When I get asked what I study, or what I do for a living, I silently brace myself. I'm sure any young or aspiring actor can relate. Because once we tell these questioning people, or even when we hang out with family and friends who are not involved with our line of work, we get comments like these:
or, my personal favorites:
...UGH! If you're anything like me, you cringed once you read one or more of those statements. I can get so frustrated because they just don't understand! That is NOT what it's about at all! But then I stop and think about it: how would they really know? They usually only see the finished product. They don't get to see what goes on beyond the surface.
That's what this post is about. This is a place for non-actor to catch a small glimpse into what it really is that we dedicate our lives to. It is also for actors to be reflect on and recall what we are so passionate about.
I cannot claim to be an "acting expert." I am still a student; I am always learning. But I can use the knowledge passed down to me through teachers, coaches, and texts that I have read. This is what acting means to me.
There is so much that I can say about acting. But the first thing I need to do is define what "acting" actually is. Constantin Stanislavski revolutionized the world with his definition of acting in his book An Actor Prepares: "Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances in a beautiful artistic form." This is the definition that most modern-day actors use. Sure, there are many different training methods that evolved from Staniskavski's method, but this fundamental truth is at the basis of the vast majority of them.
Yes, the definition does say "truthfully." Acting is NOT lying or becoming someone else! If that was the case, every time a different person played a role, it would be exactly the same. Every. Single. Time. Wouldn't that take the fun and excitement out of watching movies, TV, or theatre? The beauty of acting is not in becoming someone else, it's in being completely yourself. It is allowing yourself to be 100% open and vulnerable, and to allow the circumstances of the moment (which takes A LOT of outside preparation) to affect you and trigger those deep, raw emotions inside of you. In his book The Actor's Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique, William Esper calls this "The Creative State:"
"In every creative state, life's an adventure. You love the exhilaration of every single moment. It's the opposite of what you see when you find actors addressing their craft form the standpoint of timidity or fear, out of wanting to do things right or or wanting to make a scene happen a certain way. In the creative state you give all up and embrace the free fall of not knowing what will happen next. You take off from the top of the hill and let yourself run straight down without control. It's a very exciting experience to work this way and a very exciting experience to watch people work this way."
Don't be fooled. This state is not an easy one to reach. E.E. Cummings explains why:
"Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to be.
Acting is hard work. We train our voice, body, mind, and spirit for hours on end. We warm up and memorize lines and get into costumes and reflect on the character's circumstances. And then, once the time comes to step on stage, or for the director to call "Action," we have to let all of our judgement and criticism of ourselves go, exist in the moment, and bear our souls to our scene partner (with whom we have to build a lot of trust)/the audience. We have to believe that all the work that we did was enough. That we are more interesting than the greatest actor that ever lived. And after the scene is done, or the show is over, we are left feeling so emotionally drained... and we might not even be able to recall what we did or how we did it. It is very similar to being an athlete. But, rather than being an athlete of the body, "The actor is an athlete of the heart." (Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double)
And, sometimes, all our hard work doesn't pay off. We have to go on tens, sometimes even hundreds of auditions before landing a solid role. Not everyone is going to see eye-to-eye with your performance. And yes, we are all aware that the jobs aren't always stable, or we don't always get a lot of money. That's not what's important to us (well... most of us, at least). As long as we get to do what we love, we will be happy.
Now, enough from me. I asked three very talented and passionate actresses (who I am proud to call my friends and colleagues) what they would say in response to the statements I listed above. They told me the following:
Thank you for putting up with my little soap-box moment. I hope this opened your eyes, at least a little bit. To all the actors (and even the non-actors) out there: never give up on your dreams, no matter how hard it seems. I know I won't.
PS: No, not all male actors are gay.