When I was a little girl, I found myself fairly often in the car on the way to somewhere or another.
Most times, I would sit in the back seat of the car and watch out the window while all sorts of different imaginary animals or an imaginary friend would be fighting to match the speed of the car, moving nimbly through the passing scenery. Sometimes I would watch them and make stories in my head, thinking about how they were going to keep up the chase all the way to Grandma’s house or how I could sneak them into the restaurant we were going to without anyone else noticing. How long would we have to wait until we were seated? How would we get past the tall man at the welcome station with the crayons and the clearly evil, square, plastic buzzers? What if we got caught and couldn’t get dessert??
When I was tired of looking out the window, I would pass the time by going over in my head all the different things I could be when I grew up. They were all things I’d probably seen on Sesame Street: a police officer, a fire fighter, a school bus driver, a teacher…the public servants were usually first on the standard society list of possibilities followed by a scientist, an astronaut, a singer…but I always wanted to be an actor. There was something about the power the movies had on people with the writing, the score, the sets, and the actors that all combined could portray a message to an audience- move an audience- speak to them in a way that was uniquely for them. At least, that’s true of the good ones. I wanted to do that. To slip into characters and have an audience experience their story, to believe that story, and to be changed by it. Whether it made them laugh or cry, or maybe allowed them to reflect on their own lives; that was the kind of effect I wanted to have on people.
When I was in drama classes in school, my teacher told me, “Actors are terrible liars- actors can only tell the truth.”
That’s what did it for me. To be a truly good actor you have to sink down deep into the person you are portraying and tell their truth. It was simple, poetic even and made me want to act even more. I loved becoming another person. Feeling my way through their life until the script was over. On opening night, I’d show that to an audience. Live audience meant truly alive character, and with that, if another character missed a cue or scuffed a line, I got to show how well I had become my character by giving them my own version of the lines or the blocking, but never telling a lie. After the shows were over I’d take what I wanted of that character’s truth and move on in my own life, feeling a little older and a little wiser.
Maybe it’s because of that that I didn’t become an actor. I didn’t want to hear other peoples’ truth about me.
It’s hardly a secret that the path an actor treads is a precarious one lined with plenty of judgment and rejection. Nothing personal, all part of the job, but that’s what I always hated. The audition. The monologue. The monologue doesn’t represent a character’s truth. It’s not enough, at least, I never really could get it to be enough. Always so melodramatic, or existential. I would choose my monologue anyway, practice it for weeks and prepare for the audition. Memorized, blocked, well-timed…It never worked because with monologues, there is no one else. I couldn’t piece together the person I needed to be because all I had were their words describing their awful boss, or their horoscope, or their blind date preparation…but I needed other people to see my character’s truth because we lie to ourselves far more than we lie to others. We can tell ourselves anything we like to get through the day: It wasn’t that bad, she loves me, it’s not that big of a deal, I didn’t really want that anyway…but the people around us take us out of those lies. So, the day of the audition, I would get up on stage and say my name, my age, title and author of my piece, but then instead of becoming a character and being honest, I would stay myself grabbing at emotions- presenting my lie to the director and they could always see through. All part of the job, nothing personal. But if that was my life? I don’t think I could bare it.
I haven’t been in a full production in over 4 years now. It used to fill my every hour, at least planning my every hour, around rehearsals and call times and show dates. There are days where I miss it terribly and there are days, sometimes weeks at a time, where I don’t think about it at all. Whenever my mother meets anyone, she tells them about her Emmie and her beautiful singing voice and her sharp theatrical talent. She tells them that it’s a big part of who I am, but it no longer feels like my truth. For now, I’m focused on other things. Moving, my job, my family and friends, my relationship…and making a priority to never tell a lie in my own story.