“There is nothing cool about acting.”
These words were definitively uttered by a genius of a woman who happens to be an actor, professor, sick stage combat artist, and fight choreographer.
She said this during our three-week stage combat intensive at LSU in the thick of Louisiana summer with temperatures in the triple digits meanwhile, I hadn’t realized my AC was broken and I also had bronchitis.
There is nothing cool about acting.
There is not, and there was certainly nothing cool about that Baton Rouge summer climate. I’ll explain.
To actually honor the craft of acting, depending on what the role demands, which depends on the words on the page, you may have to put yourself through the wringer.
The writer puts their characters through things the same way life puts us through things. There are countless events beyond our control, and that’s also true for our characters. Much like chaos, tragedy, and victory affect us as human beings, they too should affect our characters, in whatever way is justified in the script.
As actors, it is our job to honor the lives of the people we’re breathing life into. That is why the greatest actors have the greatest empathy. It is required. Meryl Streep said, “I never give any character I play less respect than I give my own life.” There is no room for judgment of our characters, even if they do conventionally horrible things. A skilled actor knows how to find a connection between themself and their character, and will craft a way to justify their behavior.
Actors do not cry on cue. They honor the truth of the human experience and in empathizing with the pain of grief and making it personal, tears can manifest. Acting is a spiritual and sacred endeavor that employs all of your physical, mental, and emotional faculties. We subject ourselves to the pains of life and must be cautious not to cause ourselves suffering. Some have an easier time setting boundaries around their work than others.
Rehearsal processes can be taxing. Egos are often massive at all levels. We are often brought to tears off-stage and on. But the moment you make your entrance, you’ll never feel more alive. Sometimes characters change you. The greatest accomplishment of all for a performance is when it impacts other human beings. Then, we have completed the assignment.