Wednesday, July 16, 2008

when there is that blank space now, I don't write "actor"

Something is happening that I feared would happen, but it isn’t scary at all now that it’s here. I think I’m finally making the mental transition away from being an actor. It’s really just a thinking thing, since I have done the bare minimum, acting-wise, these past few years. A little play here and there, a rare voiceover. One industrial. So, no shock, nothing sudden, but I’ve kept a tenacious little psychic finger on acting even when I wasn’t doing it for long spurts of time. You used to be able to see it in my profile description. It came after writer, but there it was. Actor. I like that writer ended up first and I think I’m okay if it’s there alone now. I think I am. Yes. I think so. Think. Maybe so.

I’ll tell you some of what I have loved about acting. This Tina persona I’ve developed over my lifetime can be confining, and when you make one of these personas, you get locked into patterns that you haven’t entirely chosen. You reinforce the patterns that other people early on helped you to reinforce. I can’t say that – my character would never do that! My persona has always been cheerful and gentle and kind. I loved knocking down the everyday Tina walls, and wandering around in aspects of my being that didn’t get air on a daily basis. I loved the angry characters, the rebellious ones, the wistful ones, the grieving ones, the loose cannons. They were all me, but the unlicensed me. Being on stage felt like finally getting hot air into the giant droopy balloon of potential I’d been dragging around, and rising up in the sky in my character’s basket. Exhilaration and relief, and a brand-new view.

I love the immediacy and adrenaline of being on stage. Acting has been my sport, my rush. I love feeling the audience’s presence, like heat from the sun. Acting with a partner is also…you know what it is? It’s sexy! I mean it, it’s thrilling. You have an unspoken pact that you are going to be wide open and brutally truthful, that you are going to allow yourself to be affected by your partner, and that you will not hold back in giving them what they need. However your character carries herself, behind your eyes you will be entirely present, and you won’t hide anything. Even if your character is hiding something, you cannot be. Inside you must be revealing yourself, and letting an avenue in through your eyes for the other person to discover the truth. The truth has to be available. And you have to be alert with all of your hairs on end to pick up the truth from your partner, find what they’re hiding.

The truth! The truth. That’s what I have loved most about acting. Acting isn’t lying. Someone somewhere might have that idea, and I don’t know, maybe it’s true for someone or some form of acting, but I don’t think so. I don’t think you can act well and lie. Inside you have to be all truth. You can get an experience of truthfulness on stage, within yourself and with your partner, that comes only rarely off stage. Off stage you can lie all day long and you probably do. You can get away with it like gangbusters elsewhere. Not so on stage. I love the captivity of being on stage – you can’t run away and you must tell the truth. So troubling and vulnerable and exciting. Again, sexy.

Gosh, I’m speaking about it so lovingly. Why am I letting it go? Well, I’m not banning it from my life forever. What I’m doing is letting go of defining myself as an actor. For so long, when people have asked me what I do, I’ve replied automatically, “I’m an actor.” And for a good healthy decade, I was a busy acting bee. But if I have to hoist a flag, I’m going to hoist a writing flag. I’m not paid for that either, yet, but the label feels most current and accurate. With acting, I’m a person who happens to have skill in that area, and if there’s a good time to use it again, I’ll use it. But I don’t have any ambition for it any more. When I was younger, I wanted success; I wanted people to know who I am and admire me and respect me and be impressed by me. I wanted word to travel far and wide of my great skill! And now I don’t care. I can’t imagine going through the necessary contortions. And there are some necessary contortions if you want success as an actor, and you can be a wonderful actor and make all of the necessary contortions and still not achieve success. So much is beyond your control, and hinges on things which in a perfect world would be at least a little beside the point. This is seventy –four times truer for women than it is for men. I’m talking about looks, and I’m also talking about this in the context of having a professional career, which isn’t something I’m so qualified to talk about, since I haven’t seriously had a professional acting career. I have been paid for my work ranging from not at all to minimally to fairly well. The fairly wells I can count on one hand and still hold a pencil. An actress needs to be either very beautiful or have very definite “character actress” looks. If you’re ten pounds overweight, you either need to lose fifteen or gain fifty. If you’re a woman and your looks are unprepossessing, it’ll take a miracle of ferocious talent and bizarrely fortunate circumstance to set your career on fire. Many examples do not leap to mind, although you might be able to call up a few.

