Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Your dream may not lead where you think

Forty years ago, when my parents were paying for college, I wanted to be an actor. A legitimate actor – on the boards not celluloid. I followed my dream to a college near my home town that had a well respected theatre department (well, they turned out Buddy Ebsen and Tony Perkins) and became a theatre major. Minored in philosophy, too, for reasons I can not now recall. Met both ghosts in the Annie Russell Theatre – neither was much of a talker – and spent all my waking hours building sets and reading Kierkegaard. Pretty much qualified myself for a career of saying "Would you like fries with that?" with panache while reflecting on the existential subtext of the question.

The year Disney invaded Florida, I moved to California, the Bay Area, with my sights on the American Conservatory Theater. As I recall, they were very polite about my audition. Because there was a reason I had spent my college years memorizing plays from the light booth. I am very good at acting like me, but not very good at acting like anyone else. My professional acting career consisted of building sets in community theatres and running lights for summer stock and managing a reparatory company. And auditioning. Always auditioning. You may have seen me in… Well, actually, nothing at all.

I've been thinking about acting recently. Not about trying for the stage again, but about how long I worked at becoming an actor before setting that dream aside to become a photographer. (That transition can wait for another column.) The focus of my rumination was that I really do know how to act. I see actors work and I know what they're doing. (Ever see Tyra Banks on America's Next Top Model showing young models all the messages you can convey with your eyes? Tom Hanks's eyes are half the size of Tyra's and do twenty things hers can't.) But there is a difference between knowing how to act and being able to act. There is a threshold, a step between acting like a character and being the character – the event horizon between craft and art – that I have never been able to cross. No matter how much I wanted to.

However, all of my practice and training in observing the human condition did not go to waste; I rely a lot on Strasberg in my day job. The tools a method actor applies to understand the motivations of a character outside their personal experience are equally useful in discerning the viewpoint of a person who may not perceive the world as you do. (I think I've written elsewhere on how the storytelling values I learned through acting and studying plays -- both as they are written and as they are produced -- shape my writing. If I haven't, I will.)

If you have a passion, something that always holds your attention, follow it. Do not, however, follow it to the exclusion of all else. Because your passion may not be your destination. It may instead become the source that illuminates everything else you do.


Charles Gramlich said...

Well said. Acting is one thing I never even remotely had the bug for. But there were other dreams that got set aside. Not that I worked at them too hard.

Liane Spicer said...

Very profound and thought provoking. "Your passion may not be your destination." I'll remember that.