Why do you do what you do? That’s a question every person is asked at least once in their life. Money? Something to do? For professional (or struggling, working, barely-getting-by, etc.) actors it’s a completely different story. We all know there isn’t much money in acting (unless you’re Meryl Streep… in which case, never mind), and while it’s definitely something to do, you need a better reason to commit your life to the stage/screen than simple enjoyment. Enter: the reason. It’s the question that’s put to you by acting teachers, directors, and particularly interested CDs. WHY do you do what you do?
95% of the time, some kid will pipe up and say “’cause I can’t not act.” A lot of people “can’t not act.” That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s deeper and more motivating. Break it down like a scene: what motivates your character in the story of your life? So while I give you my reason over the next couple paragraphs, you think of yours, and we’ll compare notes at the end.
For me, this particular revelation came about in my early high school years. My mom used to get alumni magazines from her Alma Mater, and I was a theatre kid who tried to find something theatrey (yes, it’s a word. And yes, I made it up) in everything. So I would go through the alumni magazines when I was bored and try to find articles on the theatre department. Then, one particular, gray afternoon, I came across an article by Patton Oswalt (you may know him as the voice of Remi the rat in Disney’s Ratatouille.) He was talking about his philosophy on life, and why he chose to act.
There are two kinds of people in this world, Oswalt said. The Night People and the Day People. The Day People are your doctors, scientists, lawyers; people who keep the world spinning (well, maybe not lawyers, but you get the idea.) The Night People, on the other hand, are those who make the world worth living in. I decided right then and there that, while there was nothing wrong with being a Day Person, I was going to be a night person. I was going to be an actor.
And reading that article made me think: how boring would it be if we continued to eke out our existence on the planet by just living day to day, hoping we survived to pay our bills? Or if you spent your day at a well-paying job, only to come home and do… nothing? Without Night People, we wouldn’t have books, tv., etc. I mean, I guess you could read non-fiction… Maybe a medical book. Personally, when I’m stressed out, I find nothing more relaxing than going to the theatre or to the movies. Sitting in the dark, watching the problems of imaginary people unfold before me, causes me to reevaluate my own comparatively small issues or takes me out of my mind completely so that I don’t think about my worries at all.
Little, high school me thought that allowing people to escape for a couple hours was pretty damn fabulous.
So here I am, several years later, keeping my reason in mind every time I sit on a folding chair in the middle of a holding area, waiting for the chance to audition for whatever. Your reason may be completely different- maybe you promised your grandmother you’d be a paid actor. That works. There is no right or wrong reason, provided you think it out properly. But there is always a reason. Keep it in your mind.