An Actor’s Response To Tragedy

An Actor’s Response To Tragedy

By Steve Braun

It all feels like too much; one devastating hurricane after another, never-ending racial inequality, horrific gun violence, political ineptitude. There is profound suffering everywhere.  Any rational person would be excused for disengaging, doing nothing because it feels like there’s so much to do.

But actors aren’t often the rational ones.

No, actors are different.  They have decided to take their place in society among those whose job it is to stay engaged and aware, and then to reflect what they see so that others can understand the world a little better, so others can process it. It’s easy to fulfill that mandate when life is rosy. It’s not rosy right now. And the world needs you now more than ever.

We’ve said it before: Actors are important.

Yes, it’s an odd thing to say when violence, disaster, and death are all around us. And you wouldn’t know it by reading the tabloids or talking to that self-obsessed TV star at the Craft table. But it’s true. Actors- all artists- are important. And it’s especially true during times of tragedy. When the country mourns unspeakable loss and our collective heartbreak feels like it’s too much to handle, we sensitive creatures, who have devoted our lives to the exploration and expression of our feelings, are perhaps better equipped than most to help the country process its feelings.

So, these are the moments when we must suit up and show up.

I was attracted to show business by the lure of the epic ego strokes and unimaginable wealth. Plus, I was a hyper sensitive kid (still am) and it was a place for all my feelings to play. My first serious acting teacher, a stunning eighty-something year old Brit, disavowed me of those false associations with the art of acting and introduced me to a powerful, transcendent form of art that was vital to any community.

She taught me that it was the duty of the actor to understand and reflect the universe so that others may understand it. She described actors of generations past who gathered children around the fire in times of hardship and offered them a needed dose of laughter and a temporary distraction from their pain. She described actors who, due to their hyper-sensitivity and tireless emotional exploration and expression, had the ability to help regular folks process their feelings in a way that left them feeling whole and connected to a collective consciousness.

All over the world suffering abounds. For the victims, their families and loved ones, the horror must be unimaginable. And even those of us with no personal connection to anyone involved feel wounded. The country is wounded. Our hearts break, our sadness pours, our anger rages.  But most folks don’t know what to do with those feelings.

Actors are uniquely equipped to process these feelings because we engage in consistent training that allows us to express those feelings in effective ways.

Where actors can help and provide leadership in their communities is first by example. For your children, for your families, for your friends and colleagues, you can be brave and express the feelings that you feel. You can choose to not close off and retreat to silent reflection but, rather, express to them in a meaningful way how such deep tragedies resonate in you.

But don’t stop there. Your job’s not done. Actors know that it’s not enough to simply feel a feeling. Feeling must lead to action. And that’s where we can lead on another front. We should ask ourselves, our family, friends, and neighbors, what we want as a result of our feelings. No matter what feeling lives in you as a result of the tragedies in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Houston, Charlottesville, The Florida Keys, Syria, Myanmar, etc, etc – sadness, anger, frustration- let it drive you to change. Let it move you towards the altering of the path that took us to this tragedy. You may not get exactly what you want, but that active, forward motion that comes from a feeling towards a specific goal defines what a community thinks is important.  It bonds communities in a common goal.

Reach out. Organize. Fundraise. Speak truth to power and demand truth from power.  Start local and or take it to the masses. But start.  

So, resist the urge to disengage. You can’t. You’re an actor. Get out there and express. Don’t dump- it’s not about you. Share. Affect the people around you by expressing how you feel and what you want from that feeling. The ripple effects serves to heal your community. In these days of tragedy and every day.

No one can change what has already happened. No one can take away the pain. But in a unique and vital way, you can engage in the collective healing process and lead others through their feelings and towards action. In fact, you must.

It’s your duty.

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