Just a little bit higher


I didn’t get the gig.

For a while I considered calling this blog The World’s Worst Actor thinking at the time that it was witty and self-deprecating and arch. But then my wife looked at me with sad eyes and the unspoken understanding passed between us that perhaps it was a little close to the bone. Perhaps the joke wasn’t going to remain funny for long and as every artist knows, it is a fine line between self-deprecation and the false modesty that barely conceals one fishing for compliments. Not good.

I wasn’t being falsely modest though, I genuinely thought it would be funny to highlight all the other things I’ve done with my life (so far) that had nothing to do with acting with the final punchline being that I now work full time in the theatre – the operating theatre, Boom-Boom! I spend my day in my hospital blues and listen to surgeons and anaesthetists talk about money and holidays and cars and houses and the cost of living and feign fascination when they pick up on my acting past and share their ideas for what they think would make a great movie or play or whatever. And then nod blithely when hit with the inevitable “There’s great material for drama here” as they seem to think their lives are the stuff of ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Nip/Tuck, Chicago Hope and the rest.

Something similar used to happen to me when I was working as a substitute teacher. At least once a week a cheerful colleague would smile at me in the staff room and winningly exclaim “Sure, teaching is like acting, isn’t it? Up there in front of people, putting on an act.” The conversation wouldn’t go much further than that because I would just mumble something that sounded vaguely affirmative and drink long and deep from my escape hatch mug of tea. No, I thought, teaching is in no way like acting. Quite the opposite in fact. Acting is about facilitation and a whole crew of people, whether in film, TV or theatre, trying to bring about a satisfactory end product. Ultimately everybody craves a successful result that is largely dependent on working together. Teaching, on the other hand, sees one person trying to convince a roomful of people (a roomful of people that can change several times a day) of the worthiness of that same endeavour (satisfactory end result – education) except they’re dealing with a much more disparate group of very mixed enthusiasm, behaviour and ability. I am thinking primarily of secondary level education when I say that as that was where I spent ten years (‘between’ acting jobs) cajoling and prodding and fighting and struggling and occasionally succeeding in getting through to disillusioned, disinterested and disenfranchised kids with something worthwhile. Which were, and still are, cherished moments.

Anyway, I digress. I had an audition about a fortnight ago for the first time in four or five years. A friend recommended me to a young director and so after an initial interview I found myself working on a couple of scenes for his short film and eventually presented myself for selection in a poorly lit university classroom with bad furniture and no hiding places. The director, a young man of persuasive vision and confidence, was there with his producer who, as far as I could tell, was going to tic-tack away on her laptop for the entire duration of my ‘performance’ which consisted of several improvisations inspired by the aforementioned scenes. But the thing is, I absolutely nailed it. There are times as a performer when you just know you’re in the zone. It just feels right. You make an offer and the audience goes with you, it’s as simple as that. The director and the tic-tacker were both with me every step of the way. And it felt great.

And then I got a lovely email from the director a week later saying “it’s not you, it’s me, I hope we can still be friends.” The end, no movie, back to the (operating) theatre.

Well, yes and no.

The audition was a timely reminder that I am still at heart what I always thought I was – a creative person, an artist, a performer. Two years of mopping up blood and shaving pubic hair (amongst other things) can make a body lose sight of that. But post-audition, I was suddenly exhilarated in a way I hadn’t been for some time, my synapses were firing, my senses tingled with perception, I was engaging with myself as if I had a vitality that brooked no ignoring. In short, as I said to a musician friend some years ago, I was living close to my soul.

Living close to my soul.

What does that mean? What are the implications? It means you raise the stakes. You back yourself and you raise the stakes. Higher. Higher. Higher. You don’t play it safe. You don’t turn your back on yourself. Life lurks outside your door daring you to come out and fight. Living close to your soul means replying “I thought you’d never ask.” We are so good at settling for less. I know I’m excellent at it. Compromise in real terms is not a problem, that’s just an acceptable facet of no longer being a petulant adolescent, a step closer to maturity where you know it’s not cool to chuck a tantrum when you don’t get everything your own way. The deeper, darker malaise is when compromise becomes a voluntary invalidation of self.

