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     Volume 9 Issue 39| October 08, 2010 |


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Writing the Wrong

The Thespian in All of Us


The late great George Burns said, “acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made.”

He was of course (well, I hope) being tongue in cheek. I think many of us take for granted or simply just do not understand what it takes to get up on stage, or in front of a camera and tell a story with your body, your eyes, and your words; even one that is not always your own. People so dismissively say, “Oh that movie wasn't any good, or her acting was crap”, without really ever considering what it took to even get it to a place where one can see it in a theatre. Now that is not to say that the movie was not actually terrible and that Ashton Kutcher is lucky he has other irons in the fire as acting might not be his strong suit.

The amazing Stella Alder – a visionary acting teacher once described acting as “standing in front of a room full of people stark naked and turning around very slowly.” So, essentially, the craft of acting is about being totally vulnerable, and authentic while pretending to be someone you are completely not. How do people do it? Well, the fact is, most in this profession do not do it well. This goes for life as well.

I have started directing my actors for an upcoming show that I wrote, and, based on the last rehearsal, I learned more than I guided. This is a material I have not worked with in years, moreover this is my first time working with it as a director. I was always the actor and writer. The discoveries and revelations that were uncovered, for me, as a director, in less than two hours were astonishing. What astonished me more, was that two people I do not know, who have met me only once or twice before put their complete faith and trust in me as I asked them to express themselves and do things that most would view as uncomfortable just to get to the heart of the moment between a man and woman who had just met and were not sure if they fancied one another. And they did it amazingly well, given that they themselves had only met once before.

I take art for granted, though I have dedicated my life to it and profess to being an artiste myself. I sued a Manhattan bar once when a painting fell on my face, (long story) and had to go visit a counselor as part of the suit. She released her assessment to my attorneys and I was allowed to read it. She called me a “self-described artiste”. I was taken aback by that. Self-described sounds like I am living in some kind of fantasy and only I view myself as an artiste. Writing, films, even acting at one point, were all I wanted to do. I actually became a playwright and screenwriter out of necessity because no one was generating material for me to star in and obviously wow the masses. What I discovered slowly, surprisingly, was that I really did not love acting, and this is one of those mostly thankless professions that breaks your heart on a regular basis so you better love it so much, you do not feel whole unless you are pursuing it. I used to wake up feeling empty when I was not chasing the dream, but of course I did not know why. I thought I was prone to melancholia, and then felt smug about that because I equated depression to being a tormented and artistic soul. I was young and stupid. There was even a time I would wake up and declare myself suitably miserable. I would take comfort in that misery, until something, like a locally made TV commercial (in this case about a window company that is obviously run by the mob, given that its spokesperson looks like a mafia moll, all fake tan, platinum blonde, stark against the tan skin and light lipstick with a dark liner, outlining her collagen injected lips) makes me laugh so hard that I nearly choke. Sigh, I think, I am never going to attain the requisite torment and lugubriousness to sustain an artistic life. And now this! Self-described. It still smarts because, like most of us, no matter what our profession, I have the sneaking suspicion I am a charlatan and will soon be ousted. The auteur Meryl Streep talks about the jitters she experiences every time she walks on a set for the first time. This is the day, she has said, when everyone will finally figure out I have NO talent! This is a genuine feeling. I believe she is being honest when she says this.

Most of us have something of the actor in us. Indeed, we are all playing
roles on a regular basis. At work we don one hat, at home, in front of our children, the kitchen
staff and our mothers -in-law, we must have a very specific chapeau, as the
world WILL crumble if we do not wear it with authority.

Most of us have something of the actor in us. Indeed, we are all playing roles on a regular basis. At work we don one hat, at home, in front of our children, the kitchen staff and our mothers -in-law, we must have a very specific chapeau, as the world WILL crumble if we do not wear it with authority. We are all great pretenders. Women especially. We have to be, it might just be a matter of survival. If men knew what we were REALLY thinking, there would be pandemonium on an epic scale. There is a fine line, however, between essaying the requisite roles to maintain order in our universes, and living a life of inauthenticity, and I have seen many, many people who are doing that. I am getting better at spotting them. They are usually very jumpy whenever you ask them a personal question, and rarely share anything intimate with anyone. Well, it could also just be my delivery. Sometimes, as my pal Frances says, it's not best to open with, “So do you believe in God?” or launch right into an energetic description of how one feels about their colon. (Yes, I actually did that once) BUT that is maybe the point; I am not an effective actor. But I am learning, yes ma'am, indeed I am. Self-described or not.



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