Things I have learned from acting

This was originally published as a Facebook note on March 2, 2010.

I am now in my senior year of studying theater at APU, and whether or not I make acting a permanent and professional career in years to come, I find that there are a few things I have learned in my time here that apply not only to acting but to all of art and life as well. Ultimately, it all comes down to one thing: TRUTH. To some, “truthful acting” may seem like an oxymoron, but for the actor, this is what we’re all about. The highest compliment an actor can receive is something like, “That was a truthful moment,” or “I believed you.” What we’re doing is never about pretending or “just acting; it is about telling the absolute emotional truth of a moment or a character, of really living that truth on stage. The greatest thrill an actor can have is when they realize that they are really fully living in the moment, being true to the story and character and reacting honestly to what they are given, in this present moment. All the staging and lights and audience and rehearsal fades away and all that exists is two people in space and time living life in connection with each other. Truth is always our goal.

This breaks down into a few other things I’ve discovered:

1. People are interesting.

This is one of the first things Monica Ganas taught me in my Acting Fundamentals class, and probably one of the most profound I have learned at APU. People don’t have to do anything exciting to be intriguing; by just being alive and thinking they are enormously interesting. This is why people watching is so amazing, and why “slice of life” exercises are so valuable for the actor. It’s amazing how engrossing just watching a person think can be.

Why is this? I’d say it goes back to the “divine spark” in every human soul, that we even have such a thing as the soul. It’s an amazing thing to think that behind every pair of eyes is a fully alive human being, with a whole realm of thoughts and feelings hidden beneath the surface. Misty Edwards sings, “Life takes place behind the face,” and I think she’s entirely right.

Jill Lincoln, another amazing acting prof at APU, talks about “letting the other person affect you.” It really is a powerful and profound thing to realize that two human beings are standing looking at each other, each with an alive and intricate mind/soul/spirit and an alive and sensing body. There is a deep experience of connection that arises when one is fully aware of the environment as experienced through the senses, the physical responses and sensations of the body, and the impact of the equally aware person sharing the moment.

People are interesting because they are fully alive in their humanity, and as such they are incredibly valuable and beautiful. When I think about the wonder of a single human soul, I begin to catch a glimpse of how God must see us.

2. Tell the truth. Truth is beautiful even when it’s ugly.

I have a theory. My theory is that truth and beauty are inseparable; in fact, it might even be said that truth=beauty. Is a lie beautiful? A lie may be appealing, but it cannot be beautiful because deception is by nature ugly. No matter how attractive the surface, there can be no intrinsic beauty in a falsehood.

Is all truth beautiful? This is a little trickier. Take the holocaust. Is it beautiful? Heck no. It is the worst example of our time of the depth of human depravity. It is a heinous, hideous thing. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that “telling the truth is beautiful.” This is why stories like The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place are beautiful, because they reveal—cast light on—the ugliness, as well as the beauty of love in contrast to hate. A monologue about cutting or anorexia may be beautiful, although the subject matter is not, because the truthful revelation shines light into darkness and dispels the fear of it. Fear and deception are bedmates; they spawn a world of despair and brokenness. There is a nobility and purity, and perhaps this is what I mean by “beauty,” in a lie being finally brought out into the open, in any truth openly and honestly being revealed.

3. It is an honor to tell someone else’s story.

This is something that was emphasized in my Advanced Acting class with Jill Lincoln. We talked about the honor of being entrusted with someone’s life story, and the sacred responsibility to tell it in the most truthful way possible. This brings honor and validation to the person and what they experienced. Even in cases of fictional characters, there is still human truth represented, and therefore we are charged with telling that story to the utmost of our ability so as not to slight any part of the human experience.

The same could be said of writers or of any artist who creates portraits of human nature. When dealing with this incredible thing called humanity, we must be willing to look it full in the face and tell the complete truth of what we see there. To demean any part is to dismiss the validity of real people’s experiences. Accept it for what it is. Don’t try to whitewash it or chop it up to suit your agenda. Tell the truth.

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Hallelujah, amen, you are dismissed.

John 8:32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

1 Corinthians 13:6 “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth.”

Mark 4:22 “For there is nothing hidden which shall not be revealed; nor became covered, but that it might come to the light.”

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