Being an actor is complicated. Mostly because I complicate it with a desire to have success immediately and exactly in the way I believe it should come. Control is an issue, and trying to control a creatively expressive career is not wise. Trying to control your creative life fully is like trying to catch and hold a butterfly. You can do it, sure, but often times you will injure the creature and leave it maimed, ruined and unable to live. Best to let it come to you and enjoy the sunshine in the process. Take a look at the flowers for God’s sake and stop being so hell bent on holding onto something that was never meant to be held in the first place. Just a thought.
I have found myself, in anger and sadness, over the past year asking why I wanted to be an actor in the first place (since it was causing me so much distress). I have rarely found a response for myself but every so often an answer comes.
Here are a few:
I like connecting to the audience, entertaining or surprising them.
I am a person who enjoys community and a cast is a community, for even a little while.
I am a creative person and this is a way for me to flex my creative muscles while using my brain power.
I enjoy time traveling backwards and forwards depending on the play.
I like playing dress up.
Wigs are fun.
Falling in love on stage is perfect because it isn’t really your life, so you don’t have to deal with their weird habits and haircuts. (Unless you mess that up and fall for your co-star. Been there.)
Being in character is a chance for me not to be myself even if it’s only for 2 hours. Often when I come back to just being me, those big problems seem less important because I took a break.
Playing a boy is exilirating. Playing a bad guy is even more so.
Screaming, crying, fighting, kissing and all other forms of human contact in the extreme is thrilling to experience when you know no one is going to tell you cut it out and go to your room. Or to stop it because you are sitting on a train in public. Scream as loud as you want, everyone is watching and they all expect to see extreme emotional reactions.
So…those are some answers. And some are valid. And some are slightly vapid.
On Saturday I asked Mackenzie why she wanted to be an artist and she replied without hesitation “Because I had something to say.”
Ok, so that was succinct,to the point, extremely true and somehow, more honest, than what I’ve been mulling over.
Perhaps, she just had the right words. Perhaps she had to know sooner what it was she was doing becoming an artist because she had to create something out of nothing. Clay is just clay until it isn’t. The same for glass or steel. A canvas is just white cloth until a landscape appears and it’s the visual artist who needs to see the ending point before it all begins. Even if that ending point changes, a path appears and it is followed until it is abandoned for a different place.
My job is a little different. Creating a character has to do with taking the playwright’s words and finding the reason for them in an authentic way, based in your personhood and truth. There is the first scene and the last scene and in the middle is the mess of how to get from point A to point B. I didn’t need to teach myself how to be a person before I became an actor in the same way you need to learn to draw or paint or use a camera in order to be an artist.
I had tools in me, the tools of personhood. Those tools were honesty, vulnerability and courage. Those three things will guide you pretty much towards any character in any play with truth and authenticity. And ultimately, whether the character is good or bad, authenticity is what draws people’s eyes.
It was holding those characteristics true in my real life that became the problem. I could do it onstage easy. But off stage I found myself hiding, lying and worming my way out of situations. Why? Fear. Was that a good enough reason for my behavior? No. Is that what happened? Yes. Was stress a factor? Yes. Was I the only one part of any of the problems I hide from, lied in and wormed my way around? No. But I’m the only one who lives with me full time, so maybe my integrity should have been more of a concern.
Mackenzie knew her answer and I didn’t because she had been sharpened by battle to know it deeply in her bones before she even was asked the question. I bobbled along until life slapped me in the face with a bunch of tests that I failed and all got quiet and I finally began to feel the answer.
So here’s the answer so far:
I want to become an actor because I believe storytelling is the greatest form of communication we have. You can learn lessons, give warnings, celebrate triumphs and understand the sorrow of another, I believe stories heal and comfort and delight and surprise us. Stories make us think and make us change our minds and cause us to cry or rage or fill us with desire. I want more to be a storyteller than an actor, but being an actor is a fine way to tell stories for now. And because of my desire to hold the story sacred, I can hold space for myself and for another. My stories are important and so are yours. If I can give voice to them, I will. I can aid my body to the large purpose. I create in response to my desire to connect. I want to connect in order to belong.
I think, maybe for a moment, the butterfly has rested.