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Monday, October 18, 2010

What kind of actor am I?

Lately in my life there has been a lot of discussion about what makes a successful actor. How to become one, how to sustain being one, what does it mean to be one? And it's made me think a lot about the kind of actor I want to be, and the kind of life that will create for me.

There is no right way to be a theatre professional. There are definitely WRONG ways. But finding a "right" way to make your career as an actor, director, technician, administrator or any combination of those things is impossible. There are people who think they know. And there has been an entire industry built around rules and norms that are really fuzzy and broken more often than followed.

There is no rhyme or reason to success. But there is immense pressure to be "successful".

But what makes a successful actor?

Is it longevity - is doing one show every eighteen months and working as a cater waiter while auditioning for 20 years straight success?

Or fame - becoming a household name or a soap star or a frought druggie diva success?

Maybe it's consistency - working steadily and being paid a barely living wage to work on plays, films, commercials, industrials, and voice over work in exchange for holidays, family time, and a a social life to say the only thing I do is act?

{ See this clip from Dustin Hoffman's acceptance speech for the Acadamy Award he won for Kramer vs. Kramer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhDmNRQgKLM. It is one of the most eloquent and classy ways to put these sentiments into words ever. And I generally hate Oscar speeches.}

I would guess the answer is different for a lot of actors. And non-actors generally only think of fame as the acceptable answer. In general, I find, the metrics for measuring the successfulness of an actor, director, or other are very skewed.

For me being a successful actor is a lot of things. The most important thing is doing the kind of work I WANT to do. The kind of work I believe in. It's not a particular genre or type of role, but more about the process and the people I work with. The feeling of camaraderie and respect I get from being in a well run rehearsal and being allowed to explore, experiment, and build. But in my life I don't only want to be a successful actor. There is so much of theatre and creating that is important to me. And being able to mesh my acting career with the other kinds of directorial and administrative work I do is really important to me.

And there are many people out there that will tell me I can never be a successful actor if I don't give it 100% of my focus. If I'm not willing to sacrifice all of the other goals and roles in my life, I won't know success. But I won't accept that. Firstly because as long as I am working, as long as I stay involved, as long as there is theatre to be made, I will be successful. But also because my overarching goal in life isn't to be a successful actor. I want an acting career that is fulfilling, sure, but I also want a social life and a steady income (I like nice things and buying groceries, so shoot me). I want to travel and enjoy my family and read books and go camping and SEE plays and movies and go dancing or on a spur of the moment road trip. Being tied to making my entire existence about the pursuit of my next acting job won't help me to achieve any of that.

I admire the people who want the kind of acting success that only comes from sacrificing every other part of themselves. It's a dedication and motivation that is awe-inspiring (though sometimes a little....intense) but not something I possess. And the biggest thing I've learned so far is that that is OK. That I don't want to be a "give it everything in my being" kind of actor is a valid choice. That choosing a life full of relationships and experiences that INCLUDE but aren't exclusive to theatre and acting is just fine. And if that's what makes me happy, than why even question it?

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