There are nine words that can strike either fear and/or motivation into the heart of a third year MFA actor: “What are you going to do after you graduate?”
I have nine responses to this question. That’s because over the last three years, I have learned that I’m capable of so much more than I ever thought. Theatre has, once again, proven to be a training ground not just for itself, but also for life.
I’ll share such an instance with you. We were nearing performances for Tom Jacobson’s The Twentieth-Century Way. It’s a fast-paced, two-person show and I couldn’t stop worrying that I was going to say the wrong line and completely derail. It got to the point that I became obsessive and was anticipating a catastrophic event on opening. I had to let go and trust that I would know what to say when I had to say it. I had to trust that my scene partner, director, stage manager, faculty, and indeed the audience, were all there to help me, not to judge me. Once I let go of all of my worries – that I hadn’t done enough character research, that I wasn’t capable enough, that my memory would fail me – I started to fly and, magically, the right words came and I got through it. It was terrifying and thrilling. I’ll never forget it.
We all have different reasons for wanting to take on a character, to create, to perform. For me, it’s the pursuit of truth. Whether on stage or screen, indoors or outdoors, in rehearsal or performance, the conditions for revealing the truth are the same.
1. Listen – to my scene partner; to the playwright’s words; to all of the ideas in the room; to myself; with my whole self.
2. Trust – my scene partner; the director; and everyone working to make the production a success; that if I’ve done my homework, my ideas are grounded in the world of the play and very worth exploring.
3. Investigate – the given circumstances; my character’s speech patterns; where I came from and where I’m going; what I want and what I’m getting.
4. Accept – that I am enough and not enough; that I have insecurity and so does everyone else; that which I cannot control.
5. Create – something, anything, big or small, every single day.
6. “Find the fear in the room and face it.” (Valerie Curtis-Newton)
7. Train – my body; my soul; my spirit; my character; my music; my creativity; my inner-warrior.
8. Nourish – my body; my soul; my spirit; my character; my music; my creativity; my inner-warrior; the others in the room.
9. Let go – of what came before and what may or may not come next.
Every day I’m learning (and re-learning) that I’m much more productive when I listen and respond with my whole self; when I trust that my training is there; contemplate what’s underneath my words; accept rather than doubt; take advantage of opportunities to express myself artistically; identify my fears and work to do something about them; push my body to its potential, but also treat it with forgiveness; when I have faith that I will know what to do when I need to do it.
The bassist Victor Lemonte Wooten says, “Rehearsal is performance and performance is rehearsal.” If you rehearse as though you are performing, you are more likely to have a great performance, and every performance is a rehearsal for the next one. The same attitude can be applied to a creative life. When I practice the above daily, I am more likely to be open to spontaneity, to new and better variations, and to revealing truth. In turn, my own life is enriched.
My training is rapidly starting to come together in a way I never imagined. It’s all starting to make sense and, I am told, I will experience “light bulb” moments for years to come. So after I graduate, I plan to keep doing the things on my list. It’s a working list, subject to change. On it, however, are some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the last three years. They are lessons that, in the moment, were specific to an acting exercise, a performance, or a rehearsal, but that have become just as important in life.