Friday, January 13, 2012

Acting Up

By Russel D McLean

I wanted to be an actor.

That’s the long and short of it. I wanted to be an actor. Not for the fame and the glory, but for the ability to become someone else, even if only for a short amount of time. This had nothing to do with being unhappy in who I was, but there was something about becoming someone else, of reacting to the world in a way that was atypical to the norm that I found exciting.

I only had one problem:

I didn’t like actors.

Okay, that’s not fair. What I didn’t like were people who wanted to be Actors (with a capital A). You know, they wanted the luvvie lifestyle or to pretend that they in and of themselves were interesting. I didn’t want to be in the limelight. I wanted whoever I was supposed to be to be in the limelight.

Not that I was method, or anything. No, I was something else. I quickly found that dialogue was what made acting interesting to me. The right script could sing off the page and it was like you barely had to do anything at all to understand it. You just let the script use your body in the same way a musician might use a guitar. The dialogue and the action allowed you to perform. You didn’t need to question why a character might do something. If the script was in tune, you just goddamn knew why.

Maybe that’s the other reason I never became an actor. I placed too much faith in the writer. I didn’t allow my ego to overcome the script; I wanted the script to overcome my ego.
I suppose becoming a writer was a natural extension of all this. In the back of my head, I had this idea that I could act and write. That I would become one of those people who has a finger in every pie. But the writing won out in the end because I had more control, or at least it seemed that way to me. I was not bound by a bad script or forced to read between the lines to understand a character. If I didn’t understand a character, then that was my fault and not some other guy’s (or some other gal’s). There was also the fact that as much as people seemed to appreciate my acting ability, my skill with the written word came easier and more obviously. I was at home with words. I could manipulate them easier than I could my own expression or tone.

I got the same kick out of it, too. When I’m writing, I become the characters I’m writing about. I see the world through their eyes. I gain a new perspective on things. Sometimes that perspective unnerves me. Sometimes it says as much about me as it does about the character. Sometimes it makes me rethink my own ideas about life.

Whatever, it’s the getting inside someone’s head that provides me with the thrill of writing. It’s getting to be someone else, even if only for a little while. That’s what I became addicted to.

That’s what makes me keep hammering out fiction, telling stories about people who I could
never be, or even who I would never want to be.

Would I ever want to try acting again? Sure, I think I would. I don’t know that I’d be anywhere as good as I am at writing. It’s one thing to communicate character through words, another to do it physically. You can be good at one and not necessarily the other. But I do think the disciplines can attract the same types of people. Certainly, I get the same thrill from one that I did from the other.

You can call me a frustrated actor if you like. In one sense I suppose it’s true.

In another sense, since I abandoned the spotlights and the greasepaint, you could say, in all honesty, that I have become a satisfied writer.


Dana King said...

Writers and actors do have a lot in common. As you noted, when crafting a character, most writers I am aware of "become" that character for his speeches or action; I know I do.

You also touched on another, less productive, aspect: I know a lot of writers who like the idea of being a writer a lot more than they enjoy sitting their butts down and actually writing. As you noted--and I have long suspected--there are a lot of actors who enjoy the idea of being an actor far more than they enjoy honing their craft to actually be an actor.

Al Tucher said...

You could probably make a long list of writers who first wanted to be actors, or who at least did some acting. My name would go on the list.

And I think quite a few playwrights have despised actors. Eugene O'Neill did, from what I hear. It would be interesting to know what Shakespeare thought of his colleagues, because he would have been on both sides of the footlights if there had been any footlights then.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

You can put my name on Al's list. I did dinner theater and opera and even some children's theater. While I was doing the acting thing, I started writing. Now that I have a little boy, it's too hard to do 8 shows a week. Funny, while I miss it, writing gives me so much of what I got from performing that I'm happy just writing. (Although some day I might go back for kicks...we'll see!)