I've been feeling pretty down lately. Not all the time, but I have definitely been going through a general malaise for a little over a week. There's always a little sense of post-show depression after something you've done has closed, but it usually doesn't start for a couple days after the final curtain falls and you slowly begin to realize that you have nothing to do with your time. It happens to most professionals in any field, but actors--whose personal identities are so tightly woven up with their job description--are often left with struggling to define themselves in a world where they feel they can't refer to themselves by their chosen job title unless they actually have a gig. That being said, this is not what has taken hold of me this time. It's is something else.
It started a couple days before the Festival opened. I was feeling anxious for seemingly no reason<--That statement strikes me as ridiculous, seeing as how I had plenty to be anxious about: my final performance for my master's degree was going up in a matter of days, and was still very much working itself out; I was waiting on Loukia to make sure everything was going through for the room in her flat; I was debating whether to or what job to pursue this summer; my loan check that was made out in US dollars and could only be made out to me was traveling over the sea to be deposited in a bank stateside by Brian, and I was waiting to hear that it had gotten there safely; and finally, and something I discuss reluctantly here, I had an audition last Friday at the Old Vic that I was incredibly nervous about. The overlying sentiment behind all of these pressures is that sense of seemingly chronic waiting, where I had no power over the majority of what was happening and simply had to hope for the best. I hate that.
Then last Tuesday we had an invited dress for the show, and afterwards I went out with my ensemble and the participating guests for several drinks. I woke up the next day around 4AM, and couldn't fall back to sleep. So I decided to make the most of it and go for a jog down to the Old Vic, partly for inspiration and partly so I'd know exactly where to go on Friday morning. So at 5AM, I was out on the street, running from my home down to the Thames, past the Southbank Centre and the BFI and the National, finally ending up at the theatre. (Let me just take a moment to say I feel incredibly lucky that I can get up and jog to the National-fucking-Theatre. That amazes me.) 5AM in London is quiet--like New York on Sunday mornings. It's great, but you still have to get up at 5AM to see it. But I digress. As I jogged along, I started thinking about theatre, and living for art, and all that really deep stuff, and I came to a somewhat bittersweet conclusion, one that I've come to before: that no piece of theatre is actually fulfilling to me because it's just artificial.
Now, let me say: yes, this statement seems pretty obvious. And this sense of artifice is actually what gives theatre all its power. To paraphrase Peter Brook, if a play is completely naturalistic, then what is the point? If there is nothing heightened, nothing distorted in the reality, then why stage it? I mean, in a simply practical sense, if I see a play with no element of theatricality in it, can't I just stay at home and watch my own life and get the same effect? Surely--and I'll save money doing it. No, you go to the theatre to of course suspend your disbelief and for a couple hours sit on the outside of life to reflect--a reflection aided by various theatrical devices. In the end, however, this is not the artifice to which I am referring.
No, it's far more simple than that. It's just all fake. You show up, put on your make up, do a tap dance for some people who are hopefully paying you, then get off stage, slap on the cold cream, and go home. Nothing has really happened--you just "acted" for two hours, and then went home and may do it again tomorrow. Nothing has really changed. I mean, there is more to it than that. But then sometimes, there's not.
I'm usually far more idealistic about the theatre. Don't get me wrong--I think it can still change things, still alter people's perspectives. Look at Angels in America. Look at The Laramie Project. Look at Waiting for Lefty--that audience on opening night all standing up, yelling "STRIKE!" to the actors on stage. (Every day, I wish I was reading Odets. I miss him.) I guess what bothers me is that those examples are so rare, so, so rare, and in the end are so fleeting--again, one of the things that makes theatre theatre is that it needs an audience to exist. A film can still be projected onto a screen without anyone watching it--it still happens. But theatre does not. And then it's there one moment, and the next: POOF. Gone.
This consistent sense of transience that has pretty much accompanied me through the past twelve years of my life (half my lifetime at present, it should be noted) has caused me to consider over the past few years what really matters to me--what I really want. These things include, but are not limited to the following:
- A husband
- A house (Own outright--not rent or mortgage)
- A baby
My friend Mauro told me over dinner tonight that it was because I was turning 25. He said he went through the same thing then, and something similar when he turned 30. It may be that impending adulthood is causing me to wonder about the future. (I see it, there, at the end of that long tunnel--don't look directly at it, or you'll turn to stone!) But to me, there is also a sense of needing to re-evaluate what I'm doing right now--and what I may not be doing is making enough room for a life that expands outside my job or identity as an artist. Consequently, my work and art loses all of its value, practically and personally.
Which brings me to something else. I found out that a friend of mine that I'd grown up with's father died on the 9th of this month. I didn't find out until 21 June (Father's Day, of all days). I hadn't spoken to her in a while, but she's still someone I had been terribly close with at a time, had always been there when I needed a friend, and is one of the few people from my hometown I try to always see whenever I'm back in that neck of the woods. I found out because of the Facebook, because I got to thinking about her, pulled up her profile, and there as her picture was a tree with a ribbon tied around it--a memorial for her dad. I couldn't believe that this had happened and I hadn't heard about it sooner, and am confused that I ended up finding out about it because of the Facebook. I felt many things--that I should have known sooner, that I should have kept in better contact with her, that someone should have told me, and that I was a bad friend because I hadn't known and hadn't been there for her when she probably needed someone. I can understand the rational argument against this sense of guilt--that I am an ocean away, that we hadn't talked in a while, that we are no longer as close, and that our families weren't close enough for my parents to know this happened (I called them when I found out, and they hadn't heard about it). And still, I feel badly. I feel like that relationship, that so many relationships, was left untended. You can't keep in contact with everyone you know all of the time, of course, but surely a larger effort to let people know that you're thinking of them and they are important in your life is a good thing. I don't know if that would have changed this specific situation, but that's where I'm at with it.
Aaaaaahhhhh--this entry has gone on forever, and has been full of only a single and somewhat vague connection to the theatre! How about this one: to accurately convey something on stage, one must have a sense of life that exists off stage so that one has something to offer. I want a larger definition than just my job title. So for the sake of being a better actor, I have to start taking better care of my life outside the work, because that's what'll make the work valuable anyway. And besides, you can't take an audience home with you. Right? I mean, I guess you could take some of the audience home with you. Hopefully they're worth it.
I know, I know: life's just a bowl of cherries, and I need to let go-go-go. In the meanwhile, it's wicked late, and I'm headed to bed.