And the Winner Is….
“Television is a medium of entertainment
which permits millions of people
to listen to the same joke at the same
time, and yet remain lonesome.”
—T. S. Eliot
The Emmy Awards were on television the other night. It was television making television of itself. And reminding us we were interested.
And of course we were.
Of course we are.
“Every country gets the circus it
deserves. Spain gets bullfights. Italy
gets the Catholic Church. America
Television is make-believe, and we all like make-believe. Even the news on television makes entertainment of the news. What most holds our fantasy in the Emmy Awards, and the Academy Awards, and the Golden Globe Awards are the actors who are better actors than we are. And often better looking.
That the actors arriving in limos get to play parts that we will never play doesn’t mean we’re not professional actors. We are. We know it. And, in a double irony, though all of us pay the price for acting, we just get paid less.
“Most people find that being themselves is not enough of a show,” said the American philosopher Mason Cooley. I’m not sure most of us feel that way, but I am sure that all of us have felt that way—at some time. All of us have known the feeling of being ourselves and feeling we’re not giving others enough of a show to earn their applause. When we grow addicted to the applause, we grow lonely in its absence, and then in its company.
Any of us characters in character who strut and fret on life’s stage soon discover that most of our insecurities come from needing the applause of others rather than accepting and loving our selves. Most actors like most people feel they’re not getting the auditions they deserve—the big break they have earned. Hoping to play leading roles, all of us often forget that we already play the leading man or leading woman role in our own lives (applause, please).
Whether we’re dressed by Armani or by “ah who cares,” we are all actors who play dress up. Few of us feel we drive the other sex crazy, but we all like to sneak a peek at ourselves even if we’re not crazy about how we look. “What do you think? Be honest with me. Do these pants make my rear look too big?”
No matter what role we’re cast in we would all like to be appreciated for the parts we’re playing on the stage we’re born onto or dragged onto. Because all of us are actors all of us are busy memorizing our scripts and all of us could use some direction. Few of us give autographs.
It doesn’t matter what stage of life we’re in we’re all on the stage and in a stage. And I thought it might be interesting to hear what a few people in the industry have had to say about acting. And what it might be saying to us.
Lights. Camera. Action. The play’s the thing.
“Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.” —Jeanne Moreau.
Thank you Ms. Moreau. This is clearly acting inside out. Hiding in plain sight. In a world where so little is at it appears, little so confuses others like telling them the truth.
“The basic essential of a great actor
is that he loves himself in acting.”
I hope this isn’t news to anyone. A great actor, whether he is leading a company or she is leading a nation, has to love playing the part even more than the role. Roles in life change but loving to play whatever part you’re cast in goes a long way toward having others believe you are who you say you are. (“When you’re around wolves, howl like a wolf,” said Lenin.) Every part we play in life is only our part at that moment. And is over in a New York minute. Children become adults. Adults become memories. Don’t get addicted to your role. Roll with it. And, curiously, stay balanced by rolling with it. Accept yourself in whatever role you’re playing. And love your self for not having to play a role.
“To grasp the full significance of life
is the actor’s duty, to interpret it is his
problem, and to express it his dedication.”
To see Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire screaming “Stella!” is to remind any of us:
(1) We sense more than we know. Or can sometimes cope with. We less grasp life’s significance than we are touched by it. Life cannot be parenthetically grasped by any of us who are alive.
(2) To interpret life is an effort to translate unspoken truths. It is as mythic in its frustration as would be the effort of people with no tongues to talk with those who have no ears. And still it is necessary to make the effort.
(3) Expressing our lives is nothing less than making art from what we know and finding inspiration in what we don’t know.
“While we look to the dramatist to give
romance to realism, we ask of the actor
to give realism to romance.”
Making make-believe believable begins with us believing that our drama is a drama. Life is a soap opera because we like the emotional roller coaster of being in a soap opera. It keeps our life interesting, to us. Romancing our ego, we get to have large hopes and private hurts and great pity parties. And now, here are some excerpts from tomorrow’s: As My World Turns.
“Acting is a question of absorbing other
people’s personalities and adding some
of your own experience.”
