Putting a Face on Theatre
In my entire theatrical career, I've auditioned for two productions.
The first was a complete lark. I was a poet at the time, and I was looking for something fun to do, and I thought: why not audition for Macbeth? It was a dreadful experience, but somehow I managed to get myself cast as Lennox. (The production was dreadful, too, though I did make a few lasting friendships out of it.) To this day, I have no idea why I was cast: perhaps the director thought as a poet, I would be well-equipped to handle the iambic pentameter. I wasn't.
The second audition came after I'd taken an acting class -- again, I'd been looking for something fun to do, and the class seemed like a nice way to meet people. The man who'd taught the class was auditioning for a production of Phyllis Nagy's adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, and since I'd had so much fun working with him, I thought I might give it a shot. Boom: cast again, this time as Governor Bellingham... and this time in a production that ended up having at least a little bit of merit. I have lasting friendships from my second turn on stage as well, and I really enjoyed myself.
You might expect that, having gone two-for-two, I determined to continue on into a successful acting career. You would be wrong. I retired from the stage with a perfect audition record and haven't put myself in front of a casting director even once since then. (I have done a few readings, but in both cases I was invited to do so, which really doesn't count.) At this point, I don't even know what I would do if I suddenly wanted to.
Why didn't I keep going? There are two reasons.
First, and perhaps most importantly: acting is hard. That was the main thing I learned during the two productions with which I was involved. It took everything I had, really, to be a shade above miserable in both plays, and by the end of the run of the second I knew that if I dedicated my entire life, sacrificing so many other dreams I held dear, I'd only get half as good as the people with whom I was sharing the stage. I'm immensely comfortable speaking in front of others, I think I've got more than my fair share of presence, but I just didn't have what it took.
Second -- and maybe this should be first, I don't know -- I really didn't like the thought that I was taking a job away from somebody who DID want to put in all that time and get better. I mean: I couldn't have been quite as bad as I'm suggesting I was or I wouldn't have been cast in the first place, but so what? I was using up resources that really, honestly, didn't belong to me, or at least that's how it felt at the time.
It has, however, been a long time since then. In fact, I hadn't even written a single line of dialogue by the time the second play closed; it was some few years still before I traded in my identity as a poet to take up writing plays. The years I've spent as a playwright, however, have given me a third reason why I don't act: because hearing plays read or spoken aloud by others is so much more useful to me in my art then reading or speaking them myself.
I can't tell you how many times I've been stunned by the way in which an actor has read one of my lines: with a completely different intent and emphasis and presence than I intended. Every time it happens, I learn more and more about what I'm doing. Every time it's a gift. And I doubt I'd be able to give myself that gift as well as an expert actor could.
So that's why I don't act... and yet... stay tuned.