Jul 24, 2012

Why do you act?

The other day I read a blog post that got me back to thinking about the question why.
Why do I act?

JayC Stoddard writes one of my favorite blogs to read.
Here is the full link of said blog and an excerpt:


"When I am onstage.  In a moment.  When I have discovered that connection with someone else.  As someone else.  I find my honesty.  The truth hidden inside a well rehearsed lie.  Like cracking open a plastic bauble and finding a diamond inside.  

This is rare.  It doesn't happen every night of a performance, or even in every production.  But it does happen.  I've had moments of more beautiful intimacy onstage with strangers that have transcended any experience I've had offstage."

I suggest you follow his blog.  Did you? Good.

Now I want to talk about the why pertaining to acting, but specifically theatre.

I remember being pretty young, cast in a straight play with actors older than me.  During one of our last rehearsals before opening, the director asked each of us why we do this.  Why we act.  I had already finished acting school in New York at the time and this was my first play back in Salt Lake.  I don't know that I'd ever been asked that or really thought about it.  I didn't know what I was going to say.  So I said I didn't know that it was my favorite thing to do...but didn't know why.

I know the moment when I decided it was what I wanted to do.  It was my junior year of high school.  It wasn't my first play.  I wasn't playing a leading role.  But I realized I was experiencing pure joy.  Community.  Fun.  On and off stage.  Every aspect about it was good.  I knew it was a path I wanted to head down.

I wanted it all, and I wanted it big.  I wanted plays outside of school.  My senior year I was told by my drama teacher that I'd "messed up The Crucible big time" when I chose to play Cinderella outside of school instead.  I was already ready to start working my way up and make a plan for NYC.

And I did.  What I said I was going to do, I did.

I did some community theatre.  I went to Westminster College for a year and did shows there as well as outside of school.  I found the NYC school I wanted to go to.  I went.  I got great roles every step of the way.  I got the lead in our end of of the year play just before we graduated.

I went back and forth between SLC and NYC over the span of five years.  I worked my way up at home, and did some things on off broadway stages in NYC.  I don't know if I thought about the why, I just did it because I had to.

Somewhere along the way I did file away the realization that onstage was where I felt beautiful.  Interesting.  I never had time to doubt a body part or self criticize.  It was freeing.  Years after being asked why I do this, I became aware that I'd often shoved down some of the big and not so happy events in my life, and that onstage was where I got my emotion out.

Onstage was where I felt most connected to my emotions.  

And of course, in my why was also because I'd loved playing dress up, playing pretend since I was little so getting to keep doing that into adulthood was pretty great, right?

I read something from Nicole Kidman along the way, on her why.  She didn't know, either.  Maybe because, "I like to escape, or I don't know who I am", she said.  That went into my file of why even though I wasn't sure about that one.  I kept wondering what that meant.  What that meant to me.

I've been a huge reader since I was little.  I loved not escaping from life, but getting to escape to.  Stories.  Books.  Characters.  I could go so many places and learn about so many people this way! I remember being in elementary reading book after book, casting my friends as characters to picture as I read.

After feeling like I'd failed my why test, the question stayed with me.  Years later.  I thought about it with every show.

Had I never been asked why, maybe I would never have delved so deep into a quest of figuring it out.  Maybe I would have simply gone through each performance without questioning why, without thinking so hard, just enjoying.

And there is something to be said for what makes us happy and calls to us on the most basic level.  
It might need no explanation at all. 

But over time I wondered.  It wasn't for any of the stereotypical reasons.  I had plenty of love and attention growing up from my family.  It wasn't because I need praise.  School humbled me so much it all but made it hard to accept any kind of compliment for a long time ( and as I've come into self actualization over the last year and some months, I've started to see and embrace how detaching from the ego and becoming immune to any praise or criticism seems to be my truth).  

Some other tidbits that went into my why file to think about: I read Angelina Jolie gets tattoos because she spends so much time in other peoples skins.  In Yann Martel's "Beatrice & Virgil", Henry joins a community theatre troupe for fun and describes it like getting to live extra life times.

For me, part of it was simply growing up performing in some way or another.  Since I was three.  It was what I knew.  It was just what I did.