I got a bit fired up on this very subject in a recent email to one of my brothers, an extract from which I include here now: Life is too fucking short not to go after what you want. Settling is willingly locking yourself in a room that you know will have a little less oxygen in it each day you spend there. You think you’re getting on fine with an ever-decreasing air supply but gradually you wonder why you don’t have the same energy as before and why you’re not capable of doing the same things you could once do. You sit down to think about it and you don’t get up again. Then you rest your lids for further reflection. Then you fall asleep. And you never wake up. Game over. Don’t sign up for diminishment. Give yourself more love than that. And by ‘you’ I mean ‘me’.

I didn’t get the gig. But at least I was in the game. And it gave me a taste for raising the stakes again. Just a little bit higher.

What’s your soul asking for?

  One thought on “Just a little bit higher

  1. Gary
    June 2, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Well said, Dara. Sooooo many people doing things they don’t truly enjoy (per an earlier blog of yours). Go for it. If you’re not in you can’t win, and all that. There nothing worse than thinking, when it’s too late, ‘what if’ or ‘if only’. It’s exhilarating to throw caution to the wind from time to time. This is all a bit rich coming from Mr Ridiculously Sensible. I love doing new and different things but only when I’m in control of the situation and in my comfort zone. One of these days I’ll try something that I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the courage to do so far. Maybe because I’m afraid of failure? Who knows. Watch this space! Here’s to raising the bar.

  2. June 2, 2013 at 1:47 am

    Dead right! But more importantly, what’s Old Beetroot Face going to do to raise the stakes now? Moyes had better look up ‘demarcation’ in the dictionary….

  3. Russell
    June 2, 2013 at 3:49 am

    I kNEW you were only really ever talking about football. However, very lovely to get your encouragement to continue down paths less trodden. its hugely gratifying to often leave work feeling better than before one began. next task on my list – to somehow earn enough doing what I love to be able to bring my family to visit my encouraraging mates from time to time…

    • June 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

      I’m so transparent. Clear, even.

  4. June 2, 2013 at 7:05 am

    So beautifully written and oh so true. As I was reading this this morning, I feel nothing but admiration for you. You are in the mix. Many people are not. One of my favourite quotes that is reflective is where I am at the moment is by Roosevelt
    “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy not suffer much because they live in a grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat”.
    You are out there doing and daring. Keep doing and daring!

  5. dan katz
    June 2, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Great stuff, Dara, and good on ya for putting yourself out there! You’re actually putting yourself out there with your blog itself.

    One thing to possibly think about is that you don’t have to act in a high paying high visibility gig to get back out there. Who’s to say that acting in a small rep theatre is any less meaningful than acting in a stupid situation comedy that millions watch on tv?

    And, if you act at all, you’re back amongst it, people notice you, and you might just find you get bigger gigs.

    • June 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Thanks for the positive input as always!

  6. Caryna
    June 2, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    Beautifully written. I don’t know a single adult who is on their Plan A. Personally being on my Plan C, I can say that it just isn’t worth spending time from your life on something that you get no enjoyment from. Yes jobs can be shit and we need jobs to get money and money to live but I think it’s important to always be conscious of how much of our lives we are sacrificing to that end. Participating in auditions brings some joy to you. Good on you for doing it. Regardless of the outcome this time.

    • June 3, 2013 at 8:59 am

      I think the thing is that if fundamentally there’s still something right about Plan A then you can’t ignore it without undermining yourself. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Bibi
    June 2, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    I feel sad reading it…

    • June 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Don’t be sad! It’s all good…

  8. June 3, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Nice one Dara, fuck its refreshing to read that today 🙂

  9. Dixie Chicken
    June 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    This is my favourite little bit of writing of yours to date. Sorry I hadn’t read it when we met yesterday or we could have discussed it more. Too much stripper talk instead. Keep up the positive energy and I’ll keep reading. Oh look I haven’t answered the question…a strength of mine.

