I’m still working through Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I’ve already commented on my experience with the first “menu item,” Nothing, which is actually a practical, flexible plan for learning meditation. I’m…well, still working very hard at watching my thoughts go by, at not letting any of them stick on me, and I have to admit that sometimes my mind wanders down the path of a thought for quite a while, but I spend more than half of my time in a more meditative state, just watching, just being. I’m certain that I am learning. I still love Beck’s suggestion that, instead of sitting still, I try a “mindless, repetitive physical activity.” For a lifelong knitter, this is perfect. I’m actually learning to meditate, and the simple baby blanket I’m knitting is coming along nicely. I promise, as soon as I find my camera, to post a photo of the blankie, and a pattern.
I’m now almost through one week with Beck’s menu item number two, “Truth.” I’m getting used to it now, but I have to say, it scared the crap out of me the first time I tried it. It may be the technique, or it may be that I started it on a difficult day. Per my post-road-trip life plan, I had been auditioning for every play I could possibly imagine myself in, I’d seen some great folks, old friends and new, had some fun, and even made callbacks (the actor’s equivalent of a second job interview) in some impressive theaters, but still, I haven’t been cast in a play for over two years. The day I started the “Truth” step, I had just given up on ever hearing back about an audition I’d been to three days before. I’d been auditioning for this particular director, again and again, for over 14 years, often getting callbacks, but never, ever getting cast. At the audition, I’d felt stupid for even showing up, but I’d promised myself I’d keep trying, and hey, this director wouldn’t keep calling me back it I didn’t have a chance with him, would he? He always acted happy to see me. Surely I shouldn’t give up. So many factors are involved in casting any play…
Then I received this email from him: After a form-letter-looking sentence that thanked me for auditioning and told me “unfortunately” I wasn’t being cast, the director had typed this personal note, “Anita, I just need to tell you this. You are a wonderfully talented actress and I so appreciate you coming out to audition for us. You have a very unique and specific look and sound to me that requires just the right role and ensemble for casting. Obviously you work a ton so I know this is just my opinion. But I didn’t want you to think it was because I don’t appreciate your work or your time coming out to audition with us. I hope you keep coming out to try and if you would like me to tell you next time whether I legitimately think there is a role for you, I will certainly do that.”
On the surface, it looked very nice. How kind of him! I got big compliments, and a great time-saving offer: I can just call the director and ask if there’s a place for me in his next show. Lovely. Lucky me! I sent a polite reply, thanking him and promising to call and ask him before coming to the next audition, and then, as far as I could consciously tell, I moved on with my life and forgot all about the email.
Then, hours later, I started Beck’s suggested exercises. I set my timer for 20 minutes, started my repetitive, mindless knitting, and to my surprise, started to cry. I cried, hard, and knitted as I watched amorphous thoughts go by:
“But I don’t work a ton! I have a long resume, because I’ve been at this for 14 years, but nobody has cast me for two years! Wow. One-seventh of my adult acting career has been auditioning and auditioning with a result of absolutely nothing. Why haven’t I given up? Is there any good reason not to?”
“‘…requires just the right role and ensemble…’ means that I don’t look or sound like any character in all of Western theatrical literature, and if he puts me in a play with normal actors, I’ll screw them up, too.”
“This guy is actually the third director to tell me something like this. One told me, years ago, that ‘people are cast by type, and you don’t have a type…or maybe you’re just a really strange type.’ Another told me, after I’d done a lot of extra work for his theater company (press releases, set painting, and so on), that he liked me and wanted to produce a play just to showcase me (as he often did with his favorite actors), but he couldn’t think of any play that would work. He told me I’d have to write my own play.”
“Can I fix my voice? I don’t think so. The problem is that I project too well, enunciate too clearly, sound too intelligent. Actors’ voice training is designed to make people sound more like me. I’ve just gone too far. I don’t think anyone knows how to fix me.”
“Why is there something so wrong with being me? Why doesn’t anyone want to see a character like me on stage?”
“I can’t really do anything to fix this. I’ve been trying to solve the problem with more training, but if I were the best-trained, most talented, best-acting freak in the world, I’d still be an uncastable freak.”
I was actually very upset. I was terrified that I’d have to give one of the things I loved most in the world: acting. Then, blessedly, the timer rang, and it was time to move on to the “Truth” phase, which requires answering these questions in writing:
- What am I feeling?
- What hurts?
- What is the painful story I’m telling?
- Can I be sure my painful story is true?
- Is my painful story working?
- Can I think of another story that might work better?
- Of the options available to me, which one brings the most love into the world?
I cried throughout the writing, but I felt better when I was done. In the case of this particular problem, I am clearly not going to quit acting. I love it too much to do that, however difficult it is to find a role. I am going to learn more, and become very, very good at looking and sounding like me. Also, I can revel in getting older, as more parts are written for older women who look and sound powerful and intelligent. Most roles for women are simpering, Barbie-ish ingenues. So I won’t get cast as them. Fine. I was never an ingenue. I never wanted to be. But if I keep acting now, I can grow into being queens, mothers, college professors, CEOs…
After that first ordeal, the combined “Nothing” and “Truth” sessions have been much less frightening. I suppose I just had to open up that first layer of truth I’d been ignoring.