08 March 2011


Last night I participated in a unique sort of developmental reading of a couple of handfuls-worth of short plays by Friend Nat. I say unique because Nat interspersed original songs amidst the short scenes, all of which scenes had to do with love, or some variation thereon. I mentioned it reminded me of a mix tape, which I think is a pretty accurate description of the evening. Do you have a friend who's as romantic as the most romantic Beatles covers, but also heavy into The Beautiful South and Nick Cave in terms of his comic sensibilities? That mix tape. (With maybe a few sound bites from a couple of horror movies tossed in for flavor.)

The evening surprised me. Lately, I've not been feeling all too fired up about acting opportunities. (That's a little frightening to confess, but these appetites come and go, sometimes regardless of the bigger picture.) We held the reading at the distinguished Players Club - only my second time there - and in the library, which is just a fascinating room. Actually, the whole place is fascinating. It was founded in 1888 by the esteemed Edwin Booth and others of historical import as a "gentleman's club" for the dramatic arts. It's just chock full of portraits and books and busts and photographs of people who don't necessarily get a lot of recognition outside of theatre history courses. For me, it's sort of a giddy conglomeration of things I geek out about: old New York, well-loved opulence, history and little-recalled theatre artists and variety performers.

The surprise in the evening for me, however, had to do with the reading itself. There was a small group of fellow writers for an audience, and we sat through the whole reading. Really a rather casual affair, and all of the pieces were comic in some respect or other. Nat's an adept craftsman (and irritatingly broadly skilled, not to mention) so the scenes were all interesting and highly functional. I had my favorite, and luckily I was reading in it, so I looked forward to that and relaxed and enjoyed the musical interludes. I had no reason to expect anything profound to happen to me. It did, though.

Profound, but not uncommon. It's just that it's been a while for me. I got absorbed in the character and the situation, seemingly effortlessly, and had the good fortune to be paired with an actor with whom (though I had never met her before) I clicked. I could feel the scene in such a way that, really, any and every moment on stage should feel like. Regardless of that standard, it has been a while since I felt it, and it leaves me also feeling enormously grateful; and full of craving.

The past year or so has seen a lot of backstage work for me. I put more energy into producing and directing, The Action Collective and writing, not to mention all the areas of my life outside of the theatre. There was intention to these choices, and a fair amount of gut instinct as well. As I get older, I find my relationship to acting changing by subtle but surprising degrees. There's a sense as an actor - or at least a New York actor of my background - that every job at least represents an opportunity for more, and that the exceptions are the jobs you don't take. That was a great policy in my twenties, but even in my latter twenties I was getting a little worn on the idea of swallowing everything I was served, and now it doesn't work for me at all. A certain amount of choice and creative control are essential; hence the backstage exploration.

However: Nothing really matches the magic that happens when you can give yourself over completely to an acting opportunity. If I could muster that for every opportunity, I would still be saying yes to every one that came my way, because it's utterly addicting. That feeling of living in the moment, of something unplanned yet true and apt, it defies comparison to drugs or love or other extremes. It's some strangely selfless sense of self, and outward-reaching passion that is as structured and improvisational as music. I love it.

So perhaps having a more limited (or selective?) access to that sensation is a helpful thing in my life at this time. Addictions, no matter how healthful to begin with, are not exactly aids to a fulfilled life, and I would rather have a handful of rare experiences than a gluttony of empty ones. Maybe there'll be a little more board-treading in the coming months as a result of last night's taste. I just hope I can find the opportunities that feed me as much as I feed them.