to make his way out of his cage. Like Red Peter, actors are striving to get out and get the attention of others. Red Peter retells his story to the academy and demonstrates how he has become more evolved through his efforts to get out. Red Peter enjoyed highlighting human’s actions in ironic ways, “They were good creatures, in spite of everything…. Their laughter had always a gruff bark in it that sounded dangerous but meant nothing…. They hardly spoke but only grunted to each other” (A Report). These depictions of the humans ridicule them by describing humans in the most animalistic way possible. I do have to say, Red Peter was the one describing the men, so whether or not they were actually this brute is up to the reader’s opinion, for Red Peter is able to bend the readers idea of human in this story.
Later on Red Peter describes how he had managed for so long, “I did survive this period. Hopelessly sobbing, painfully hunting for fleas, apathetically licking a cocoanut” (A Report). Here we see Red Peter describing himself in the most humanistic way possible. What I admire most about Red Peter is his willingness to fight for what he wants. Throughout the piece we see Red Peter acting as if he were human, because he is merely playing the role to fool the members of the ship. I also enjoy the fact that acting is a
I think Kafka’s pieces are important, because the Hunger Artist wants society to recognize something that is being diminished from their culture and Red Peter tells readers to continue to do what you can in order to make things right for yourself. Both Kafka pieces demonstrate theatrical elements, which have led me to enjoy his works throughout my CTW 1 and CTW 2 classes; I believe these pieces were the best depiction of the themes of Human and Animal. These works demonstrated the cross over of human and animal, and how one shouldn’t be seen as more than the other. Which leads me back to theatre, why should the pit singers be left with less recognition?
What many theatregoers didn’t realize is that several of the pit singers had more than one job within the production. Myself and another fellow pit singer were understudying two roles, the other female pit singer was the dance swing, and one of our male pit singers helped build the set. One night my a cappella group came because I and another member were in the production, and it was a little awkward when we came out because one of us got flowers and the other didn’t. I was of course the other. Yes she was on the stage, and you got to see her act, and sing, but the lack of recognition that was about to come was the hardest part about going to greet the group.
Actors and actresses alike strive to be in the limelight, which is one of the many reasons we began the “10 feet” joke. I do theatre for two reasons, I love to perform and I love sharing new stories with others. I get the most satisfaction doing anything within theatre, and while I would love to be on stage at all times, I do love putting together any piece of the puzzle I can. And yes, during the performances you never saw us, but we endured extra rehearsals and outside practices on our own in case we ever had to go on stage. Each week throughout the quarter I would practice 2-3 hours on my own to go over any unfamiliar harmonies or line issues I was having. While the show was great, it would have been nice to step into the spotlight at least once.
Kafka, Franz. A Hunger Artist. Handout
Kafka, Franz. A Report to an Academy. Handout