This past couple years I've been slowly putting myself back out there as an actor after laying off for many years. I let the siren song of a steady paycheck lure me into a job that had me working nights, basically precluding me from doing any theatre. That was a mistake in the long run. Now as I get back into it, I realize how much I've missed and how much I have to make up. It's like lifting my head from my shoes and noticing there is a world all around me. And each show I do, I see how rusty I am, how much I have to learn, or unlearn.
Stretching the acting muscles, connecting with a partner, struggling with a character, the energy and vibe of an audience, the cobbled together temporary family of cast members (who are a lot like old army buddies when you see them on the street; we are survivors of a war, happy to see someone who understands), it all so... sexy, isn't it? A great performance is like sex: you become one with a part, you connect at a gut/sensual level with the character and cast and you ride it all to the climax. And afterwards you feel elated and exhausted. Of course, cast mates may not want to cuddle afterword. And then we don’t see each other of months, years, but catch up at auditions and backstage like the time away never happened.
Hanging around actors and talking theatre and craft is something I've missed and didn’t even realize how starved I was for it. I love to listen to people talk about the shows they've been in, or how they came up with something, tips and tricks we've learned outside acting classes, good shows, bad theaters and people to work with and to watch out for. You might call this 'office gas' in other professions, but we use it to bond with each other. In other communities, they tell folk stories, compare scars, praise or damn gods; here we tell tales of the worst Shakespeare productions we've been part of, clueless directors, and utter disasters we lived through. War stores, survivor stories.
The theatre community is small, interconnected, incestuous, cliquish, petty, and some of the best people you will ever find. I've met some great folk in theatre, some of my fiercest friends are ones I've made here in theatre, people I know will answer a call from me night and day. And I feel the same way towards them. We are the survivors, and we know how we got those scars. The ephemeral nature of theatre makes us cling to each other just a bit more than you might to the person at the next desk. We understand what we do today will be not gone tomorrow, but gone in the seconds it takes the words to fall from the air. We mark our memories by the shows we do "Oh, yeah, I was doing Major Barbara in San Diego that year", and our friendships by which shows we did together. As I said, we are the survivors of the war, we know damn well what each of us goes through to get out of bed and into our audition clothes, and it is the measure of our empathy how we treat one another in those situations.
I’ve been going through depression this past year, one thing piling on another until at times it was crushing, hard to breathe. Theatre has been a help to me, not as therapy (uh, rehearsal is not a therapy session) but as a focus and being in a show forced me out of the house and outside my own head. Believe me I’m very grateful for that and for those of you who knew something was wrong and offered help, even if I turned you down out of utterly misplaced pride. Theatre folk understand because they have been there, know someone who’s been there, grew up around such people, and remember. Yes, there are jerks here to, but that’s another post.
I write this to basically talk to myself, to let me know what I’m thinking when I’m not sure myself. This is me, looking back on a trail of mental breadcrumbs and figuring out how I got from there. See you at the end.