The Activist Actor: How Getting Involved Can Better Your Acting

Portrait Of Happy Woman Flexing Her MusclesEvery now and then we lift our noses out of the scripts written to reflect and interpret reality and catch sight of the reality unfolding around us. Sometimes what we see paints a pretty bleak picture. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless, and ineffectual. As actors, accustomed to defending our career choice to the endless march of individuals inquiring after our “real jobs,” sometimes that doubt can insinuate itself into a greater network of insecurities. Are we “doing enough?” Are we being selfish, narcissistically pursuing a life of play and external validation? Empathy, the very trait at the heart of a grounded and specific actor, can turn on us, prompting voices of incertitude, recrimination, even depression. I’ve been on this Merry Go Round many times myself, but for what it’s worth here are my opinions.

How Being An Actor Can Help the World:

Whenever I’m not sure if acting is “enough” I go back to The Dead Poets Society, in particular a speech the late, great Robin Williams gave in his performance as educator John Keating: “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Acting, writing, artistic pursuits–they enrich the lives that other professions protect and preserve. But it doesn’t end there. The stories we tell–through plays, movies, novels, dance, art and music–they are a barometer of our collective soul They can be a societal conscience. They help us interpret our world and ourselves, learn from our historical successes and failures, they imagine realities to strive for and to guard against, they heal, inspire, shame and celebrate, They can give voice to the voiceless, call for justice when there is none, provide release, restoration and order in chaos. I’m not saying it’s like this always, or even often. But I think its a worthy target. If you’re looking for an opinion, mine is that acting can be more than “enough,” if you make it so.

How Helping the World Can Strengthen Your Acting:

So now that you’re feeling a little better about your life choices, here’s part two of my opinion: It behooves us to do more. Social and political awareness and activism can help your acting. Here’s how:

  1. The more aware we are of the world, the more accurately we can reflect it. An actor’s imagination is a powerful thing, but why imagine walking in someone else’s shoes when you can march next to them? True empathy requires cultivation, repetition, and variety. Go to a rally and stand up for someone who’s not just like you. Become a monthly giver to a cause you care about, and read the literature. Education and experience empower.
  2. Activism puts your finger on the pulse of society. Some of the greatest literary and dramatic works have reflected times of national and international strife, societal upheaval. If you want to tell important stories, it helps to live them. It is a great thing to, in Gandhi’s words, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” but first you have to seek that change.
  3. Making a Difference Fuels Your Artistic Output. Come on. Helping people feels great. Being kind feels great. Working toward a collective goal feels great. These are things that will strengthen your character, (so you can in turn create stronger characters! Sorry. Couldn’t resist). But in all seriousness, doing things that fulfill you as a person translate onstage and onscreen. They give you depth, subtlety, range, and a well of life experience from which to draw.

So the next time you read about a tragedy in the world and wonder, yes, I do think acting is enough. I do think the world needs us. But let’s not stop there. Let’s get out there and make sure we are the kind of storytellers the world deserves. This is what we call a win-win.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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