As Valentine’s Day looms and we feel obligated to celebrate love by spending ridiculous sums on bad chocolate and overpriced flowers, our attention turns to your love of acting. Like any relationship, your relationship with acting ebbs and flows. One month it’s white hot as you work on an amazing play and book a great guest-starring role, and the next you’re overcome with indifference as it feels like your dream will never come true.
Here M. Scott Peck offers us some insight. In his book “The Road Less Traveled,” he offers a description of love that may not sit well with fans of “Pretty Woman,” “The Notebook,” and other such love stories. He describes love not as something that one merely falls into, a state of limerence that results from the good fortune of Cupid’s arrow striking one’s heart, but rather as an act of will. Love is a choice. Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that a relationship requires work, and Peck offers that love is work, a constant practice of learning, accepting, forgiving, and giving. Conflict always emerges, and how you work through it is the difference between a month-long fling based on hot sex and a deep love—the coming together of two souls—that stands the test of time.
The same is true of your acting. If your interest in it is the extent to which it can offer you a series regular role on a cable show, or pay your rent that month, or even give you that amazing feeling you get from putting up a great scene in class, your relationship with it will wither and die and you will probably go back to school or take the real estate exam. To have an acting career that lasts, you have to love acting, and to love acting you have the do the work of loving acting.
First that means not waiting for an audition to act. You have to act all the time and you have to make opportunities for yourself to act that keep the fire going. It’s like date night. You have to set aside time to work on material that sets your soul on fire, not necessarily because you think it will lead to booking film and TV work.
Second, you have to accept that real life is mostly plateaus. Mastery involves far fewer moments of explosive growth than it does slow and steady plateaus. Said a different way, you’ll spend more time in bumper-to-bumper traffic driving to a crappy co-star audition, doing mediocre theater to half-full houses, and doubting that you’ve got what it takes, than you will receiving Oscars, cashing fat checks, and working with Meryl Streep. And that’s OK. In fact, that is actually love; waking up every morning and deciding, in spite of all the heartache, that you are an actor and that you’re going to pursue an acting career because the exploration of the human experience and the kind of human connection you get to engage in every time you act is worth anything the business can throw at you. Like Leonard Cohen said, “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
It’s your responsibility to love acting. It’s part of your job as an actor. So on Valentine’s Day and every other day, don’t forget to nourish your acting. The pursuit of the business alone isn’t enough. Put up your favorite play, write for yourself, shoot scenes with friends, get in a class, play, play, play. Find the joy. Love is something you make.