Nourishment for the actor

I’ve had an interesting summer. A month ago I got a call from a director colleague on a Sunday morning who had to replace an actor in a play that would be opening the following Friday night. That would be in 5 days.

She said she was in a jam and asked if I would work with the cast on the play for the week and help get the show opened.

In the meantime she would look for a replacement and work them into the following weekend, as she knew I had a busy schedule and couldn’t commit to the full three-week run. Pause…. My mind went off. I wanted to say ‘no’ of course, as it would upset my routine and the comfortable summer I was enjoying. Also, I didn’t want to deal with the stress and challenge. I had a great excuse, and ran the scenario in my mind while she paused on the phone. It was frightening. It was difficult. Could I even learn my lines in that short amount of time? What if I wasn’t any good? I began creating excuses for myself: I have to clean out my garage; I was looking forward to working on my tan this week; I don’t have time for it; I have a family; It is summer, after all, and I have been looking forward to taking some time off and relaxing; My wife and I had a date night planned for Friday; I work hard and deserve a break. 

The excuses continued.

There was lots of noise and conversation in my head… quite a monologue. I wish I documented it. That conversation in my head was full and made a lot of sense… and it lasted about 10 seconds. Without thinking or checking in with my wife and family I said, “Yes.” I hung up the phone and asked myself, “What the hell are you thinking?” Then the other voice came in, one that I let sleep too often, and reminded me, “It’s what we do. We act.” I needed to walk the walk. I was in.
Fast forward, we opened the play on Friday, and I had the book in hand. It was for the Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles. After the weekend, I decided to change vacation and travel plans and stay with the show. That meant changing airline reservations, family visits, cancelling all kinds of things, but I did. I had a great time. My passion was rekindled, and I didn’t even think it needed rekindling. I’m in the theater every day, for God’s sake, I don’t need rekindling – so I thought.

This past weekend I found myself going to the theater four different times.

On Friday I went to the opening of a play a friend of mine was in. It was an original play written and directed by a published writer. She was passionate about doing this play and produced it herself. The next day I taught my acting class in the morning. In the afternoon I went to a play reading and heard six original plays read for the first time as our writing group was putting their material out for feedback. I saw several nervous writers in the audience chewing on their fingernails. That night I went to another original play consisting of seven monologues that were true, touching personal stories creatively woven together by a talented director. Why am I writing this? I go to the theater all the time. But this weekend I experienced something much deeper than usual. I connected deeper to the artistic passion, creativity, and self-expression of each actor on stage. PURPOSE. Artists connecting to their passions, visions, and purpose, and putting themselves out there. It was inspiring. Everyone, from the box office personnel to the tech person who made the preshow announcements, was connected to PURPOSE, PASSION, and SELF-EXPRESSION, with the intention of moving others, and yes, changing the worlds of those attending. I see these activities all the time, but this time I saw them differently, deeper, more mysterious, and multifaceted. I got who they are and why they do what they do.

The biggest mistake an LA actor can do is to forget that or lose touch with that.

They can get so involved in getting seen, networking, meeting the right people, and doing the business of building a career that they lose touch with the artist inside them. Those things are very important, of course, but meaningless without the artistry, which I see to be a big missing piece in many of the actors I coach. They seem to have lost touch with the reason they got into this work in the first place. It is the job of every actor to figure out what moves you to do this work, and who you are in the world as an artist. What are you doing, and why are you doing it? It’s a difficult question, but one to which every artist must connect and remain connected. So I continually tell actors the following: work, create work, and make yourself work for the sake of working.

A Zen proverb says, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Once enlightened, chop wood and carry water.”

Do a play, a reading, write a story, write your story. In other words, chop wood and carry water. Do the work. Support and get behind others’ work. Join a theater company, a writers workshop, or a group doing similar work. Find a mentor, or become one. Make sure you are connected to an acting community, to keep you going and keep you fulfilled, Audiences are seeking that energy, and jobs are created that way.