But then I learned I felt beautiful, free, and was able to get my emotions out.

I also knew that watching theatre, moved me.  Moved me in a way like nothing else ever did or has.  I wanted more than to watch, I wanted to be that.

But we grow, we learn and we change constantly.  This affects who we are when we are onstage and what we bring to a performance.

With the last year or more being one of more growth than I could have imagined, I learned something new.

That we do theatre and go to theatre because we need it as human beings.  It is that simple.  It is where the secret self is revealed.  It is revealed by the actors you see, because we are connecting to the most secret, private parts of ourselves and letting it all out for you.  We are people (who for whatever reason it may be, whatever your why is) have a need to do that.  We also reveal to you the secret self that a playwright has created! A secret, private self that we get to both hide behind and reveal.

In hiding behind this facade we give you our truths.  

In doing so, we give you the secret self of a character.  We go to the theatre for the same reason we read a book, see a movie or hear a symphony.  We want need to be moved.  We look for it.  We go time and time again and we don't let a "bad" play, movie or book deter us because we have an instinctual, primal need.  To remind ourselves we are not alone.  To relate.  To feel comfort.  To identify.

What an intimate thing, when you thing about it! What an actor strives for on a stage, and what an audience member strives for while watching.  What an absolutely intimate thing!

Art keep alive and keeps circulating the collective stories, archetypes and lessons we all share in our history.  As humans.  There are many tongues in which to tell a tale.  What speaks to one person (be it actor or watcher) won't to the next.  And that's okay because there is so much to pull from and create and resonate with.

No wonder people become so passionate about the theatre!

So maybe this rambling turned into more of a what than a why.  But that's okay.  It's an ongoing ever changing experience.  It is hard, but it is joyful.  And maybe sometimes simple is best.

Our needs are ever changing so what we'll need to both get out as artists and take away from watching in an audience will, too.

All I know, is that it is a part of me.  It does not identify me, but it contributes to what makes me me.

It's something I've known my whole life and I have never not known it.  But I am aware that I am lucky.  That I've always been able to participate.  That I've crossed many dream shows and roles of my list.  That I've always worked steadily.  That I can thrive in the Salt Lake City theatre scene as a professional actor.  I'm wrapping up my fifth year with an equity card and I've done at least two shows a year with five different theatre companies as well as many readings and workshops.  That is a rarity.  That give me such pride in where I live and what I do.  My eyes tear up with gratitude when I think about it.  It's come easy for me, but I have never ever ever taken it for granted.  I talk about this without any kind of reference or judgment to ability.  To a concept of "talent", of being "good", or "bad".  I'm simply saying for whatever reason, I've been a participant and I've a good place to do so.  And for that...thank you.

When you think about it in these kind of terms, it makes it impossible to judge art or a performance.  Every story and every character will resonate a different way.  Depending on where the actor and where the audience member is and is experiencing in their respective lives.  This is also why the whole concept of reviews make me laugh! I don't read them until long after a show is closed, if I read them at all.  Why do I need one person to tell me what my experience was? I don't understand the point.  I don't understand the judgement.  I don't understand the high praise or the painful words that cannot be undone.  Multiple times have I found (for my own personal experience when sitting in an audience) the opposite of what I've read in a review to be true.  I think of a review along the lines of, "those who can't...teach".  It's a longing or a need to participate in this world, this shared experience but why in this way? I wish there was a new way that left out any element of judging for something so ingrained in our human existence and so intimate (and what at times could even be considered bullying) and just tried to get more people to a theatre!

But I digress.

Back to why.

Because storytelling shows a secret self.  That audience, actors, playwrights have a primal need to connect to.  To feel comfort.  To be reminded we're not alone.  To see we're more alike than we know.  To remind us that we all have our story, but they add up to the same whole.  Storytelling is our essence, and essential.

“...We are all connected...You can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind..." 

- Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Tweet me: @DeenaMarie

1 comment:

  1. So thoughtfully explored. I love the ideas you present of actors, play-writes and audience coming together to examine the secret self. And the human necessity to tell stories. Its a concept I've been inwardly exploring for quite a while. You examined it perfectly. Thank you and well done.