All of that is true, and maddening, and then you add a sort of institutional disrespect for actors from those in positions of power over them and voila: a recipe for something that does not sound delicious to me. I’ve felt it in the air during certain auditions, that essential disrespect. There’s a sense that you don’t matter, you’re this groveling thing asking for scraps, you’re so lucky just to be in the room with these Mighty Deciders, and you have to be willing to toss your life on the scrap heap to jump when they say jump. (What is that on my shoulder…is that a chip? Crunch. Now that's delicious.) Of course, there are exceptions – wonderful, kind directors and producers who love and respect actors. I’m not talking about you guys. I’m talking about everybody else. People can get a little power-happy. I just have to face the fact that I’m not a temperamental match for the auditioning process. I’m increasingly not good at putting on a deferential face when real deference isn’t blooming in me for someone.

You know what it is? What acting gave me I think I might not need so much any more. As I get older, I find I don’t so much need an outlet for the parts of myself I repress in my daily life, because I think…I THINK…that I’m not repressing myself so much. I don’t sacrifice truthfulness on the altar of my persona in the way I may have done back in the day. It’s really truth that I enjoy the most, and freedom of expression, and those are things I can provide for myself. I can give them to myself when I write. And when I give them to you here, they make the trip all the way from my consciousness to yours, so I have that lovely click of completion. Communication has occurred, and an exchange of energy has taken place, if less overt than with a physical audience in the same room. (That, I grant, is a precious thing, being in the same room. Theater is so good like that.) I can get a little burst of adrenaline when I hit “publish” if I know I’ve revealed something precious, but it’s not the automatic rush that a stage gives. To achieve sport feelings, I have to be triply revealing and dangerous in the writing, which I’m only just learning how to do. Sport feelings? No. Wrong phrase. Life feelings. Vivid risky life participation.

Hmm. I’m forgetting something. I’m forgetting something about the theater that I love. It’s participating in the creation of an imaginary world. You can do that with writing, I know, but it’s not the same thing if you’re not standing in it with your actual body. Childlike playtime feelings. Playing pretend with your whole body. Feeling of wonder, particular to that. All right. I give up. There is no substitute for that. Well, sometimes you can let things go for which there is no substitute. I release this metaphorical Porsche from my grip. If it comes flying back into my hand, then it’s mine. And maybe then only still for a minute.

For a long time, I had – and I’ve written about this here, and elsewhere – a strong pull to make my own solo show. I started writing it, and the theater company I was a part of for a very long time had signed on to produce it. The essential kernel of the show exists for me still, I can feel it, like a real thing I can feel in my pocket. Like a rock or a gemstone. I’d like to make this story, still. I’m not exactly sure, though, if I need to make it on a stage. I might just be able to make it on a page. Maybe I can stand in front of you while you read it, so I can get your immediate reaction. That won’t be annoying, right? It’ll just be a nice, normal exchange of energy. “What do you think? What are you reading now? Which part are you at? I wrote that.”

A psychic told me once that I would only achieve my life purpose when I embraced being a nobody. When she told me that, I was just at the height of my ambition as an actor so I thought, Stuff it, lady. I’m not a little reclusive saint person with no ego. Now I can see what she means. Success is a word that has sort of lost its meaning for me. I still have ambition, but it’s not so much for success as it is for new discovery and making meaningful connection. (That sounds like a brochure, dang it. What else will I call it?! Damn it, discovery and connection are the words. Meaningful is the word. I mean it. We’ll lose “new”. That’s redundant.) I need to communicate with you all, however I can.

So. If a sweet little opportunity to take my hot acting balloon flying comes around, I will climb in. I just don’t need the balloon to take me anywhere in particular. I don’t need the balloon for my sense of identity or self respect. Those I can make on my own.

Acting, you are a beautiful pursuit.

I’m taking my hand and I’m opening it and I’m letting whatever is in it fall out.


dup said...


That was some great writing.



john said...

I think there are way fewer writers than there are actors. So if you're one of the writers, you get to be bigger/greater than if you're one of the actors. Or something.

Anonymous said...

I got teary reading this. You're so good, Tina. So damn good.

Christopher said...

I totally sympathize.

Being an actor was such a definitive part of "me" for so much of my life that it took me a looooooonnnnnng time before I could really and truly admit to myself that, "that's not who I am anymore. Let it go". Because mostly, I was really afraid that was how other people defined me as well, and that if I didn't have that word to hold onto, my whole sense of self would just sort of dry up and blow away like a tumbleweed in the desert.

But, now it's been - what? - about three years since I dropped that particular word from my CV of Life, and I feel just fine about it.

And so will you, too, I'm sure.