Sometimes actors, who may be so convincing and brilliant in a role played on stage or film, may not be so comfortable in a situation where he or she might be making a speech or giving a talk – as his or her self. Do we find it easier to play a role of a character we have created than to let our own personality shine? Do we hide there? Do we even cherish and honor those characters we play more than we do ourselves?
Actors struggle with this. I see it all the time.
I often get to hear stories of patrons who are moved or touched by a performance, a character, or a play and it’s story. Recently a dear friend and a long time season ticket holder was talking about a specific actor and the work she had seen him do over the years. “But I’ll never forget that first role I saw him in,” she said, and she named the play. “It changed my life.”
Wow, I thought… that is big.
My friend went on to tell of how the role this actor had brought to life had reminded her of her father and as she saw the actor portray this character, she, for the first time, understood her father and saw him in a fresh way that deeply touched her. She saw him on that stage, she saw his pain and his challenges. And it set her free.
Now, sometimes it can work the other way too. I have also been notified, which I also appreciate, by the way, of a play, a character, or circumstance that someone found unsettling. It touched a nerve, it brought up unpleasant memories, it even offended. That can and does happen, too. When you tell stories, the stories of real people, it entertains, it stirs, it challenges, it cheers, it brings up memories and emotions, happy and sad. We love the happy, but must risk the range of emotion to understand ourselves and others.
This reminded me of a favorite quote about the arts by Richard Eyre, “Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy. The arts enable us to put ourselves in the mind, eyes, ears, and hearts of other human beings.”
The honorable work of an actor, on stage and screen, large and small, affects change. Like the quote above suggests, it’s the actor who makes the empathy possible with his/her creation of character, making it easy for us to identify with them.
So to the actor, go ahead and shine, in character and out of character. Your work is valuable. You are valuable. Think about this: the first artist and person mentioned in The Bible (Bezalel) to be “filled… with God’s spirit with wisdom, understanding and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works” was an artist, specifically chosen by God and called to a divine purpose. (Exodus 35:30). You are too.