This subject has been on my mind a lot recently. What does it mean to be a performer? I have studied acting now for four years in college. That’s beyond what I did in high school. Altogether theatre has been in my life for over ten years. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve known this is what I wanted to do at a young age. People will often say “Well you’re a performer, you should know how to be on the spot.” There’s a lot to say about this notion but let me start here.
Yes, improv is a part of theatre. That doesn’t mean that I want to do it all the time. Truthfully, I don’t want to do it at any time. I don’t enjoy improv. It makes me feel uncomfortable and by no means is it my strong suit. The thing is, not all performers are the same. In fact, we are all very different. There are so many different types of performance.
Personally, I like straight drama. That is what I excel at. Making people feel intense and vulnerable emotions is an incredible gift. It’s what I love. When someone puts me on the spot, my mind goes to a couple of different places. Of course, I can do other forms of performing. I can pull out a comedy monologue at the drop of a hat. That doesn’t mean I want to. Like any job or hobby, there’s a time and a place for everything. I don’t tell accountants to do all my math on the spot because it’s not their job nor their obligation. Yet, people don’t see it the same way with performing.
I love performing but when I perform, I feel the emotions I’m conveying to an audience. I often feel them on stage where crying and anxiety are appropriate. In a conventional setting, this is not only awkward but extremely uncomfortable. It may feel exciting for the person watching but it’s emotionally exhausting. When you’re on stage, there’s a different world you walk into. You have left your reality behind and walked into a new one. You transform. When put on the spot, this is a challenge that can easily be taken in stride given the right circumstances but otherwise pose difficulties.
All of this is to say, being an actor is not being a joker. My job is not to be on all the time. I don’t want to feel like I constantly need to be ready to perform in my everyday life. I’m not saying this is how everyone feels, but this is my experience. The worst advice I’ve ever received in my life was “use your acting to pretend you’re happy.” Of course, when this was said to me I was in middle school at the height of anxiety and depression. To live an authentic life, you have to feel your emotions. That doesn’t mean you have to wallow in them, but to deny or pretend is not to live. There is a time and place for everything. I’m not always opposed to performing in an everyday setting but make no mistake, it isn’t my obligation.