We mimic, borrow, mix and match, react to and from other actors. Our whole life.
When we’re growing up, when we’re dying, or when we’re simply stumbling through the day to day, we do what others have done on the big screen or on life’s little screen. Even when we’re proud of not acting like others we are using their actions to promulgate ours. There are many actors but there are very few original acts.
“The thing about performance, even if it’s
only an illusion, is that it is a celebration
of the fact that we do contain within
ourselves infinite possibilities.”
—Daniel Day Lewis
We are a reflection of an infinite divinity. We can be whatever we have the faith to be and applaud our selves for washing ashore at Self. A man who spent his whole life attempting to live like Moses expected to be admitted to heaven. When the man’s admission was refused, he complained: “I’ve lived like Moses my who whole life.” “Sorry,” said the heavenly governing board, “we already had a Moses. We needed you.”
“We are born at the rise of the curtain
and we die with its fall, and every night in
the presence of our patrons we write our
new creation, and every night it is blotted
out forever; and of what use is it to say to
audience or to critic, “Ah, but you should
have seen me last Tuesday?”
Play this performance. That’s why you’re here. Now.
“An audience is never wrong. An individual
member of it may be an imbecile, but a
thousand imbeciles together in the dark—
that is critical genius.”
Sometimes the only thing worse for an actor than not getting any feedback from your audience is getting feedback. Be careful of what you ask for. On the other hand, though Mr. Wilder’s ability as a director cannot be challenged, the applause of large audiences still echoes in the hall of horrors. Hitler was an immensely popular actor. His script gave the people what they wanted to believe. The masses are not asses, as some elitists would like us to believe, but surely the masses have made some asinine decisions. And a bigger ass of those who have ‘kissed the asinine’. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.
“I regard the theater as a serious business, one
that makes or should make man more human,
which is to say, less alone.”
None of us are alone on stage. Even when we are alone we are all on stage. What we experience in life makes us all brothers and sisters. How we experience life is ours alone. “The reason I’m in this business, I assume all performers are—it’s ‘Look at me, Ma!’ It’s acceptance, you know—
‘Look at me, Ma, look at me, Ma, look at me,
Ma.’ And if your mother watches, you’ll
show off till you’re exhausted.”
The only thing sadder than spending our life playing for “Ma” is growing up with no “Ma” to play for. And while we all want to be loved for our performance, as the psychologist Dr. David Richo reminds us: “No one can give you now what you didn’t get then.” Falling in love with someone believing they will love your performance like the “Ma” or the “Pa” you never had is a show that will have a limited run. Any grown up actors hoping for a parental audience in a relationship are playing to a parent-child not adult-adult relationship. On a very private internal stage we’re all playing for “Ma” or “Pa” or their absent ghost.
“Insecurity, commonly regarded as a
weakness in normal people, is the basic
tool of the actor’s trade.”
If life gives you lemons squeeze lemons and sell juice. Life gives all of us insecurities the question is what we make of them. Weaknesses are gifts. When we open them we are given strength. Life on and off stage is a judo match. If your opponent is stronger than you use your weaknesses.
“An actor is a kind of guy who if you ain’t
talking about him, he ain’t listening.”
Attention all actors: If you want to sound interesting, even fascinating, listen to others. Are you talkin’ to me?
“Hollywood is a place where people
from Iowa mistake each other for stars.”
Everybody is in somebody’s movie. Everybody.
“I was born at the age of twelve on a
Actors are born when they step on stage. All of us step on stage when we’re born.
“I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I
was six. Mother took me to see him in a
department store and he asked for my autograph.”
—Shirley Temple Black
It doesn’t matter when we stop believing in Santa Claus. What does matter is when we start believing in ourselves. And in the self we’ve yet to become. There’s a gift to give yourself. Some of us pray to be stars. Some of us look to the stars when we pray. The bright lights, however, do not necessarily put us in the spotlight. Rather, it is the absence of light in the cosmos, the surrounding nothingness of space that makes the smallest star stand out. It is the audience in each of us, which feels like nothing special, that makes the star in each of us stand out. Call your agent, the Big Producer in the sky has just put out an open casting call, and there’s a part for someone just like you.