One of the questions I am always asked is: ‘What is Acting?’ I was always stumped by this question until I went to drama school and one of my teachers defined it as getting one’s audience to suspend disbelief. This I understood and realised I had my work cut out, before I even stepped out onto a stage. How could I convince anyone I was Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Brutus, Hotspur, Shylock or Willy Loman if I did not believe I was those people? If I did not believe I could be these people, who else would believe me?
Thankfully I have moved on from those days where a lack of self-belief reigned supreme. I don’t think I would make a convincing Martin Luther King or Malcolm X but that is more to do with the fact those two men as examples demonstrated far more presence in life and death than anyone I can think of. I have no interest in recreating either man’s persona or legacy simply because the late Paul Winfield and Denzel Washington respectively portrayed both men so realistically. I could never equal that. That is not down to a lack of self-belief, more an acknowledgement that there are actors better than me who could do better in those roles. Besides, I don’t look like either Legend.
It is only when I began to take my acting seriously and attended the Actor’s Temple in London and sat in as well took part in a few of their introductory sessions, that I discovered the dictionary definition (and there are many others,) of what Acting is. According to Sanford Meisner and re-enforced by Martin Barter, Acting is:-
‘Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances’.
Fear – ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’.
There. This was what acting was all about. Watching and taking part in these introductory sessions, Tom Radcliffe, Mark Wakeling and Meisner Guru Martin Barter (via his Masterclass,) demonstrated conclusively that this is acting. This is what Acting is all about. It made perfect sense.
However to make use of one’s training, one has to Live Truthfully Under Less Than Imaginative Circumstances – In other words, one has to be living and living truthfully to themselves and others. The life one leads and what one encounters in that life is source material for one’s acting arsenal. Everything one sees, everything one experiences, the range of emotions one experiences, all goes into that armoury of skills. Skills that will be called upon when required.
And I have certainly lived! Okay I don’t travel, don’t go to exotic locations, live in a big house, drive a flash car, go nightclubbing, have a regular income or have a safe, comfortable existence. Some would argue (as my older brother has,) that I am not living, merely existing. He and others may be right. After all I am not living the life they are living. I have no regular income, nor do I do the things they do nor do I have the things they have. My situation is far from safe – Hell, it is not safe! How can it be in their eyes? I live with uncertainty every day. I don’t know where or when my next job is coming from, what that job will be or whether it will be a paying gig or a non-paying one. It is hard for anyone to understand that. Even actors I know and have worked with don’t get it. And they don’t get it. Simply because they approach their acting from a comfort zone. I never have simply because I never entered acting from a comfort zone and as a result never approached my acting from a position of comfort. I have never known the concept, idea or reality of job security and what that means. I have never held a job that offered me a secure future.
I am continually finding ways to push my acting forward on a budget and even from a position of adversity, managed to make some headway and push things forward. Yes I do work when a non-acting job comes up but I never feel I am bettering my situation, simply because those jobs, while involving a lot of time, effort and hours, doesn’t resolve my monetary worries because they are so badly paid. I have to admit I feel better when I am doing an acting job that is not so well paid but the difference is each time I do an acting job, I take one step forward in terms of my acting career. Well these days that is the reality but it wasn’t always so. In all the years I slaved away in a Nine-to-Five existence, I never felt I had a career of any kind. Just a series of jobs where I was on a Road to Nowhere. Acting gave me far more. It gave me a purpose. It gave me a career. Still I feel far from being comfortable. As an actor I am never satisfied. I am always pushing myself forward. Always taking things to the next level. It takes time, it takes hard work but I am up for the challenge.
An audition I attended yesterday, kind of brought this point to mind when the director wanted me to act in a less than naturalistic way, which suggested to me that the moment I walked into that room, everything I did was natural, with a naturalistic feel. He may not have thought he was being complimentary but in his ignorance, he paid me the greatest compliment I have received in the eight years I have been a professional actor. Even if I don’t get the job, I left that audition room, knowing I did the best job I could in the circumstances I was in. I lived truthfully as I could. I began naturally and on direction, took my acting into a different area. Even when I left the room, I thought of a dozen different ways I could have handled the scene and lines I was given. Someone who was going to auditioned later for the same role, asked me for my advice. I set a benchmark for him when I went through the lines in an American accent there and then. He was astounded and was about to give up when I gave him some pointers on how he could get over his apprehension and approach the audition. He felt a lot better about his upcoming audition, simply because he was no longer apprehensive about it. It was no longer an ordeal. I gave him tools he could use to make his audition a more pleasurable affair – After all it was his audition. His time to shine.
Reflecting on the morning’s proceedings later, I could see where I am getting better but there is still much work to be done but I am ready and up to the challenge. Ever onward – Ever forward.