Why do you do theatre? It’s a tough and scary question for any actor to answer. What if they think your reason is silly? Too sentimental? Too artistic? Or perhaps not-artistic-enough?
I was recently asked this question by someone for which I care about their impression of me. After a moment of second-guessing myself, and vacillating between what-I-want-to-say and what-I-think-I-should say, I admitted that I do theater because “it keeps me active; it gives me an expressive outlet, when I usually prefer to be quiet; it let’s me play with lives and experiences that I wouldn’t normally get to experience; it pushes me to continue work on self-improvement”. I immediately regretted that I hadn’t said something to the effect that I do it “to truthfully tell the character’s story” or “to hold a mirror to society”. But why are those answers any more correct than the others?
As performers, it is true that we should strive to tell a character’s story as truthfully as we can; otherwise, our character is disposable and the audience will have very little investment in the character (and possibly the story if your character plays a big-enough role in the plot). And as performers, we should be unafraid to display the triumphs and failures of our humanity, and that includes the triumphs and failure of ourselves. But that doesn’t mean that every character must be dark-and-broody. Even in the darkest of shows, a mild amount of levity is necessary to keep the audience engaged. And that means occasionally raising the stakes beyond the place where would a rational human-being. We should be unafraid to entertain for the sake of entertaining. That doesn’t mean we give up the truthfulness of the character, as the character still needs to believe in what they are doing (even if you don’t). Remember, your “truths” may not be the same “truths” as the character’s.
But those are obvious reasons, something every actor should strive towards in providing high-quality theatre. But, for many of us, there are other, more personal, reasons for acting.
As I said earlier, “it keeps me active”, and that sentence has more history than it appears. “It keeps me active” means that after a particularly rough break-up with my then-fiancé, I needed something to occupy my mind. Sapulpa Community Theatre was auditioning “The Fantasticks” that weekend, and so I went and was cast. I was grateful, because it kept my mind active on something else other than my failed relationship. “It keeps me active” means that after gaining 65 pounds (highest weight of 220 lbs), having an activity such as theatre gives me a physical outlet to keep me dancing and moving and from mindlessly eating and helping me lose 55 of those pounds (current weight of 165) over the last 6 years. “It keeps me active” means that while I suffer mild bouts of depression from time to time, theatre keeps me focused on something or looking forward to new opportunities.
As I said earlier, “it gives me an expressive outlet, when I usually prefer to be quiet”. When working with Rebecca Ungerman’s “Narrow View? Try a Broadway!” revue, many were surprised and disbelieving of the fact that I am an introvert. I prefer to cloister up and reflect or recharge by myself (much to my boyfriend’s vexation). Theatre forces me out of my comfort zone and challenges me to interact with others; directors, fellow actors, and audiences, in addition to patrons of the arts.
As I said earlier, “it let’s me play with lives and experiences that I wouldn’t normally get to experience”. This not only plays into my introverted nature, but also my need for “security”. I am not a major risk-taker when it comes to career, following my dreams, or lifestyle. As long as my needs are being satisfied, which are primarily food, shelter, and companionship, I am content. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t dream big or am not curious about alternate-timelines that I could be experiencing. Theatre gives me a chance to live out those fantasies from the safety and security of my current life, or to try out different life choices that I would be too-uncomfortable to try for myself. It is escapism in its purist form.
As I said earlier, “it pushes me to continue work on self-improvement”. I have always been able to sing, but not lyrically. I still don’t think I’m a lyrical singer, but I’m better and will hopefully continue to improve. I have always been able to dance, but not gracefully. I still don’t think I’m a graceful dancer, but I’m better and will hopefully continue to improve. I have always been able to act, but not engagingly. I still don’t think I’m an engaging actor, but I’m better and will hopefully continue to improve. I know that reaching to be-the-best is a folly; but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to get as close to it as I can given my strengths (vocals, physicality, experiences on-stage and off-) and weaknesses (vocals, physicality, experiences on-stage and off-).
Whatever your reasons may be for continuing to do theatre, they are personal and completely valid! I would argue that even fame and money (though they may not be likely in this field) are worthwhile goals if they keep you motivated. Whether it is for artistic reasons, or because you enjoy being an entertainer, keep working to find your place within your theatre community; I promise I’ll always root for you!