Gratitude for Actors

As I write this week’s column, it’s like 85 degrees and the Santa Anas are whipping through town again. And it’s almost Thanksgiving. No wonder so many industry types leave town in mid-November! I personally find it quite disconcerting to see snowflake-filled holiday sale commercials airing when I’m still driving around with the AC blasting.

But that’s not the point of this week’s column, of course. I’m going to do a little sense memory exercise and make it snowman-building weather (or at least long-sleeve-wearing weather) so that I can share a little Thanksgiving message with you.

A few weeks ago, a colleague asked me to speak to a group of actors at the Strasberg Institute about the principles of Self-Management for Actors. Before I began my little schpiel, one of the students shared an essay she’d written about actors and their purpose. I was so moved that I asked the lovely Katharine McEwan for permission to share her words here. She graciously agreed.

Here To Serve: Why the World Needs Actors

“[Acting’s] essential elements remain the twin requisites enunciated in the eighteenth century by French actor Francois-Joseph Talma: ‘Unusual sensitivity and extraordinary intelligence.’ The intelligence he refers to comes not from book learning but from an ability to understand the workings of the human personality.” — Lee Strasberg, Definition of Acting

To begin to answer the question of why the world needs actors, first we must understand what it is an actor must have. To supply a demand, one must have the supply. A fledgling actor must examine their talent with brutal honesty. Unusual sensitivity and the potential for extraordinary intelligence must be there, and with hard work and discipline, it can be enhanced accordingly. However, it must be remembered, we cannot give that what we do not have.

Why is it so important to understand the workings of the human personality? What purpose do actors serve, if any? One thing we all share is the fact we are born and we die alone. We are, in a sense, trapped in our own minds, perpetually alone with ourselves. There is a desperate need in all human beings to ease this isolation by creating bonds with other people — sharing experiences, thoughts, physical intimacy, ideas, and beliefs. Then, on a larger scale, in order to experience a deeper level of connection, we have a need to share our thoughts on life and the relationships in our lives, with everyone in the world. One of the ways in which we do this is through art.

We have come to realize that despite physical differences, we are all fundamentally the same in our desires–to love and be loved and to belong. That is why art transcends all race, gender, language, and culture. It speaks of our relationships with our world. Through art we share our fears, our desires, our needs, our perversions, our fantasies, our greed, and our lust. When we watch a film or look at a painting or listen to a piece of music that resonates with us, we feel less alone. We feel as though someone understands us. Life is less painful because someone out there feels as freakish and lonely and scared as we do. Or they want the same thing or have felt the same joy. This, in my opinion, is the greatest gift we can give to each other. Compassion for the human condition can heal the world.

Actors are here to serve. We must look upon our souls with an unflinching eye, so as to share ourselves with others from a place of honesty, not ego. We are here to be ugly, ashamed, desirable, joyful, angry, tormented, violent, beautiful, and everything else that makes up the human soul. If we can bring a character to life and that character can touch the heart of another and somehow inspire them to feel less afraid and more connected to the world, then we must do this! To fail would be a tragedy. We are part of a living tradition, a legacy that must be guarded and maintained with absolute ferocity.

The Gift of “Me Too”

Before I retired from acting, I had the great fortune of studying under Corey Allen (Buzz from Rebel Without a Cause) at the Margie Haber Studios. One of his key teachings (one which touches me still today, obviously) is the premise that we are all “in this” business because we crave the “Me Too” experience. What consumers of entertainment look for is the “Me Too” (or, as Katharine McEwan so eloquently put it, above, we hope to “inspire them to feel less afraid and more connected to the world”) experience. The fact that indulging in the consumption of art is as powerful as (if not more powerful than) taking most mind-altering chemical substances should tell you how important this career choice is. You are choosing to be a part of what heals the pain of the human condition. What a rush!

Any opportunity you have to experience “Me Too” as an actor, a consumer, or simply a human being, you have every reason to be grateful. This Thanksgiving, I hope you will remember — along with all of the business-side advice we share here — to give thanks for the very fact that you are an inspired, creative channel for human connections. Through your expression of fictional entities, you serve.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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