An actor has to be really in love with their craft.
It’s struggle to stay afloat, both financially and spiritually, so without that passion, that need to act, there’s really no point in subjecting yourself to the constant disappointments of this business. Finding the passion and keeping it is more than necessary, it’s vitally important.
I read for the role of a priest recently for an Independent short subject film. The auditions were being held at the American Film Institute building in Hollywood and it brought back memories of one of my very first auditions in Los Angeles, there at the AFI building. As I parked and stayed in my car for a moment looking out at the view of Hollywood from the hilltop at AFI on this uncharacteristically clear day. The first time I was here for an audition was almost thirty years ago. Back then I remember I felt excited, nervous, lost and hopeful for stardom. I still feel that way. As I got out of the car and walked into the Warner Bros. Bldg. looking for which room the auditions were being held, it seemed like no time had passed. Students were roaming the halls chatting about filmmaking or the all-nighter they pulled the night before trying to get the last shot out before dawn. When I got to the room and saw the sign in sheet, I felt excited, nervous, a little bit lost, and even more hopeful for stardom. I guess somethings never change.
The rest of my first two years as an actor in New York and Connecticut was filled with many, many auditions and a few booked jobs. I booked three plays, one television show, and one more film. The first play I booked was for the play “Sweet Bird of Youth” by Tennessee Williams. I read for “Chance Wayne” and got the part of “Fly, a servant and a cameo as a piano player. I had no idea what the world of plays were all about. I hadn’t seen a play, nor had I read a play. I went to every rehearsal and was humbled and amazed what a wonder the theatre could be. I went to every rehearsal (even the ones I wasn’t scheduled for) and almost memorized every one’s lines. I was enthralled and frightened. We had dressing rooms and there was a very long room with a long table where we all put on our own makeup before the show. I watched with the eagerness to learn what to do with the result being that the only make up I needed was powder for the sweat. My character opened the show and was the first one to speak. My character also closed the show and the last one to speak. At the end of the run, the director confided in me saying that I was his first choice to play Chance Wayne, but since the character was written for a white male and the theatre board voted him down because I was brown and not even an American (I was born in Peru and became a naturalized citizen a few years earlier), and that it might confuse the audience. The play was performed at the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Connecticut, where Paul Newman, who played Chance Wayne on Broadway and in the film, lived.
The next two plays were; “Hide and Seek” and “It’s Only a Play”. I played the roles of “Ray Erskin, handyman” and “Gus Washington, catering worker”, respectively. In “Hide and Seek”, I originally only had one scene and a few lines, but the director felt that perhaps my character could fill in some exposition in other parts of the play, so he wrote some additional lines in a few more scenes. I took that as a compliment. In regards to “It’s Only a Play”, I can say that it was the most polished and professionally. It was performed at the Brookfield Town Centre Theatre in Connecticut and the home of where the original Neighborhood Playhouse was formed. Once again I played a character that was originally played by a black actor and I opened the show. But this time I was part of an ensemble and during the rehearsal process, all the other actors took me under their wings and helped me to understand and love the world of theatre. We created a bound and as a result of this bond, the play took on a special life that feed our performances. It was also the first play where we had multiple weekly shows and, since I was a bigger part of the play, after the play, the audiences would come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed the show. The last and most valuable lesson I took away from all three plays was that the audience was the other character in the scene or play. I could feel my body and mind respond to the effect the play had on the audiences. In my limited experience at the time, my energy level was all about the start and stop of films. In theatre, I was on the moment I stepped onto the stage and continued until the curtain call.
I felt I had arrived as an actor doing theatre. I had a family that understood the rigors of rehearsals and I was able to be totally fearless by trying out different aspects and choices of character. I mastered memorizing lines (although that is still a challenge for me) and finally, I discovered a deep love for theatre. If being on the set of “Whispers of White,” my first film, was my love-at-first-sight moment, then finishing these three plays was courting a lover for the rest of my life. Perhaps that is why I am still so excited, nervous, lost, and hopeful for stardom when I audition, rehearse, and perform. I suppose there is no real rhyme or reason to it, nor does there have to be, because it that is the truth of true love. Keeping that feeling alive as an actor is the best gift you can give yourself. It helps you navigate the ups and downs of an actors life and keeps you wide eyed and honest in the work, which makes you much more agreeable to work with and a far better actor. I love to see actors huddled in groups in restaurants late at night after rehearsals or performances. High on the experience, glowing with the energy that comes with creating and bonding with other creators. It’s what its all about really and why I still have such a love and a need to act.