I’m in an acting class, T120: Intro to Theater Acting for Non-Majors. And I’m failing in the especially pathetic way that comes from trying really really hard but just not having the talent. My classmates know it, my pounding heart and adrenaline overload each day make sure I know it, and most of all, my acting teacher knows it.
He was under the impression that this was a class for Acting majors, for people with a passion. Instead, he got a motley collection of people ranging from silver-tongued, charismatic charmers to maladroit introverts like myself. I leave each class deflated, the damning, Australian-accented words of my professor ringing in my ears. “I’m sorry I didn’t give you bettah comments. I’m juhst… very disappointed. I don’t know what happened. It’s worse than the first time you did it.”
I had a naïve hope that I would be having a fun time hamming it up, learn how to be confidant performing and speaking in front of people. That’s part of what acting is, but really only the smallest portion. Most of it involves some sort of magical emotional alchemy that requires both loads of hard work and a germ of talent. This isn’t the fun group-improv activities of middle school drama club. This is Theatre, which, our professor told us with the air of a jaded veteran, is the hardest thing on earth. And I’m starting to believe him.
I’m gonna say something really obvious now: Acting is different from writing. I thought they might be similar. I thought that because I am a creative person, because so many of my writer friends are also actors, I would have able to do it also. HAAA. No.
Writers communicate their intentions from behind the safety of a screen of words. Sure, we put it out there for judgement, but we have ample time to reconstruct and edit our prescious little mind-babies before sending them out into the world to represent us. Actors rehearse, too. But then they go out there, and with their own bodies and their own voices inhabit the lives of someone completely different. There’s so much to deal with, and I don’t entirely understand it. Do you actors feel, in your work, as if you are inhabited by the spirit of some other creature? Is this comparable to when writers feel the force of something creative and unconscious steering the words they pick?
My professor said that actors have the privilege to live another life, multiple lives. In a different but equally valid way, this also true of writers. We experience the the emotions we write about. Writers have a protection, to an extent. We can remain anonymous if we please. Actors, on the other hand, have no such privilege. They perform for the audience with their own voices, their own bodies, their own real-time efforts. They make themselves so vulnerable. And what are they doing? Oh, nothing much. Just becoming people, emulating and experiencing a life they have never lived. And they perform for an audience of humans, who are expects at being people and know a faker when they see one.