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Senior Rebecca Carlson (front) played the role of Linda Loman in a Tower Players per­for­mance of “Death of a Salesman.” | Facebook

“Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t under­stand it,” Linda asked, beginning to sob. “I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home.”

In that moment of “Death of a Salesman” by play­wright Arthur Miller, senior Rebecca Carlson recalls playing the role of wife and mother, Linda Loman, who had finally paid off the family’s mortgage, but only with funds from her husband’s life insurance, secured because of his suicide. At that moment, Carlson said she felt like her husband com­mitted suicide in real life.

“I know more about what mar­riage is and what it’s like to be married,” she said, com­menting on how the role affected her per­sonal life. “I know some­thing about what it means to be married that I couldn’t get by reading about it.”

Drama first intrigued Carlson when she was three years old, after watching “Beauty and the Beast,” though she said she felt dis­couraged when her teacher cast her as nar­rator in her first per­for­mance. “I ended up enjoying it. Nar­rating is acting,” she said.

Carlson, a phi­losophy major and theatre minor, said her per­for­mance as Linda is part of what inspired a Col­le­giate Scholars thesis focused on meta­physics and theater. The thesis counters Plato’s age-old cri­tique of theater — that it was a lesser form of art because it relied on “imi­tation.”

“I’m arguing that, in an important sense, good theater can be more real than real life,” Carlson explained. “I know, it sounds para­doxical, so I have to equiv­ocate somewhat.”

Plato con­ceives of an ideal form for every object, Assistant Pro­fessor of Theatre Chris Matsos explained.

“The ideal form is superior, and any­thing we create that’s a material rep­re­sen­tation of that object or idea is inferior,” Matsos said. He explained that Plato con­sidered theater even further inferior to the material, or “an imi­tation of an imi­tation.”

While Plato scorned theater’s imi­tative qual­ities, Carlson said she believes drama can actually approach the essence of some­thing.

“Some­times you can look at a person and they’ll be staring off into space or have this weird expression on their face and you’ll think, ‘That doesn’t look like him at all,’” Carlson said. “You’re com­paring this person sitting next to you to a standard that the person can somehow behave in a way that’s not like himself. Clearly, this person just did that thing.”

Carlson said her thesis posits some­thing similar to, though not quite the same as, the Pla­tonic form of a person. Expected behavior and lan­guage compose an image of a person, and theater reveals that image in a dra­matic form.

“Acting can be more like the person than this guy who is actually that person walking around and talking to you,” she said.

In this way, according to Carlson, an actor absorbs the con­sciousness of the desired char­acter and spits it out in a dra­matic pre­sen­tation. Any way the actor can occupy a character’s mind will lend to a more accurate per­for­mance.

Actors employ a wide range of tactics when they try to “get into char­acter.” Matsos described one show he per­formed in which every actor created a Twitter account from the per­spective of their char­acter. “It worked wonders,” he said.

Carlson said she likes to journal as her char­acter. “I noticed afterward I had gotten so into this person that my hand­writing changes,” she said. “It’s a really cool expe­rience.”

Matsos described theater as “one of the ultimate con­sciousness tech­nologies” for con­tributing to human expe­rience.

“It’s about getting the truth of human expe­rience, so even when the story is arti­ficial, the truth of what’s being expressed is real,” he said. “Even if it’s not hap­pening to the actors on the stage at the moment, it has hap­pened and is hap­pening and will happen.” Matsos said he tries to teach his stu­dents not to pretend, but rather to be “truthful in imag­inary cir­cum­stances.”

Carlson pointed to a quote from author and per­for­mance coach Donna Soto-Morettini: “The ideal actor ‘pre­tends he is not pre­tending and forgets that he is not for­getting.’”

Carlson char­ac­terized por­traying a char­acter as empathy.

“Sym­pathy is, ‘I know what you’re feeling.’ Empathy is, ‘I feel what you’re feeling with you,’” she said. “It’s helped me under­stand some other real-life people better because I have empathized so thor­oughly with somebody like Linda.”

Carlson plans to attend Uni­versity of Southern Cal­i­fornia to con­tinue studying phi­losophy, par­tic­u­larly ethics. She con­firmed that she would like to con­tinue acting as well.

“To me theater is like a vehicle for exploring the human expe­rience,” Matsos said. “The overall purpose is that we’re trying to explore what makes us human.”