07 October 2009

We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes


In terms of irrational behavior, I believe the actor without work will rank right up there with most persons under the influence of psycho-reactive narcotics. The actors with no future prospects of work, well . . . it's a good idea to stay away from the likes of them. Even their Facebook updates are likely to be tinged with a sense of desperation. "Jeff Wills is Why do they all hate me so much...?!" Just, you know, as a completely hypothetical example.

Perhaps it's all a bit misguided -- an unfortunate cycle that comes as a result of having to prove we are, in fact, actors. It can be difficult to justify oneself as an "actor," and have the average person regard that classification as something more than a description of one's favorite hobby. Even if you went to school for it, perform internationally, get paid for it on a (semi-)regular basis, there are two qualifications people look for when you make the claim of being actor. 1) Have they seen you in anything? 2) Are you working on anything right now? So yes, there's a certain compulsion there, which is awful for everyone: for you, for the work itself, and yes, even for the people you end up talking to at parties. Ever wonder why you meet so many actors who can't help but tell stories in any given conversational context, stories that invariably lead back to their life and work? This is why. It's called (by me, anyway) résumé-ing. It is obnoxious and ingrained, and a lot of the work of that ingraining is done by the very people who end up resenting it.

Ironically enough, I'm pretty sure that this technique is a terrible way of actually getting work. When it comes to getting people to think of you for projects, a much better conversational tactic for all involved is asking questions and making your side of things predominantly about responses, rather than volunteering stories. It generally makes the person one's talking to feel interesting, and encourages excitement about their interests, and as far as the conversation goes allows one to learn a thing or two to boot. This has interesting parallels to the techniques of good, interesting acting as well, in which the emphasis is on listening, reacting intuitively and making the other look good. It just adds up. It makes sense, it builds things and leads to usually pleasant surprises.

However.

However, we all go a little mad sometimes. (For some reason madness is particularly poignant when set against the backdrop of a tea party, or other social setting.) Personally, the only way I could imagine having more regular trouble with this most basic of social concepts would be if I were genuinely socio- or psychopathic. (Commentators, please leave thy opinions on this last at the door....) Is it a troubled mental pattern on my part? Nature, or nurture? Could it simply be that I'm in the wrong damn business? Do other actors start thinking to themselves, "I'm getting to old for this crap," at age 25? And just what is it that keeps me comin' back, a'comin' comin' back?

Well, as far as character flaws go, I have a few. I'll man up to that. I'd like to think that if I was perfect, I'd be pretty boring. One such flaw is a tendency to take everything seriously (even comedy) and feel feelings very deeply. (I may have to rename the 'blog; Feeling Feelings Very Deeply has a nice sort of quasi-ironic ring to it.) I'm not saying that I am a feat of human emotion or anything like that -- I state this as a flaw. It is the bit of me that responds to arguments being had by total and complete strangers by shrinking into a speck on the spot, or the bit that could unabashedly cry over seeing an overweight person unable to sit on the subway. And, as evidenced on March 12, 2009, this little personality quirk comes out in full force when it comes to anything related to casting. In that instance, it didn't even occur to me to hold my ground in responding to RunningGirl. From start to end, I was ruled by emotion.

There's a commonality here. The typical actor neurosis and my personal neurosis both stem from continual feelings of inadequacy. Now, sure, many people would never admit this as a cause of their résumé-ing behavior, if in fact they could even recognize the résumé-ing (it's a turn of phrase that will sweep the nation). How can we have such awesome stories if we're inadequate? Plus, where do we lay the blame of causation? Our feelings, or the social aspects and stigmas that encourage those feelings? The very questions involved are enough to make anyone feel a bit inadequate, if over nothing else than over our ability to understand ourselves.

I've gone a bit mad just contemplating it.

What's desperately ironic about the whole thing is that this is a business and a craft in which being unique is one of the best traits to possess. Trying to be what others want is not what acting is about (good acting, anyway) and the best work is accomplished by those who can make unusually effective choices -- emphasis on "unusually." I'm a firm believer in the idea that the more understanding we can have about who we are, the better our work will be. Inadequacy springs almost entirely from holding oneself to someone else's standards or, often, to our perception of their standards. Everybody's got a little madness in them. There is no normal. And freeing ourselves from the idea of normalcy is part of what people really love about good acting. Show me how to be true, and I will show you how much you can be loved for it, warts and all.

But if I don't get some real work soon, I'ma kill somebody.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

Yes. Yes, my friend. All so very true. And of course there's the added wrinkle when one says "I do physical theatre," because then even other actors look at one and say "um, what does that mean, exactly?" And one is left to sputter a bit and do the REALLY lame-ass resume-ing which is "well, it covers things like Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group, I've never actually worked for either of those companies but that's the kind of thing I do, do you know Ann Bogard's company? No? Well, I do stuff like that, only I haven't worked with her either..." thus leaving the impression that not only does one do an extremely esoteric type of work, one isn't really all that good at it. Good times.

Hope you get some work soon.

Jeff Wills said...

Thanks Patrick; and the same to you!