I’ve had a love/hate relationship with acting and being a performer. It’s one of those things that I’ve periodically tried to run from in my life, but find myself inevitably back at it. It’s like an automatic feature in my identity. Being an actor has become intrinsically connected to my identity, and I really hadn’t come to terms with that until recently. Self-realization can smack you in the face at interesting times.
One of the symptoms of “running” from acting has been falling into the trap of forgetting or downplaying it’s worth. Alot of actor stereotypes (you know, the one of the empty headed actor/actress living in a world of self-dellusionment and narcissism) lead me to believe (especially right out of college) that what I had chosen to do with my life was useless and invalid and totally self serving. I still fall into that trap once in a while, but a recent job at UCLA Medical School definetly helped me fall out of that trap, at least, for the time being.
UCLA Medical School has a program where they hire actors to perform as “patients” for first and second year medical students. The actors involved are given the patient history, and we then are interviewed by the medical students. The interviews are of course totally improvised. All the actors have as a tool is the studying that they did of their character history. It’s a program to teach medical students bedside manner. The idea is, the better the doctor is at developing a relationship with the patient, the more likely the doctor can help the patient. I had the privledge of playing a straight A, college-bound teenager (who is told during the interview that she is pregnant) and a teenage homeless prostitute who is also a drug addict. The later character was by far one of the most challenging characters I’ve ever had to tackle. Not only was the character an abused, drug addicted, homeless teenager, it is the medical student’s responsibility to tell her that she is HIV Positive. These interviews usually left me in tears and left me with some amazing experiences with complete strangers (the med students.)
The situations are not scripted, and improvising connects you even deeper and personally to the situation since you are essentially coming from yourself, rather than a scripted piece. I had some students who were completely insensitive and judgmental, and then on the other hand had a few who were so caring and lovely that I still am brought to tears when I think about it. After every work experience during this program, I realized what value it brought to me as an actor. I walked out with my head help high. Here I am using my skills as an artist (and developing new ones) to teach the caregivers of society! The doctors that may treat me or my kids some day..here I am using my skills as an actor to teach people, future doctors nonetheless, how to RELATE, how to CONNECT with people and hopefully heal them in some way or another. It makes me feel like a rockstar. It made me feel grateful.
So anyway, that’s my thought today on the validity of being an actor. For any actors reading this out there, or anyone in any profession, do you have any stories about how your career path has helped people in unexpected ways? I encourage you to share them, and to think of them whenever you doubt the validity of what you’ve chosen to pursue. Don’t forget to celebrate them as well, to celebrate yourself, and have a happy Thursday!