envy and awe

I have a fascination with mountain climbing, well mostly Everest and solely theoretically, and often find some of its philosophy applicable to my chosen profession. I am NOT saying it’s as difficult or dangerous, but it is often a land of the unknown filled with unseen obstacles. I have heard the expression “focus on what’s ahead of you, never what’s behind you.” Focus on the next step up or down the mountain, one minute at a time. This is helpful in any momentum-contingent activity, keeping your attention and energy focused forward.

But acting or writing isn’t scaling a mountain. It’s not sleeping in a tent at 20000 feet. And my focus does stray. One area as of late is my envy party. Now I have a group of actors I admire, and not just in an “I like their work” way but in an “I want to follow their career trajectory” way. It inspires me and pushes me to work harder. And it works out fine for the most part. I normally find people much farther along than in their career than I am and I can see them as role models. What really gets to me, in a bad way, are the few people lately who are my contemporaries. The girls who get my roles, yes the envy party is a possessive and negative place at times. The ones who I see everywhere or their names keep popping up in press releases for show and films I really wanted. Now, the rational part of me says that those projects weren’t the right ones and look at all you have achieved. But envy doesn’t work like that. It’s not rational or measured.

So I sink into the comparison game. And I am relentless… when it comes to me. Harsh and cruel, judgmental. It’s the part of me that, when it’s flipped to the positive side, is fierce and unrelenting and driven and passionate. I stay in touch with writers/directors/producers that I enjoyed meeting, I try to stay on the radar if I’ve loved the project. I am a worker, each and every day. Because you never know. A genuine connection, it can make things happen. But the negative side is a fiery and nasty personal critic. Seeing the lack I feel in my work, in my aesthetic, in my career. I try very hard not to focus on what I don’t have but boy the bitter, jealous Louise sees it all. And there’s no talking her down, I have to let her rant and rail. And hope against hope that someone good comes out of each career tantrum- a renewed motivation, a bit of design or technique I can steal, or simply a reminder of all I have to achieve. A reaffirmation to focus on the peak of my own mountain. Because anything else could cause me to slip and fall.

One of the things I do when I am in the down and dirty of self-judgment might seem counterproductive but it works. I try to find sources of inspiration. Bits of hope. One I have discovered recently is a filmmaker named Gary King. Now I am still too chicken to write him one of my introduction emails (I will I promise) but I think he is immensely talented, seemingly effortless in his cinematic invention and a constant generator of work. He makes movies. Actually makes them. Not just talk about them or write about them or hope to do them someday, he makes them. And they are thoughtful and elegant and provocative. Man I want to work with him.

The second source of comfort and support while the winds of doubt and loathing howl around me, are plays by amazing writers. There are two that I have been exposed to lately that simply floor me. Full disclosure, I know them well. One is David Stallings. He directed my play at the Fringe Festival and he’s the Artistic Director of Maieutic Theatre Works. I have read four of his plays, having been in readings of two. He has this amazing sense of characters, of unfolding a world so generously that you are fully enveloped. I cannot quite describe it because the journeys are so different but I love it when someone is such a good playwright that I beg, constantly, to be in every possible piece of work in any format or design. The second is Jacqueline Goldfinger. I had the honor of playing Cebe Tate in the world premiere of her play The Oath. It has been to date the most challenging role of my career, completely all consuming with its unrelenting demand for the strongest, most honest work I could possible do on stage. Jackie writes these dark, blissfully deep and haunting plays. They are profoundly relevant even though they are not overtly set in contemporary times and always jaw-droppingly human. I am constantly amazed. I have read two others besides The Oath and heard one pitch last weekend at brunch. I want her to write it immediately so that I can be in it. It’s that revolutionary. These two, as well as being personally inspiring and kind and generous, make me better (a better actor, a better writer and a better person) simply by putting pen to paper.

The last one as of late, because this post is getting long and I fear the ‘laundry list’ syndrome, is Edward Norton and his Marathon run. I know… it’s another celebrity with a cause. Granted he is talented and the cause is worthy, the Maasi Wilderness Conservation Fund, but what has grabbed my attention and excited me has nothing to do with these details. It has to do with the simple desire to make something better. And he has broken it down to a basic, full-contact level. He is on twitter and the website has video blogs. Edward Norton is basically trying as hard as possible to connect with people in a true and personal way. And from what I see, it works. You feel connected, you get the passion behind the project and you genuinely feel that you matter. I cannot quite find the literary lyricism I want to use in describing it but you are going to have to trust me. There’s something exciting about the raw, flawed and ultra-human nature of his outreach.

Because all creative interactions or performances strive to have that connection, to leave that residue when it’s over. Wait, I like that, artistic residue. I’m going to use that from now on. We hope that our actions, our art and (hell) our lives leave a mark. And that is probably why I get so fired up about my career; because I worry I’m not doing enough. I’m not being enough. I’m scared my journey will end and it will all fade away. That snow will cover my hiking tracks and no on will know I was there. But that’s why we take pictures and keep journals and tell stories, right?! To both prove that we were here and to leave a little behind. And if that’s why I get angry or jealous or all kinds of fired up, well I’ll take it. Apologies to those who have to be around me during the fits of rage or tears. Please believe me when I say it’s a good thing, it’s about being better. I’m focusing on the road ahead of me, so it might be best to get out of my way or pick up the pace and join in. I’d love the company.


Things I’m Digging This Week: The bunnies in the Sweet Millions commercials (Beth made me put something)

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