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Austin Actors
Michele Deradune

by Michele Deradune

August 2001

by Michele Déradune

I once heard Shelley Winters talking about the acting profession on a talk show. She said something to the effect that an actor's life takes a high toll on a person - what with all the work an actor honing his or her craft does within one's own psyche - the angels, the demons, the intensity, the laughter and the tears, the intensity and the wearingness of it all.

All that would sound kind of strange to me - the concept that a person would take on such a chronic kind of emotional devastation just for a career. Until this week. It is this week that I am realizing my own personal need - something more than just a calling - for this craft. Before I assumed I was drawn to acting because of the thrill of it, and certainly this is still true; yet there is much more. Before I thought that it was desire and perhaps even talent that caused one to be drawn to acting, but now I believe and know - at least for myself - that it is much, much more.

For days that have turned into weeks, then into months and into years, I have puzzled at my own reflection. Not the reflection in the looking glass, but in the way I live and respond in this world. It is my disposition of intensity - and of feeling intensely - is what has got my mind so puzzled for so long. Feelings, tears and laughter? For me these things are the "easy" part. It's everything else that I find myself fumbling and stumbling with as so many of this world's mechanical duties vie for my focus and attention whilst my inner emotional life roars and protects its own like a ferocious Mama Lion in a sea of vast colors and confusions. I may not achieve some of the smallest chores in a day's work, but by golly by the end of the day I always know just how I feel and how I felt.

Give me something devoid of emotional or soul investment to accomplish, something none too difficult for my skill level to do, and I swear it has for me gotten to be like trying to work in an atmosphere of antigravity. It takes all the concern and sense of responsibility I can muster, day after day, just to accomplish the machine-like tasks that will allow me to once again pay my monthly rent and feed my child and me. As one astute client of my machine-like skills noted earlier this summer, "Michele, I don't think you really want to do this kind of work. It seems that your heart is not in it. Maybe you should be thinking about doing something else like acting." Never having truly equated acting with an actual income, at first her statement seemed laughable to me. Until my "heart" is able to put bread on the table I know I must continue to create income with work such as that which I do for her. However, I have to admit that she hit the proverbial nail on the head. I do need this creative outlet - and, for me, it is not only an outlet; it is an "inlet" too!

Were it not for the performing arts I might become convinced there is no place for me to fit into this world - at least, no place I could feel I was doing something both worthwhile and fulfilling. Mona Lee talks in her some of her classes about the origins of theater and its ancient tradition being with the performer as Healer. The actor brings to the stage (and nowadays the camera) a mirror to reflect to those who will see images of themselves and their own psyches. Feelings an audience member has feared to face suddenly become more bearable and more approachable to explore as s/he watches, listens to and/or feels the performance. The hardened man who has deftly practiced to place around his own heart barbed wire in order to protect it may find within his own eye a precious tear, and he is thankful for it. Because after all, what the actor is reflecting, human-to-human, is wo/man's own humanity. I have heard it said that the "hu" in "human" is reference to the divine within wo/mankind. The actor, being a professional "feeler" if you will helps in the healing that comes when we become more in touch with our own humanity.

The acting profession serves a truly significant purpose in today's world. Underlying or overriding so much of the "conventional wisdom" (which in my opinion is neither) of today's post-industrial society is derived and a continuation of the manner in which science introduced the so-called scientific logic centuries ago that equates wo/man with machines. There is an interesting book about this by Howard Rosenbroch called Machines with a Purpose (1991), but I haven't read it yet myself! However I do know that in this book Rosenbroch, an imminent scientist himself, explains how in ancient times scientific thinking was not allowed to own a purpose - because that would have been construed as being in competition with the church of the day and its interpretations of scripture. Clearly man is not and a machine, though so many of today's jobs and architectural strategies suggest a belief in such absurdity. But one need not read the works of a rocket scientist to know this; one need only watch a play or movie with actors giving genuinely human performances.

I believe that today the world has a place for actors more than ever - as well as, of course, screenwriters, directors and all those who make performance possible and effective - precisely because we live in such a machinized world. I believe that perhaps today people like me - who are profound masses of feelings within feelings - truly have a worthwhile, useful and even healing place in society. We cry, and it helps others to cry; we stumble and fall, and allow others to laugh - and, most of all, at production's end both we the actors and we the audience are feeling alive, feeling passion - and feeling just a little bit - better yet, a LOT - more human.

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