Monday, August 22, 2005

What Draws People to Become Actors?

I just read this column in the latest ActorTips newsletter, and I have to share it with you.

I've asked several people this question over the years. They fib. But here are some of the replies, followed by my own observations.

1. "I thought it would be fun."

TIP: Fun? Let's see. Work all day, beg for time off to run out and sign up for an open call. Or instead, get up at six AM and stand in a line outside the Equity building in every kind of weather.

TIP: Fun? Tech and dress night that goes on until one AM. A long subway trip home. Up at seven to be to work at eight. In the theatre at seven. Curtain at eight. Hours and hours and hours of rehearsal. There are twelve people in the opening night audience.

TIP: Fun? Four months of open calls nearly every day and not one callback. The air is heavy with depression, rejection, doubt, loneliness. Suddenly a small house and a family in Nebraska sound like Eden.

TIP: Fun? After an audition, being told by the director you are better than the "star name" they cast, but golly gee you know the business! Gotta fill those seats! Subtext: You're a nobody. "How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog." This is one mini example why I've pushed for actors to read poetry. Nobody sums up being a nobody better than Emily Dickinson.

TIP: Fun? You have the female lead in a 35 minute short film, opposite a huge name actor who won't even speak to you because you
are not also a "name." ["I'm nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too?"]

TIP: Fun? Five years later you still have the scar on your arm from the nail some indifferent carpenter did not hammer in properly and you, rushing off stage, slashed your arm on it. Then the wardrobe mistress blasts loose language you never heard even in triple XXX rated because you got blood on the costume. Excuse me!

Endless examples. If you're in it for "fun," go dance on the rim of Etna or Vesuvius when they next sizzle. Now that's fun!

Reason # 2 "I thought I'd give it a try."

TIP: Don't bother. Fire eating would be easier. Try it.

Reason # 3. "I was in a play in high school and it is a good memory."

TIP: Don't ruin a perfectly lovely memory by going professional.

Reason # 4. "I just have to. It's like breathing. It's something I have to do."

TIP: Oops. Hope he's talented. His answer is impeccable.

With the possible exception of number 4, it is my own opinion that 15 minutes in the sun is what lures people into acting.

TIP: You want sun? Go to Phoenix.

And it is that same drive for recognition and praise that draws us all, regardless of how noble our professed protestations for wanting to act. The person who doesn't have that drive for recognition and praise won't work his tail off trying to get auditions and trying to get roles. So my bravos to those who truthfully say, "Yeah, I'm all for fame and glory. I want recognition. I want to be famous." Then let the drive for fame also be the drive that gets you auditions and bowls over the directors and producers.

But also love acting, and honor the profession, and want to be the best actor you can be.

Acting, every word and every eyebrow twitch, is a challenge. Let that also be a reason to become an actor. Because acting, especially on stage, is one of the toughest jobs in all of the arts. Challenge doesn't begin to describe what it means to make an
audience forget you and mix you up with character you are playing. I remember once auditioning with the Duchess of York's curse to her despicable son, Richard III. Although she later cast me, the director's first response was, "I wouldn't want to cross you!" That was not me. Those were Shakespeare's words. Not mine. The only son I have is the brother of Pepper the Diva cat.

Shakespeare's words were a challenge. The director's response, of course I remember. It wasn't intended as a compliment. Erase that. Mostly what I remember was the Herculean struggle with those words.

TIP: Lunatics, manic depressives, people with too much ego, people with too little ego. People with so much talent it's scary. People with so little talent it's scary. And just about everyone else in between. The ideal candidate--so "I repeat myself" as Walt Whitman yawped--embodies the following: ear, energy, intelligence, imagination, and intuition. His character traits: determination, drive, refusal to be beaten, resilience, pride, awareness of self and others. Join all those traits and you have a potential actor--or saint!

As for me, I prefer not to ask about the actor but about the art of acting. What he is like as a person, what his qualifications are may make for coffee conversation. But the art of acting and how to sound real and sound interesting--ah, there's the rub--and the value.

But this I do firmly affirm--the deeper you drink from the well of sympathy and understanding, the greater the possibility of becoming a great actor. Maybe.

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