Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why We Act

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to be a part of six theater productions: two children's shows, two musicals, and two dramas.  In addition, I was an active member of the two theater clubs on campus for most of my college career.  I also took quite a few credits of theater classes to improve my acting.  The stage made me feel free; it made me feel like I was on top of the world.  In the last year of my college career, I did nearly no theater in order to focus on finishing my degree.  I am nearly certain that if I had not done theater, I would have finished college a semester earlier than I did; but I do not regret spending the extra time and money.  In the nearly two years since I have acted on stage in a full scale production, I have been able to observe and reflect on the reasons why I and others act.  Some of these reasons may be more true for some than they are for others, but I believe that every actor acts for the same reasons.

In a society that has a particular standard for how people should look and behave, many people find that they do not live up to popular expectations, whether those be in how they look, behave, or treat others.  There is an inner longing to be accepted, but that is overpowered by the instilled power of self; the distinct identity that every person on God's green earth has.  We cannot help who we are.  We can put on a rouge in front of our peers, but that makes us fake and transparent.  No one buys the act when it is part of real life.  But on stage... the stage is a different world.  The stage allows people to explore parts of themselves they might be too afraid or ashamed to allow reach the surface.  No one can criticize an actor for being loose, immoral, cruel, heartless, or evil because of the character they play; it's not who they really are.  The actor may never dream of acting like their character in real life, but the show gives them the opportunity to let whatever dark side they may have out without scrutiny.

On the other hand, an otherwise unpleasant person may explore their softer side while in a show.  A person who other people find a complete and total prick can win over peers with a character that is tender, nurturing, and kind.  Classic examples of this kind of actor are found all over Hollywood.  Notorious egotistical actors such as Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon have won over audiences with emotional performances of what society identifies as "good guys."  Their personal lives, of course, make headlines all the time, but only because the public is shocked that people who can play such good people are really not as wonderful as the people the play.  It does not take long, though, for the actors to win over their peers again, if they are able to turn in another stunning performance as a hero or romantic protagonist.

Some people do not wish to explore different aspects of their personality or different ways to behave.  These people, like myself, are happy with who they are.  Despite this inner acceptance of self, there is still a kind of selfish desire to flaunt who you are in front of an audience.  A self-centered drive to show everyone what your personality is and why it is great.  This is not to say that these actors are conceited or egotistical (although that could be the case for some people), but to say that they are delighted to be who they are and want to share that happiness with others.  For this reason they mostly accept acting parts that are most like their own personality. 

There is another type of person who mostly takes parts because they are most like themselves: the person who likes who they are but is looking for acceptance from others.  I find myself, personally, in this category of actors who sometimes draw criticism from friends and peers for being who I am.  People like this do not let criticism change them, but do desire for some kind of positive feedback for being themselves.  They are able to find this on the stage.  For example, I am sarcastic (some say overly so), irritable, and at times too loud.  I try not to let these personality traits make me into a mean person, which they easily can; but I cannot change who I am.  In addition, they are not always negative traits, but what I do because of them might be negative.  By taking parts of people who are like me on stage, I can allow these traits to show without worry of criticism. 

There are countless reasons for why people act.  Some people do it to be the center of attention; they cannot thrive without the positive reinforcement of others.  We can criticize that personality trait as much as we want; however if we really look down deep in ourselves, we all have that trait to some extent or another.  Some people do take it too far and demand the praise and adoration of all those around them, no matter what.  Others find that being on stage is the only time that they receive positive attention, and for that reason they thrive in the spotlight.  And who can blame them for wanting that?  No person alive can live a healthy psychological existence without some kind of positive base.  A positive base that comes from people showing us that they like us, that who are is acceptable.  Therefore, it can be said that no matter what reason a person gives for acting on stage, it all comes down to one thing: acceptance.

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