The Gift Of An Actor
An actor’s world is competitive. To be successful and stay on top of their game, they are often sifting through mountains of information regarding self-improvement. Being out there on a limb, alone, without support, they must also be good self-motivators. In appreciation of the acting profession, I would like to share a holiday gift of inspiration for your journey, and also say, “Thank You!” Thank you for choosing this difficult profession. Thank you for showing up and working hard to be the best that you can be. Thank you for being part of the magic that helps us laugh when our hearts are heavy and cry when we need to release our sadness. And most of all, thank you, because watching great actors perform, helps the rest of us connect to our humanity. And we certainly can use more of that in the world!
Charles Isherwood also appreciates the hard work of good acting and the magical effect it has when done right. In a New York Times article, he eloquently describes just how transformational acting can be, especially Shakespeare.
“TASTES IN ACTING, as in everything else, certainly vary, but a great Shakespearean performance is easy to spot. You know one when you see one, although it’s probably more accurate to say that you know one when you don’t see one: when the language no longer feels remote, when the humanity of the actor and the character seem indivisible, when the emotion being expressed is no longer veiled by poetic phrasing but revealed by it, creating a shock of recognition in your own heart.”
And it is precisely that shock of recognition, while watching a performance, that transports you out of the dark. You realize that others are going through difficulties too and suddenly it seems like the whole universe is available to you. It brings a sense of relief. Maybe you even begin to feel less crazy and more hopeful. Performances from actors with strong connections to their emotional life have the power to change our views of ourselves and of the world. Isherwood gives a good example of this internal connection in Mark Rylance’s performance as Hamlet, Richard II, and the Duke in “Measure for Measure.”
“I have always marveled at how he imbues these various characters with a quality I can only call soulfulness, a sense that their interior landscapes are being revealed to us moment by moment. Shakespeare’s characters can seem remote in more studied or stilted performances, but Mr. Rylance always seems to be breathing the same air we do.”
Magical performances also draw people to the acting profession. It was a great performance that inspired John Douglas Thompson to leave behind a business career and pursue acting when he saw a production of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
“He’d never seen a Shakespeare play, but reading Mark Antony’s eulogy for Caesar stirred something inside him. ‘There were words I had to look up,’ he recalled, ‘but I immediately understood it, and I wept, because the essence of it was a man mourning his loved one. I became drawn to it and fascinated by it.’ Mr. Thompson enrolled at Trinity Repertory Conservatory in R.I., where his natural ability shone so brightly that he was cast as ‘Othello’ at Trinity Repertory within a few years. Mr. Thompson said he believes that research, training and experience are all invaluable, but as with playing a musical instrument, or singing opera, all that preparation must be set aside, at least intellectually, when the time comes to perform. ‘What you end up doing onstage is visceral,’ he said. ‘You go through the research process, and then you forget that and trust that it’s all there and ready to go.’”
–Actors must find the courage to, in the playwright, David Ive’s words, “Free fall and fly!”
Harriet Walter, a British actress who just finished a run as Brutus in an all-female “Julius Caesar,” compares it to playing a musical instrument,
“You have to have an ability to hear rhythm and to know how to place an emphasis in a string of words, so the meaning comes through,” But she also noted that the ‘Julius Caesar’ company includes actors who do not have years of playing Shakespeare to draw on and yet have found that the writing provides all the clues an actor needs to construct a convincing performance.”
Truthful performances hold the ability to break barriers of time and space. Human emotions are the same now as they were 5,000 years ago; heartache is heartache whether you’re in Iceland or Brooklyn. No amount of technology will ever change that. That is why Shakespeare’s instructions in “Hamlet” on how to approach the work still applies:
“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”
Isherwood concludes by saying,
“As my conversations with actors and directors immersed in Shakespeare this season made clear, this simple prescription remains as plainly applicable to his work today as it presumably did when the words were first written: “Both at the first and now,” indeed. We return to his plays – and cherish actors who can bring them to life before us-because no writer has surpassed his gift for observing, and recording, how we live, how we love, why we laugh and cry how we suffer and die.”
The task of being an actor is rigorous, but anything worth value manifests through hard work. Actors, may you know the value of what you ultimately give this world and let it carry you through the harsh process of being an actor. We need actors who can reach down in their hearts and through their skillful training and courage, pull out unforgettable performance that have the power to move us towards our humanity. Thank you for that. May you have a happy and healthy Holiday.
Bonnie Katz is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website. Like The Conscious Actor on Facebook Follow @consciousactor
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop. Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Paper Chase Press.
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.