There he was. An earnest-looking young man on the subway. He had the look of someone who'd just arrived in New York from the land of corn. Somewhere open and expansive. His skin didn't have that greenish cast all us New Yorkers get during the winter months (no matter what ethnic/racial background we all manage to look green this time of year). He gallantly stands up for a young woman to offer up his seat up. This plain young woman, obviously unaccustomed to gentlemanly behavior sits down looking awkward and confused. He doesn't want anything from her. Just offering his seat. Doin' gentlemanly things.
In his hands, this young man holds a book. I always check out what other people are reading (I never read anything so I read other people's book covers instead). The book's title: "How to Stop Acting". On the book's cover is an older-looking man who slightly resembles Steven Spielberg. He frames his face with his hands (think Vogueing). This book really gets me thinking. A book on acting explaining how to stop acting. Huh.
I take this whole thing pretty personally because I too was once like this young man, spending money on all kinds of acting books; how to's, how not to's, monologue books, scene study books, break-into-the business books. And it wasn't just the books- there were headshots, classes, clothes I would only need for that one audition where I play a hooker/cop. I was pretty much going broke desperately trying to learn how to stop acting and become authentic-as a hooker/cop, naturally.
Here's the problem with that. Most people who want to be actors don't know how to be authentic. Actor-types probably all grew up like I did; playing roles constantly while checking yourself in mirrors to see what that looked like.
You know this is all you want to do with your life and vow to take this craft extremely seriously so you enroll in one class after another. Here you endure countless hours of humiliation intermingled with nursery school coddling.
A typical New York acting class is meant to break you down completely. Strip you of all those "acts" you've been working on your entire life. Everything you ever did to get attention-that integral driving force within every actor is yanked away piece by painful piece till you are nothing but an open, bloody pulp laying on the floor. "Okay, NOW do the scene!" your teacher will excitedly say.
Of course, we are all terrified of our acting teachers. This is generally what defines a great teacher. He or she should be the most intimidating human being you've ever encountered. You begin to live for their approval. The small moments of praise you receive from your acting teacher become the only moments you are truly happy or feel worthy. You begin to crave this praise constantly. Every time you go up to show your work you know you will either come out feeling like a genius, or go home to die small deaths till next week's class where you might redeem yourself.
This is really hard on anyone who is dating an actor or married to one. You are up or down and they can't do a damn thing about it. They don't understand! They lead mundane lives. Free of humiliation and glory.
In class, we watch terrified as our fellow classmates go up to do a scene. One poor guy goes up to play George from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". He's doing fine. Fine, for Wisconsin.
Suddenly, our demi-god-acting-teacher stands up in a fury and kicks this poor guy in the balls. "Do you feel that?!!" he asks enraged. Said student is now laying on the floor in fetal position. "That's how emasculated George feels by Martha! Look at you, you pussy!!". Finally, the student begins to cry. "Okay, now you're ready to do the scene! Now!" The student gets up. "Wait! Hold on a minute. You're what? 24? Your grandfather still alive?" The student nods his head no. "Good. You remember what he walked like? How he moved?" The student nods his head yes. "Okay, use your dead grandfather's body. But don't forget what a minion small piece of shit man you are. And...go!".
We all watch in amazement. By the end of the scene several of us are crying. Our genius teacher has done it again. This boy from Iowa now knows the pain of a has-been, aging, emasculated professor. It's incredible. It's painful. But at some point, you gotta wonder what the point is...at least, I did.
I started acting to escape pain. I wanted to be on a sitcom. This shit... I didn't need this shit. I was already an emotional mess, did I really need to get my mind fucked with weekly? These other kids, the ones who'd led fairly pleasant lives up until then and now got beaten up emotionally every week- this may have been novel for them. They hang on to it longer than I do. But, eventually many of them give it up too.
Let's face it, at some point, the debts pile up, the therapy bills aren't getting any cheaper; we know its time to look into other options. I run into some of my old classmates now and again. They're doing all sorts of things. We talk about what those things are for a bit and then say our goodbyes.
Some of them are still at it. Some are actually working on tv. I can't help but get excited every time I see one of them on the tube. You see them on Weeds and think, wow, they really stuck it out! Maybe I shoulda held on a little longer...
This thought only lasts for a moment. See, I know deep down that I could never, ever "stop acting".