  10. June 14, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Hey Dara, I have read most of your blogs but this one really struck a chord as a fellow ‘artist’/musician who has spent countless hours at his craft. This is a big topic. I suspect many people don’t actually know exactly what they want to do because our system doesn’t really encourage dreaming. And then, those who do, have to walk a line between dreams and reality, or to put it bluntly, poverty and wealth.

    My take is that we, and by that I mean people who do know what we would like to do, in an ideal world with no limitations, need to find a balance between financial survival and integrity. By integrity I mean honesty to oneself about what you truly believe you are capable of. Sometimes the dream is without foundation and needs to be adapted – perhaps this is the plan B and plan C. There is no shame in that and if the chasing of the dream means overwhelming sadness, ill health, depression and general dissatisfaction with life then, in my opinion it isn’t worth it.

    Having said all that, the moments of true inspiration that come either during the creative process (writing a song for me) or as a result of being hired for a job can bring the greatest levels of satisfaction and pure happiness (as you said “living close to your soul”). These moments are a timely reminder of what truly ‘makes you tick’ or ‘what floats your boat’ or to put it in a deeper way, ‘what makes you feel alive and life worth living!”.

    So, how do we find a blend of ‘getting real’ – a sentiment possibly expressed by many loving parents to their artistic children – and chasing the dream. There is no easy answer but I’d say that first we need to acknowledge how important the creative element really is to us and what ‘opportunity cost’ we are prepared to pay in the chasing of it. For some, working full time and doing their creative pursuit as a ‘hobby’ is acceptable (I always hated the word hobby as I know I am a professional musician). For those that consider their talents worthy of money, fame and/or substantial public recognition it is a different story altogether.

    Those of us who consider our talents worthy of recognition need to brutally assess, as we get older our reasons for continuing down this path. Are we doing it to feel different? Are we doing it simply because we have already invested time and money in this direction? Or, are we doing it because we have something to say and deep down, we believe it is what we were put on this earth to do? It is often a combination, but I feel if it really defines us as people then we should still follow that path. Otherwise, as you say, we are starving ourselves of Oxygen and everyday our soul dies a little bit, until eventually we are so far away from who we were meant to be. Then, looking ahead to our older years, we look back on our lives with regret and not satisfaction.

    I know what my true moments of feeling alive are and I know how I define myself. Just like you expressed the feeling in your last post of spine tingling sensations, I too have felt that when performing to a crowd of 10,000 people, or just 10! I also know that sometimes, the risk is worth taking and sometimes it is not. I have been overseas twice for music exploration trips and each time come home broke and blue. But, they were both worth it for the feeling I had of being alive. At present, I am not prepared to take that big risk. That doesn’t mean the dream is not there and the knowledge that I am still, essentially an artist has faded. I am still prepared to dream. I am still prepared to take a risk, but now I am fully aware of why I am doing it and what the consequences may be.

    Thanks for your ongoing thoughts Dara. YOu are a man of integrity, and I admire and respect the way you live.


  11. sean devitt
    June 16, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Another great blog dara and so true,no actually maybe i should have gotten a job in an office looking at a computer screen all day,jesus can you imagine,you think i am grumpy now.Cheers.Sean

    • June 17, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      Sure we love the grumpiness, we wouldn’t have it any other way! Mind yourself now…

  12. Dylan
    July 5, 2013 at 9:50 am

    This blog really spoke to me at a difficult time. 30 minutes later I had to tell my boss whether I wanted to do another 9 months with the company or not, after 2 weeks of thought, my heart was quite in it, but could I really say no, they just offered me another 6K. Job security etc. I told them I’d be back.
    This week I rang up & told them I wasn’t. I am going back to acting. I am going back to stand – up comedy. I am going back to making docu films once more. I CAN do it. And looks like I’ll have to move back to London.
    No more sell – out. I am back following my heart. It is so important to do so. My soul hasn’t been doing what it really wanted for some years. But I never gave up on myself. And now – here we MFing go!

  13. Dylan
    July 5, 2013 at 9:58 am

    my heart was not quite in it

  14. July 7, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    How lovely to read that, Dyl! I’m rooting for you. Better to throw yourself back in the mix than regret being seduced by the road most taken. Good for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: