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There's no precipitating cause for this, but I felt like saying… - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
There's no precipitating cause for this, but I felt like saying something nice and good, about people who get a lot of adulation, but often not much respect--actors.

First, I must cop to something: I'm descended from an actor.

My great-grandfather was in a touring company (the Jessie Bonstelle company) from 1905 until 1915, in which he played D'Artagnan (in The Three Musketeers) and the Count of Monte Cristo (in the play of the same name), among other parts. We have a picture of him in costume as D'Artagnon, and I have the trunk he used to tour with. His reviews were lost at some point, but my grandmother says he was good. Along with acting, he painted the sets and did softshoe routines between acts, to keep the audience entertained while the sets were changed. He left in 1915 because of a divorce from his actress wife, and married my great-grandmother a few years later, claiming not to be interested in being part of that business anymore.

He taught my grandmother the softshoe and sang with her. He ran a church theater group for kids. And in the '30s, he was recognized by the city for the vaudeville-style sketches he and his friend Lil did to keep people happy during the Depression. (Yes, from childhood up, his best friend was a woman, in the late 1800s up until he died in 1939. No, they weren't having an affair. This situation isn't as newfangled as we like to pretend.)

He sold furniture for a living, but he never stopped being an actor.

I never met the man--he died before my mother was born--but I grew up with Grandpa Great stories, and because of them, I was predisposed to a lot of respect for actors.

So, good things about actors and acting:

Actors bring us into stories, and give face and voice to the imagination. There's something wonderful about making words on a page live and breathe. I've had the pleasure of seeing my own words acted out (granted, by amateurs and undergrads, but still), and there's a sense of completion to it. An actor takes an abstract idea, something that never existed in the real world, and for a space of time, makes it as real as a visit from a friend.

I wish that schools would stop reading Shakespeare, and see the plays as they were meant to be seen. I mean, have you ever read A Midsummer Night's Dream? On the page, it's almost a drag, but on stage, actors bring those centuries-old words back, and it becomes vibrant, colorful, and funny as hell. (Yes, if you have theatrical language in your mind and know the stage idiom, your imagination can fill it in, but that's just letting your mind be an actor... why not just enjoy actors in the first place?) The same is true of Mercutio's Queen Mab speech. No one gets that when they read it silently, but a skilled actor brings it across, and Mercutio becomes the person that everyone knows, the Klass Klown with another wild story every day. What a great thing to do.

Actors, like writers, show us to ourselves. As a writer, my job is to show themes and large patterns of life, things that make a reader say, "Yes, that's how people are" (from the ever-popular Orson Scott Card on mythic fiction in Maps in A Mirror). Acting is about noticing the minutiae, showing specific people, making these universal ideas into particular and memorable characters. The screenwriter of Pirates of the Caribbean had a great idea about ambiguity and the lure of adventure, but Johnny Depp's portrayal Jack Sparrow showed us a very strange and yet at the same time instantly recognizable person. The curious, greedy, unstable, free part of man--of course we went crazy for Jack! He's a character who wouldn't work without the contributions of the actor who portrays him--no one else could have given us the Jack we met and felt like we knew by the end of his first scene.

Contrary to a popular stereotype, acting is an intellectual exercise, and actors need to be intelligent. Acting is a constant exercise in deep reading, looking at lines on a page and understanding not only their simple meaning, but everything that might be behind them. It's common to portray an actor as flaky and self-involved when he says "What's my motivation?", but think about the question--it's the same question that people studying for advanced degrees at fine universities ask of the texts they immerse themselves in. What is it that makes this person tick? What part of our common humanity does it touch? Actors have to be able to do this instinctively. They have to understand where they fit in the scheme of a script, but within their performance, understand how little their characters may see. This is a sophisticated act of the imagination--of the intellect--and in order to do the job for which they are hired, actors need to be able to accomplish it. They have to be bright. (They may not be terribly patient with school, but that's not the same thing.)

I don't mean to harp on this particular thing, but the tone that the media tend to take when actors go to high-rated schools is related to the tone they take with headlines like "Three Headed Dog Abducted By Aliens." "Actress Goes To The Ivy League! Could Apocalypse Be Far Behind?"

Sorry, guys. It's not that shocking. The job takes brains, and the brains can be used for other things, too.

Well, there are other lovely things about acting as a profession, but the last thing I want to say is that I'm not trying to make any sweeping judgments about personalities--no profession has an across-the-board shared personality. I'm sure some actors are heels; I'm equally sure that some are nerds and some are professorial and some are nice family men and women. I don't have any first-hand proof of this, but I'm willing to take on faith that being a successful actor doesn't necessarily make one a jerk, no matter what the popular concept is.

Finally, I bough an issue of Glamour the other day, as it promised several quick ways to do your hair if you're in a rush in the morning (the article was a wash). Toward the end, they have a page called "Glamourazzi," where they snap random pictures of actors. They complain about Jennifer Aniston wearing the same clothes all the time to keep the price for her pictures down. I'm not wild about Jennifer Aniston as an actress, but you know what? Go, Jen. She has a right to tell them where to go. It's called time off, and everyone has a right to it.
5 comments or Leave a comment
From: leeflower Date: February 27th, 2004 05:41 am (UTC) (Link)
:) thanks for the kind wordses (says the theater major).

I will say this, though: I'm working costume crew right now. Acting ay be a difficult, brainy job (it is, now doubt), but they do have a tendency to forget to put their costumes away, leaving poor roo a backache from lugging heavy trenchcoats up the stairs. Just felt like sharing. Show love to your techie friends- that quak might be somebody's dresser.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 27th, 2004 05:47 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I never said they were neat, organized, or considerate... :)

(I take it this isn't when they have fifteen seconds to do a costume change between scenes and are just throwing things every whichway to make their cues.)
From: leeflower Date: February 27th, 2004 06:03 am (UTC) (Link)
no, this would be after the show. They're supposed to throw things on the floor during quick changes. Picking that stuff up is why I get the big bucks (and by big bucks I mean the hat that says 'Footloose Crew' on it). After the show, however, their costumes become their problem, and they should not need the dressers to remind them to a) put them up and b) change out of them before eating (we, after all, are the ones who have to wash the stains out).

But we wuvs our actors. They are kind and friendly and mostly undivalike. I say this because I occasionally appear on their side of the curtain when I'm not hemming the damn thing. (((actor loff)))
myf From: myf Date: February 27th, 2004 06:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a newfound respect for actors.

As part of my new course, we've been having a few workshops on counselling and therapy, which is bloody hard work. And part of it involves sitting down and role-playing a situation, so someone can practise the counselling techniques we've been working on.

We're given a few vignettes to work with, but the idea that some of us can sit down and extrapolate those few lines to a whole person with a real history is just astounding. I'm just awful at it, but I always knew I'd hate to act. But being forced to do it in this scenario has just reinforced how hard it is. Oh, and how scary. Eeeep.
lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: February 28th, 2004 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
I think people get mixed up between "actors" and "celebrities" or "movie stars." Acting is a skill I can appreciate and admire. A lot of folks knock it because it comes across as an easy job. In fact, I think some actors get so self-conscious about it they feel they have to prove how smart/knowledgable/substantial they are by sounding off on domestic policy or international relations.
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