If “Acting is Doing” Then What is Everything Else?

Oh hey, it’s 21-year-old me, getting a B in historical dance because I never “stepped out of my comfort zone” (I’M NOT BITTER, YOU’RE BITTER.) Okay, on with the blog post.

My acting teacher in London was never a huge fan of me. Though I like to believe I’m a rather agreeable human, I consistently clash with a very specific personality. We’re like two liquids that simply cannot occupy the same space. In one of our first classes, she asked us in a raspy tone, “What IS acting?!” She then buried her head in her hands and waited for us to respond.

Oh brother, I thought.

We made our educated guesses — quite prolifically may I add — for a solid five minutes until her frustration peaked. If I’d known she just wanted us to quote Stella Adler then we could have gotten on with the class. But our school was of the “break them down until they think they’re morons so we can provide them with new confidence” mentality. Kind of like a cult.

“Acting…is DOING,” she yelled at the eight of us.

Hoo boy.

As an adult who misses acting with every fiber of her being, I have a better appreciation for diving into the different philosophies of how to build a character. At the time, however, I didn’t want to start from scratch and I didn’t want to waste our quick four months together getting barked at for not winning the “expert acting teacher” guessing game.

Anyway, acting is doing. For all you lucky souls not helplessly tied to the arts world, this phrase essentially means that an actor must be doing something on stage for it to be worth watching. The action might not be as active or obvious as “cooking dinner,” though it could be that. Mainly this idea helps an actor figure out how to bring the text to life and give it some drive. You add a verb to depict what you’re doing to the other characters: “convincing them,” “calming them down,” or “making them tell you the truth,” for example.

Psychologically, at least in the real world, I find this idea a bit troublesome. Do we have to be in motion — do we have to be “doing” something — to be present, to be interesting, to count?

The whole shebang is taken much more seriously as you get older because pretending you’re in imaginary circumstances gets really difficult as you lose the possibilities of childhood. I was no Elizabeth Taylor when I was little, but do I remember making acting choices on stage without ever questioning myself. They just happened; they made sense. As you get older, you stop believing in the imaginary world. You need tools to leap back into Narnia.

Recently, I’ve found myself at yet another career crossroads. If you dig through this blog, you’ll see I’ve had plenty over the past ten years.

I’m burning out as a freelance writer. This week I probably put in about 40 hours of concentrated, right-brain work without a breather. So what, right? So does everyone else. But that combined with no coworkers, no variation and little chance to have any social interaction with anyone other than my husband, the baristas at the coffee shop and my cats, I end the week like this: a shell of a person who hasn’t slept well in days and feels too sick to go to the one social outing I had planned this week.

I’m finally sitting outside, a zombie with a glass of wine.

We’ve had six straight days of rain out here in northern jersey and I came outside just to feel the sun and humidity-free breeze. It was in the sitting here that I realized how many of us at some point had a teacher falsely tell us that no one will want to watch us if we’re simply being and not doing. Maybe it wasn’t as obvious as a British acting teacher barking at you as you wonder why you chose your major. But it was over time, I suppose: in the commercials, in motivational posters at school, from a soccer coach.

I started freelancing because I thought it would allow me to “be” much more often. “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I’m glad people are finally calling out that bullshit. Monetize what you love and live in fear of someone telling you you’re not good enough to do it anymore.

Don’t let my tired Friday cynicism fool you. I am grateful for my work and I’m proud that I am where I am. But I do have a temporary new answer to why I keep disappearing to hike in remote areas for weeks at a time. It’s not about the ridiculous amount of walking. But with the “doing” box checked for the day, the “being” hits you like a train. It’s startling at first. You’re done walking by 1pm (because sun) and then all you have is time. You try to fill it with laundry and exploring the town and for some, going to mass. But none of it fills the time enough to ever allow you to feel busy. At first, you flounder. I’m a little tipsy, so I’m going to include a picture of a flounder.

Moving on. I was raised in an art of doing, a wonderful gift that allowed me to disappear into enough action to avoid my off-kilter home life. But now that I see the “doing” of actors bleeds far off the stage, I also know that something’s gone wrong. No one’s watching us, there’s no audience. I know I feel that way though. When we’re allowed the time outside of work and obligations (because those do very much exist–rent is important), we announce to the world that we’re engaging in self care. Kind of like I am now. Why? Why is this the norm?

I’m certain there are other parts of the world and other ways of life like the Camino; it’s just the method I came upon this time around. But I am so grateful. Knowing that someone will wake up tomorrow, walk for seven hours, wash their clothing in a bucket and sit down to stare at distant Spanish mountains gives me hope that we’re changing.

I found a Camino statistics page last night with the number of American hikers. When Claire, Cortney and I completed our Camino ten years ago, 60 Americans completed it that month. Sixty. How was it that few? When Christina and I completed our Camino in August of 2017, there were over 736 of us from the states. More than ten times the number from ’09.

I thought of Don Elias Valiña Sampedro, a priest from O Cebreiro, Spain, who is credited for painting the yellow way markers across the Camino Frances in 1984.  His illegal painting of arrows to guide a future generation of hikers helped bring the Camino back from the brink of extinction. When stopped by the police, he said he was “planning an invasion!” I’ve always appreciated a bit of crazy for the common good.

Thanks to him, we “invaded” — the lost and confused who knew deep down that we weren’t meant to live a life of doing. I keep thinking of that number from 2017, one that only keeps growing: 736 from the states in one month. And how many went home and spread their stories? How many forced their families and friends to listen to the millionth story about another way of life: one of compassion and support and community and simple being until it hurts? It gives me hope.

Maybe my acting teacher didn’t like me because I didn’t have enough of a poker face about it all. Maybe it was clear that I didn’t worship the idea of entertaining the audience member or convincing the world I was trying hard enough to be praised. Maybe that made her uncomfortable. Or maybe she knew the same exact thing deep down and we were meant to have a beer and hash it all out. Not a clue. I’m floundering in the lack of doing tonight, even for an evening. I go back to my beloved trail in 14 weeks. I supposed it’s time.

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