It’s Called Theater, Not Therapy

“It’s called theater, not therapy.” – Adam/The Shape of Things

A guy I know once said something along the lines of, “I enjoy acting, but I really wish certain people wouldn’t use being on stage as an excuse to work out their personal issues”. I agreed with the sentiment at the time because really, who needs that crap? What I didn’t realize then was that I was exactly the type of person he was referring to.

Yeah. Call it a confession.

I started acting a little over fifteen years ago because it looked like fun and I had reached a point in my life where I was desperate for something – anything – to sink my teeth into. I kept doing it because I managed to have some early success (big fish/tiny pond) and quickly discovered that it was the first thing that I was ever good at that I actually enjoyed doing. There was an exhilaration to being on stage that I had never experienced before and it became like a drug I had to have. My theater life soon became my whole life, with precious little room for anything or anyone else to take root.

But of course life has a way of throwing us curveballs just when we think we know where we’re headed. I finished school, got a nine-to-five job, and even managed to enter into the one healthy relationship I’ve ever known. I also essentially stopped acting for a couple of years. I became bored, uninspired, and generally pretty surly. I then managed to sabotage that one healthy relationship because I didn’t know what to do with myself and started retreating into things I should have left behind as a boy. It remains the only thing in my life to which I would apply the term “regret”.

Thankfully I discovered the world of community theater not long after and rededicated myself to the hobby I had missed. I vowed to never let it slip from my life again, at least not until the day came where I no longer enjoyed it (if such a thing is possible). What has followed over the past decade is a dizzying journey full of people and experiences that have enriched my life in ways I had never imagined. I’m often asked how I manage to keep up such a crazy schedule, barreling from production to production without ever really taking a break. The answer, I suppose, is fear. Fear that those dark days will return and I won’t know what to do with my time, and fear that I’ll be forced into living my own life on a full-time basis. It is this second fear which is, I believe, at the heart of the problem.

You see, I have some bad habits. Perhaps my biggest one is a propensity for self-flagellation when I’m not quite where I want to be in terms of a particular performance. Whether it’s missing cues, messing up my own lines, or just not finding the right emotional pitch for the moment, I tend to vent my frustration with myself in, shall we say, very public ways. At times it can amount to a mini-tantrum. Lots of expletives, foot stomping, and just general asshole-ish behavior. It’s not pretty, to be sure, and I’ve been told on more than one occasion by a director to take it down a notch. I wish I could. But the problem is deeper than some seeming need to reach perfection. Nor is it a show for my fellow actors, as if getting all “intense” somehow signifies that I’m more invested than they are. What it is, I’m almost afraid to admit, is a way of coming to grips with the perceived failures of my life up until this point and a method of exorcising some of the pain I’ve never allowed myself to feel. In my everyday life I’m a pretty even keel guy. Moody to be sure, but not somebody who is known for being particularly angry or hostile. I know how to poke fun at myself, even when I’m poking fun at others, and most of the time you see me I am feeling exactly how you think I am. I have scars and demons just like anybody else, but the majority of the time they are buried down deep where they belong. But sometimes… not so much.

Some roles are like a comfortable suit that you never wear. You put ’em on briefly and strut your stuff, but they don’t really define you. Other roles are like an old pair of jeans that slide on easy and make you instantly forget that they’re there. It’s like playing yourself. The current self, that is. But there are others, those roles that you drag out of your closet like a shirt you used to wear all the time but now doesn’t fit. Only you can’t bring yourself to throw it away because it holds so many memories. Good memories, bad memories, whatever. These are the roles that, for better or worse, bring out the side of me that will occasionally get me into trouble and make people wonder, “just what IS that guy’s problem?”. They dredge up those memories that have been buried but not lost. They touch those corners of my psyche that I have tried to pretend don’t exist but which I know will always be there. Left up to my own devices, I begin to poke and prod, picking at the scars until just enough of the past trickles through to be useful. With any luck, I’m able to channel those feelings into a performance I can be proud of. In the meantime I have to find a way to deal with the presence of the past, even if that means behaving like an immature jackass. The price for my art, I suppose.

All of which means what to you? I dunno. Maybe you’ve worked with me in the past and have seen me at my ugly best. If so, consider this an apology. Maybe we’ll work together some time in the future in which case let this serve as a warning. Or maybe you know nothing of my life onstage and were foolish enough to read this out of morbid curiosity. If that’s the case then take it for what it is: the airing of a little personal insecurity in the midst of an ongoing search to understand myself. Whatever our relation, just understand that I love what I do, even when it hurts.

For me, theater is therapy. Sorry.

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