By Jill Place, The Acting Intuitive
Follow your Acting Bliss!
So I’m sitting at this little Chinese place with my friend and Now Casting editor, Richard Gilbert-Hill, and we’re talking about . . . of all things . . . acting. I’m lamenting the lack of work ethic in actors today. And remembering a time when I was so immersed in acting training that I almost never came up for air. And so was everyone else I knew at the time.
I said something like, “Perhaps I should have just stayed married, stayed teaching, and drawn my pension.” I had graduated from UCLA in Theatre but, terrified by the prospect that I would actually have to go out and support myself for the first time, I disappeared into teaching elementary school. And married the first nice man that came along. Five years later, I started at the Lee Strasberg Institute, left the nice man, and took the acting plunge. The day I got my divorce, I was onstage at The Groundlings trying to perform some funny formula but tears came out instead. The whole company jumped up to group-hug me.
Go back to that boring life after having all that? No way! My sister, who I’m here in New York with this week, did, and she has loving children and grandchildren. And is very loving herself. But also has the shakes, hearing issues, and is never in the moment . . . always dwelling upon what was past and what might come in the future. And she NEVER listens or stops for a moment from her constant unfocused prattle to see how it affects the other person. When I left New York, I left that all behind. Thank GOD!
Back in the Chinese place, I said something like, “Perhaps I should have just stayed married, stayed teaching, and drawn my pension.” And Richard spontaneously came out with something that both startled and amused me. He said, “Aw, you would have murdered someone with an axe!”
But he was absolutely right! I do believe that those people who stand atop towers and rain bullets upon people are either creatively stunted or not noticed by those they most want to see them. Or both. And I truly believe that my stint as an actor was about me getting noticed.
I was walking down Fairfax Blvd one day and someone screeched on their brakes, rolled down their window, and yelled, “Didn’t I see you in Last of the Red Hot Lovers at the Morgan? You were GREAT!” And before I could say thank you they rolled up their window and screeched on their way. It had happened many times, especially when I did off-Broadway, but that episode sticks in my consciousness as the one that defines it all.
I wanted to be noticed, but I also wanted to notice others. I grew up little my sister. And it took a long time. But I stay in the moment. Acting gave me that. When we were in New York, my sister prattled on about what would be happening next and what her kids, who were also in the city at the moment, might be doing. I reveled in the stinging cold, the crush of humanity, the line at the Times Square ticket booth that took exactly seven minutes (yes, she actually timed it!), the mind-blowing architecture, and the great French meal that cost all of $25 . . . appetizer, dessert and coffee included. Not to mention the tour-de-force one-man show we saw that engendered a standing ovation. From the tough New York crowd!
I attempted to pause to take pictures and savor the moment. The only photos I have of my sister, however, are of the backs of her head as she sped away. She said, “there’ll be time for pictures later.” But later never came. Don’t get me wrong. I love my sister. And I’m not criticizing, merely observing. Like actors do.
I’m so thankful for following my acting bliss. Richard might be right; I was a very angry person early-on, full of angst and blame. It took me a long time to puzzle it out. Acting not only made me understand global human nature but also my own freaks and foibles. It forced me actively listen; you all know you can’t be an actor without that. And constant work on peeling off layers to reveal impulse and the somatic truth of how to use my instrument helped me stay calm and in the moment.
Seeing my sister now, I must admit that, if I had stayed where I was, I might have lived a life of quiet desperation until I up and killed someone. Especially if I lacked the gift of communication that acting gave me. It fulfills me down to my soul to really hear and react deeply to someone else. Acting also laid bare my spiritual center and allowed me to find a way to quiet my mind while staying connected to my body. I am forever grateful that I moved across the country and followed my acting bliss. I am also forever grateful to the process. How about you?
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Have you lived that “life of quiet desperation” until you discovered all the treasures acting had to offer? I’d love to hear your story; please share it with me.