"It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is."
"I was Julius Caesar.
I died in the senate.
Brutus killed me."
Like Polonius, actors always say not "I played.. " but "I was.. "
But, were they, really?
When I asked a friend why she acts, she said "I want to be those people; I want to slip myself inside those characters and walk around in them."
But was she them, and not herself? What is "acting" after all if not being someone else?
Recently another friend started therapy because of low self-esteem, and found herself remembering blurred images of abuse and shame as a child, and that led her to call into question everything about the motivations of her entire life --- including why she started acting in the first place. That chaos brought about a panic-attack resulting in the following exchange, which she has allowed me to share with The Mirror. I expect your comments:
Subject: Just a thought...
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 17:57:36 -0600
To: "'firstname.lastname@example.org'" email@example.com
What if I got into acting because I didn't want to be myself anymore? I mean, because of the abuse? When I first knew I wanted to act I was very young and I remember thinking I could go anywhere and be anyone when I was onstage and the most important thing was that I wouldn't have to be ME anymore. So is this whole acting thing based on something I had no control over?
Does that mean it isn't really real or true? Maybe it was and is just a way for me to hide and to get away from myself and all the pain and ugliness.
If that is true what do I do now? If the desire to act was based on a desire to escape myself and my life and now I am finally getting back my life and myself what does that do to my acting? Is it something I will no longer need? And if I don't need that, then what? Is it all a lie? What will I do if I don't act?
I have been sitting here looking up info on the Net about sexual abuse. And I have been reading the book everynight and I can relate to so much of it and it is about identity. Someone who is abused oftentimes wants to dissociate from the abuse and who they were at that time. They pretend everything is ok and they don't tell anyone about the abuse and they do everything they can to be "normal". For me that translated into acting---that became my world. And now my two worlds are colliding---which one of me will be left?
I would love some insight from you on this. And I guess some reassurance. This whole aspect is rather freaking me out. Its not an emergency but in a way, it is. Do you understand?
I'm still on the rollercoaster and the ride won't be ending too soon....but the important thing to remember is that it will end(she says, crossing her fingers).
Hope all is well. Please respond when you have the time.
Thank you, my friend.
Subject: Re: Just a thought...
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 1999 20:22:32 -0500
From: Larry Stark's Theater Mirror firstname.lastname@example.org
There's a difference between who you are and how you got to BE who you are.
Obviously, you never really GOT what you wanted out of acting --- you never BECAME anyone else; you PLAYED other people.
Were you NOT-T-- while you were The Nurse?
No, you made that Nurse OUT OF T--. That's what I think actors mean by "using the Instrument" --- using All Of Yourself to make someone that is NOT you, but to make it Out of You.
At least I believe that.
When F-- said she wanted to BE other people, I don't think she ever meant she didn't want to be F-- anymore; instead, she wanted to see what happens when F-- gets to say the words she'd never use in her life as an office-manager --- like the words/actions of CASSIUS in Julius Caesar, or KATHERINA in Shrew......
I think once you get comfortable with the Entire Instrument, you'll use it more effortlessly.
I think you stopped expecting to BE your roles --- instead of acting them --- the first day you built a character in the first acting class. And I think you know, as an actress, that if you ever actually tried to BE the role you play your acting would be TERRIBLE. That ain't how it's done, gang.
I still think how you got here deserves examination; I think the 'flight-from me' that you've been attempting has been Destructive in that it has sent you off trying to run away, physically, and that has meant you never settled into one place or one company or one job, and that meant less security and probably less money in the bank. But if the 'flight from me' threw you into acting for all those wrong reasons, it threw you in a Right Place, and you Feel Good Doing It.
Look at your last rehearsal. Did you feel good about being the Suffragette because you were, at long last, Not T-- Anymore? Or did you feel good because you WERE T--, more completely than you have ever been, for the first time in many long months of not getting cast?
Even during those improv-sessions, it was T-- who made the character, not the other way around.
Were you NOT T-- when we read Private Lives with F-- and O. M. F.?
Hell, you were T--, being what she has always wanted to be:
A very good actress.
Of course, I could be wrong.
I think I was wrong once before:
I thought I was wrong about something.
Subject: Re: Just a thought
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1999 12:05:48 -0600
To: "'email@example.com'" firstname.lastname@example.org
I was only here for a couple hours yesterday as I had a raging headache and couldn't get rid of it so I went home. I think I am fighting something off---like a sinus infection or something.
Anyway, I didn't get a chance to get back to you. Thank you so much for your input on my doubts and fears about my acting. You are right----I never do BECOME my characters I only ACT it out. But I do think it has been an escape for me and I think that is what was concerning me.
I guess in the long run it doesn't matter how I got into it---it IS where I belong and I need to remember that. I need to give myself more credit-- I DO create the character and it is time I acknowledged that. But I think I have always let the character control me or the playwright if you will----I don't know that I have ever really taken ownership when I act----I just let it happen. That is not entirely true---I actually do a lot of hard work but I never take credit for it. Does that make sense? Anyway, I am still sorting it all out and your words were extremely helpful and encouraging and I thank you for this. So helpful in fact that I pasted them into my journal as a constant reminder of what I can do and who I am when it comes to acting.
I have enough to worry about without doubting my acting any further but I guess that is what therapy is all about. I will figure it out one day. I always find something to obsess about hunh??
Thanks again. I do appreciate all your support---more than you can ever know.
Date: Mon, 1 Feb 1999 12:33:46 -0600
To: "'Larry Stark's Theater Mirror'" email@example.com
Its been a crazy day here so far and it is only 12:30. I don't have a problem with you sharing our exchange with your readers. I would like to see what kind of responses you get of course. It might be kind of interesting...
Thanks again and let me know what the response is, ok?
The lady seeks responses.
That's YOUR cue, isn't it?