While drinking my obligatory cup of coffee this morning, I was contacted by a girl I haven’t seen in over a decade. (Mmm, the miracle of Facebook!) Via Internet chat we, of course, played the catch-up game. She started the questioning:
“What are you up to these days?”
“I’m an actor.”
There was a long pause.
It’s becoming a reoccurring theme. Having just finished my undergraduate degree, I’m constantly hearing, “Congratulations! What did you study?” My response, “Theatre Performance”, is usually met with a blank stare. “Really. Well. What are you doing now?” I reply that I’m going to get my MFA in Acting. Responses to that have included silence, laughter, “You can do that?” and, my personal favorite, “Is that like a real master’s degree?”
Yes, that’s like a real master’s degree.
Sure, there are the people who “get it”. Usually they’re fellow theatre folk. Others in the arts. And then there’s… everyone else.
Despite the Everyone Elses out there, the thought of starting classes is too exciting for words. I’m 22, moving to New York City, and getting to study what I love from some pretty amazing people– it’s all kind of thrilling.
But, recently, panic has started to set in. “I’m moving to New York!” has morphed into “I’m moving to New York?” I started thinking about what my first night alone in my tiny shoe-box studio in Manhattan would feel like. I started thinking about what it’s going to be like trying to get to my classes via the New York Subway System. Alone. I started thinking about what it’s going to feel like being lost in New York City. Because I will get lost. And I started thinking about classes…
I openly admit that I’m a nerd. I love to learn. I’ve always thrived in academic environments. Being the studious and overachieving little actor that I am, this morning I was revisiting Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares and, while skimming through passages that I’d highlighted years ago, I started to wonder… am I ready for this? I can talk about the inner life of a role until I blue in the face, but I don’t feel comfortable in my own body as an actor. And I have a small voice that is in serious need of training.
And the actor’s tools are his voice and his body. Well… damn.
Rationally, I know that this is all the more reason to continue my education. All the more reason to embrace my Vocal Production and Movement classes. But, the fear of inadequacy creeps in…
I started to think about the most recent productions I’ve been in and realized that during every one, there was a period where I was convinced that I was the last person alive who should be playing that role. Every role, every show, every time… there was an element of fear. Which then led me to wonder, Am I brave enough to be an actor?
This afternoon, I stumbled upon a Newsweek interview with Kate Winslet. Here’s what she had to say on the matter:
Fear is a great thing for an actor, because you have to confront it, you know. There’s always the feeling of “I can’t do this. They’ve got the wrong person.” This job is so exciting, and most of it is terrifying, but the day I say “That’s it, I know how to act” is the day it ceases to be interesting.
The fear has me thinking about King Lear.
I’m remembering a particular rehearsal, stumbling through Act III, Scene IV– out in the storm before the hovel. (I have worlds to say about the hovel scene, but that’s for another time.)
That production was my first time touching Shakespeare outside of a classroom (I’m sure it was evident to anyone who saw the show) and I was terrified. Excited as hell, but terrified. I spent months doing my research, mulling over physical and vocal choices, trying to make sense of a relationship between Lear and myself, a rather odd choice for The Fool. Still, I felt paralyzed in those early rehearsals. I was off-book, but still wanted my script in hand. I didn’t trust the voice that was going to come out of my mouth. I wasn’t comfortable with my scansion and the verse. I’d done the work, but I just didn’t trust myself. (And maybe for good reason.)
On the other hand, there was Peter, our Lear, whose presence was just commanding. During the particular rehearsal that I’m thinking of, he and I were downstage, my hand in his, trying to persuade him to go into the hovel. Peter broke away from me with the words,
Thou’dst shun a bear,
But if thy flight lay toward the raging sea,
Thou’dst meet the bear i’ the mouth.
And I remember in that moment thinking, Yes! Sometimes we have to face the things we fear because the alternative simply isn’t an option.
A fellow cast member left a note for me in the dressing room on opening night. “Time to meet the bear.” I like thinking about that rehearsal. About that note. They help when the fear starts to make an appearance.
It’s that time again. Time to start trusting myself. Time to meet the bear.
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