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 tic-tacking 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?