Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Live Your Life

Like any normal girl my age, I follow the Humphrey Bogart Estate page on Facebook. This means that whilst whiling away time reading my friends' status updates and snooping around their recent picture uploads and liking links and sharing snarky posters around the internet ether, I take an occasional break to read some quotes and get some inspiration from one of the greater actors (in my humble opinion) and studliest men that ever lived. The more I think about it, studly might seem an unlikely appellation for a somewhat small, dark, weathered and reserved person like Bogart, but I know for a fact that when I call him studly I am in agreement with a large part of the world. He is studly not so much because of his all-American good looks like so many other heartthrobs who run about a dime a dozen, but because of his edge and his energy and his soul. 

This week I was so inspired by one of the Humphrey Bogart Estate page's status updates that I am going to re-post it here: 

"An actor needs something to stabilize his personality, something to nail down ...what he really is, not what he is currently pretending to be." - Humphrey Bogart on his life-long love of sailing

Danger: studly, shirtless Bogie on a boat.
I can't quite pull off the shirtless sailing thing like Bogie (without getting arrested), and in fact I've never set foot on a sailboat - but this resonated with me in such a powerful way that I can't stop smiling about it. In a way, I've been thinking about it ever since I began acting school almost five years ago. As an eager young student, my tendency was to bury myself in the bubble of classes, classmates, and shoptalk and never come up for air even when it would have been much more socially appropriate for me to do so. (My poor, long-suffering mother really didn't need to hear me talking endlessly about vocal fry or Terence or sense memory...I love you, Mom.)

Over time, and as I read more and more biographies of artists I loved, it began to dawn on me what was wrong with this picture I was painting for myself of what it meant to be an artist. Wearing myself and my friends out with earnest discussion didn't seem to have any tangible connection to my ability to emote on stage, and that is probably because great artists don't spend every second of their life in classrooms or overtly stewing in their work. They are, first and foremost, people. What drives art is not just sweat and focus and talent. The beginning, middle, and end of art is humanity. And when you're an artist, your life and humanity is what keeps you going.

My roommate K. who is not an actor has a saying that I think sums this up beautifully and, actually, has helped me relieve a lot of pressure and reinsert the joy into my acting career - not to mention putting a sparkle and wink into my personal life. "Live your life," she says. She says this when I ask if it's okay to eat another helping of nachos, or when I decide to go out at night even though I have to work a lot the next day; if I wonder if I can pull off wearing a bright pink belt on a bright green dress, or instead of studying lines like a good little actor I tell her I'm going to ditch the homework to go out for a walk. "Live your life," she says. Yes, dammit! I will, thank you.

After all, what is it that actors do, children? That's right. We act like...people! We act out stories about...LIFE!!! We pretend to be...people living their lives!

And, as a side note, what do actors spend a majority of their time doing in daily life? That's right...not acting, and actually being people.

Me and some roommates, living our lives.

This may seem really obvious to you, and if so, I congratulate you - because this is still hard for me to grapple with in my relentless, goal-oriented brain. Confession: I'm going to be real with you here. Part of me feels like this whole "live your life" thing is just a nice way for me to try to coddle myself with nice-sounding sweet talk when I'm not booking the roles I want or achieving my goals. But that's baloney. Jobs will come and go. Auditions will come and go. Apartments, clothes, even some friendships will come and go. Even ambitions will come and go. But you know what will stay with me my entire life? What the common denominator is? Me. Who I really am. My personality. What I really am, not who I am currently pretending to be.

So this week, the Humphrey Bogart Estate facebook page helped me blow some smoke away and realize in a practical way how important - nay, ESSENTIAL - it is for an actor to ground their personality in real life. Yet, I submit to you gentle Reader that this wisdom is applicable to all humans everywhere and not just to actors. So, what is your stabilizer? What helps you nail down your personality, and realize who you really are versus what you are pretending to be? Honestly, for me, this blog is a big help. Writing. My church community. Yoga. Working with kids.

There are so many ways to be a person...