As I said in the last post, some of the most sublime, epiphany moments of my life have happened in performance. So it would also be false to say it's all a thankless grind.
One such experience was an independent production of Yasmin Reza's "The Unexpected Man", a two-hander set on a European train, between a famous, self-loathing writer of painfully introverted mittel-European fiction, and a woman who is a devoted lover of his books. She is reading one of his books on the train. It is told in a series of internal monologues until the last ten minutes when they speak to each other. She knows who he is, he does not know she knows, but suspects she might. She does not know he suspects, etc.
|plus, who stands on a train?|
What happens in the last ten minutes is an emotional cataclysm, banked up during the preceding hour during which they each reveal their own loneliness and desperate desire for the transcendence only love can bring.
The rehearsal process was transformative for everyone, I think, as the play demanded both burning passion and titanic restraint. I remember when the flood gates open in the last ten minutes, feeling that my insides were being pulled out by a speeding locomotive, so strong was the rushing forth of love and release.
The critical acclaim was overwhelming.
Total fee for a month's rehearsal and three weeks of performance? $75. Each, for the director, both actors, the lighting guy, and the designer (who designer an ingeniously simple yet haunting set).
You read that right: $75 each.
Admittedly, such plays are not to everyone's taste, and it was, after all, performed in a small theatre in Adelaide.
But here's the point, friends--experiences like this are why we get into acting in the first place. we don't get into it in to do dog food commercials (more about that later), or voice-overs for messages-on-hold, or instructional DVDs or even crappy films made for the great brain-dead mass audience.
|Or Tom Stoppard, even. Travesties, 1983|
Like most of my peers, I got into it to do Shakespeare, and Ibsen and Shaw and Miller and Mamet and so on and so forth. Things that turn you inside-out and change you, lift you up on the wings of the writer's genius and leave you feeling enlarged. It's just that I have come to realize that it's not realistic to expect to make a living from that. In fact, doing it for this sort of rush may even be the height of selfishness.
And for most of my life, making a living at it, being paid for freelance acting work, was the only measure of being a "professional' actor. I took pride in the range of my CV--from talking books for the blind, to TVCs to doing Shakespeare on the London stage--as the true mark of the professional journeyman actor, along with the acquisition of arcane skills in accents and stage combat.
|An arcane part of an arcane art form|
Looking back now at the hodge-podge bits of work and eccentric skills racked over the years, the range and variety only speak to me of the desperation of a life "on the make". A waste of time and of talent and energy.
Like Scrooge in the Dicken's classic, I always considered myself a "good man of (the) business". And just like Scrooge, a voice like Marley's ghost now rings in my ears:
"Business! MANKIND was my business! The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business! The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”
Finally, an actor joke to end this two-part rant about a profession that won't much miss me anyway:
Guy goes into his doctor's office. Says he feels depressed all the time and can't concentrate on his work. Doctor asks him what he does for a living. Guy says he works in the circus. Doctor says that sounds like a lot of fun. Guy says, nah, I follow around the elephants all day and scoop up their copious piles of dung. Doctor says, well I can see why you've been depressed. Why don't you quit?
Guy says, "What? And give up SHOW BIZ?"
Moving on now...