I spent most of the morning and afternoon rehearsing my speech, listening to how it sounds, and making sure it times out right. The old improviser in me even played New Choice a few times with some ad-libs that amused me so much, I ended up writing them into the text.
Writing this speech and preparing it have been the singular focus of my life for so long now (in linear time, it's only been 6 or 8 weeks, but in hyperfocused mental writing time it's been much, much longer than that) that I feel sort of adrift, now that it's finished, like I don't know what to do with myself.
This reminds me of something an acting teacher once told us near the end of a 10-week acting class.
He stood on the small stage where we did our scenes and leaned against a tall chair. "You guys are all here because you love performing," he said, "and you hope to beat the odds and make a living as actors."
He absently scratched at his beard. "If anyone told you that this would be easy, they lied to you. It isn't."
I knew this, because I took this class in my early twenties, when I felt like I was never going to be a successful actor (or anything) again.
He continued, "This class is almost over, and whether you choose to come back here and do more workshops or not, you should keep performing, whether it's in a 99-seat theater, or in a scene study workshop that meets once a week." He leaned forward, folded his arms across his chest, and lifted up one hand, extending his index finger. Over the course of the class I'd come to think of it as his I'm about to tell you something very important pose.
"Some of you will be lucky enough to have several auditions a week, and when you do, you'll start to feel overwhelmed by the preparation ... if you're doing it right, you should feel overwhelmed, because if you don't, you're not working hard enough. But sooner or later, you're going to consider dropping out of plays or stopping your workshops, and just focusing on the auditions. That makes sense, because you're getting to perform at auditions all the time, and we all know that nobody really goes to see live theater in Los Angles, right?" He pointed around the room as he said this, and let his palm fall open, like Hamlet contemplating Yorick, when he asked the question.
Some of the students murmured in agreement. Every last one of us would have been delighted to discover that we were so overwhelmed with auditionsNot enough time to perform because we're so overwhelmed with auditions?! This was a problem that all of us would have loved to have.
The instructor shook his head, and folded his arms back around himself. He took a few small but dramatic steps - this was an acting class, after all - and faced us again from the other side of the stage.
"That's the worst thing you can do."
We all waited for him to elaborate, and after a very long few seconds, he did. "When you're performing in a theater or doing workshops, you're working with other actors, and you're doing it because you love the performance. You love the character, you love the story ... you love something about it enough to do the work for the sake of the work.
"When you're auditioning, though, you're not in a performance environment. You're never on a stage, and you're rarely in front of people who are fully engaged in what you're doing."
Many of the frustrating auditions I'd had around that time, where I felt like the people in the room were interested in everything but what I was doing, flashed though my mind.
"So if you make auditions the only place you get to perform, it will slowly but surely unravel you. Because you're not really performing, you're auditioning. Do you all follow me?"
All of us nodded in agreement. He spoke as deliberately as I'd ever heard him speak, punctuating almost each word by pointing his finger or waving his hand.
"You have to give yourself a place where you can perform for the sake of performing, and you have to go there every week. Think of athletes: they practice between games, and so should you."
He started to walk back to his desk at the foot of the stage, and then abruptly stopped. He whirled around and said, "You know you're actors because if you don't act, you feel like something is missing. Don't give an industry that doesn't care about that the same way you do control over when you do it."
It could easily have been a sales pitch to get us all back for more workshops, but it wasn't. It was a life pitch, from the same teacher who told us all that, if we hadn't already, we had to find something we loved, something that truly mattered to us, that wasn't acting. "You can't let acting consume your life," he said, "you can't let it be your life, because life experience is part of what makes great actors great. You have to live a full life, so you have something to bring to a character when you create it."
I don't know how many of you who read my blog are actors or creative types, but I hope you'll heed the advice that acting coach gave me, thirteen or so years ago, because I have, and it's made all the difference to me, both personally and professionately.