by Erin Daley
I think many things are incredible about my friend Zack Weinstein, but I consider it my duty as his friend to keep his ego in check, so I’m just going to talk about his work in the theater. Zack and I were college freshman together and got to know each other through those touchy-feely Acting 101 games. You know, the ones where you stare and maintain eye contact for ten minutes, improv pivotal moments from each others lives, talk about losing your virginity, breathe diaphragmatically, cry, read Uta Hagen, and then breathe and cry some more. That following summer while working at a summer camp, Zack was on a day off with friends. He jumped into a shallow part of a river and hit bottom, head first, breaking his neck and paralyzing him from the shoulders down. It’s hard to talk about his injury so briefly, there’s so much to say about his recovery and what he went through. However, it’s not my story to tell, it’s his and he does it very well here.
When I asked Zack how his injury has changed him as an actor beyond his physicality, his answer was simple: it hasn’t. If anything, he’s even more driven to be an actor now.
“Really?” I said,
“Yeah, well almost dying kind of lights a fire under your ass”
Touché. Let this wry, sarcastic comment kill any notion that Zack and his injury need to be treated delicately.
In art, he says, he wants to reflect humanity at large and his own life as an example of it. The chair only enters in because it has to. As an actor, sure it’s added to his life experience, but it’s how he moves, not who he is.
Ultimately though, this isn’t a story about Zack, it’s about me and what I have learned from him.
Since he came back to school, I’ve worked with Zack as an actor, a scene partner and general catch-all collaborator. I was tentative in directing him at first, scared of pushing him too far, of being insensitive by asking him to do something his body might not be capable of. It felt wrong giving someone a hard time about how they delivered a line when it was incredible that they were even in the room. We figured it out though. Together we pushed and experimented to see what we could accomplish. I learned limitations aren’t what hold us back, it’s our perception of them that does. Once we break that perception of what we can’t do, we can open Theater to infinite possibility. We can literally. do. anything.
I watched Zack learn a new physical vocabulary as he progressed in his training, reteaching his body how to communicate. I saw that an embrace doesn’t have to be a hug and that skipping doesn’t have to come from your legs. I saw Zack fall in love by stopping and then tilting back with a smile and I saw him die as he slowly reversed off stage to the swelling of a military march. He rammed his chair into walls and was dragged to the floor, nothing was off limits as our class explored those barriers, breaking through them, looking for the next.
One of the biggest moments for me came in our Senior Viewpoints class (don’t know it? check it out! ) Half of the class was sitting down and half, including Zack, was on the floor for a session. As the music played and the actors drifted through the room, Zack’s movements started to pull our attention. A slow swooping arc, a precise turn, a simple movement of raising an arm and holding it, a tilt of the chair and a turn of his head. Something was building, a story was being drawn, Zack was dancing.
In a sense, we are all working with a fixed palette. We are constrained by the space we’re in, by the script, by time, by our budget and by our own limitations. But these only become obstacles if we forget that in theater, anything is possible and that imagination and innovation can fashion a solution out of anything. It’s not about lemons and lemonade, It’s about exhausting the tools at your disposal, using every ounce of everything you have to tell the story. If you look at what is possible, instead of what is finite, Theater becomes immense. Children can fly, a piece of felt can talk, a paper moon can shine and man in a wheelchair can dance.