Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I'm Not an Actor and I Don't Play One on TV 

This is probably more than anyone needs or wants to know about me, but I'm posting it anyway in response to an email asking how the acting was going. Some of my posts gave the impression that I was still in the business.

I go to work every morning to a job I hate. I have done for more than ten years. I was an actor once, for more than twenty years. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do and the only thing I ever found I was good at. Still, I like my life.

I showed in this post (currently it is the one archive week that won't pull up, but it's 2/11/04, below) how it was purely happenstance that got me into theatre school in the first place. The fact is it was several years before I began taking the idea of doing it for a living seriously. This is how that happened.

I was cast in a play by being directed by one of the members of the resident company of professional actors. It was Dark Lady of the Sonnets, a one-act by Shaw. It's a wonderful piece and I may be the only guy around who's done it twice -- at least I'll believe that until someone tells me different. It takes around a half our or so and the notion is that a young Shakespeare is trysting with the doubly eponymous Dark Lady and in the course of lurking around the palace at Whitehall waiting for her he encounters a Beefeater -- a sort of grave-digger/wise fool and then Queen Elizabeth herself. The joke (and Shaw understood the idea of theatrical jokes better than any Neil Simon) is that the other characters would let fly with a Shakespearian tag in conversation ("Frailty, thy name is woman", "All the perfumes of Araby . . .") and Will whips out a notebook and jots them down. Ho, ho.

Well, this night, the night I decided to become an actor, the show was going marvelously. Big laughs and my first experience of an audience completely at my mercy. The first time I ever worked an audience. Suddenly and I couldn't tell you the line, we did one of those little Shakespeare-cribbs-from-the-prole jokes and the audience began to laugh. I did a take. A dumb little take.

Well. They laughed for twenty or thirty seconds and then they applauded. Then they laughed some more and then they applauded again. And laughed again. It probably took ninety seconds before we went on with the play, but by that time I was absolutely hooked. I was a nineteen year old kid that nobody ever paid attention to before. No one ever could have possibly paid enough attention to satisfy me, but the point is I knew, as completely ignorant of craft or art or technique as I was, what was going on. That was a moment that people don't get in their lives, in their real lives. I became transparent. There was no space between me and the people watching me. They knew exactly who I was and what I was doing. My absurd confidence, my ferocious ambition, my facile charm was as plain and present to them as if it were theirs. I had disappeared and, for an audience its a thrilling experience. It's why they go to the theatre.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to portray myself as a genius actor. Shakespeare of the Sonnets was a fluke and most actors have had similar moments. I struggled for years with to find my way back to that moment and the truth is, it was really only around the time I quit that I felt like I was really getting it.

I worked a lot, but made very little money. Lane worked less but made a lot more. When we decided to have a family I decided we needed at least one steady income. I wasn't headed for stardom anyway, but not performing has left a hole. I started this post by saying I like my life. The reason is Grace. There's no way we'd have Grace if I hadn't left the theatre. I'm all right with that.
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