There was a time, not so long ago, when I enjoyed acting. I’d like to think that I know a bit about myself and the way that I work, and so when I say I enjoyed acting, I mean that there was a point in my life where me — the guy you would see every day — was honest and open about himself. Acting, then, became a great way to inhabit the minds of people I’d never think to inhabit, people who had wildly different thoughts than I did, people who weren’t as honest and open as me, who tried very hard to obfuscate and keep secrets. But me, Josh Belville, just a silly guy with broken glasses and a very general lack of fashion sense, I was here, and I was me. Acting became a way to fuel emotions that I might not necessarily have on a day-to-day basis, to explore some inner workings that I was familiar with, but didn’t spend my life exacerbating, simply because I didn’t have to. There’s a proverb that goes, “Happy is the man who has no story to tell.” That was me. There was no facade, no mask betraying inner feelings. There was just me.
But now, as I’m writing this, and as I spend time delving into the double life of Don Draper (yes I’m watching Mad Men, and yes I’m watching it quickly), it occurs to me that my life has changed. No longer am I the man who is happy to be honest and open about himself and his life. It’s affected my work. Now I wear a mask every day, which I don’t even remove when I’m therapy; most of my time there is spent talking about other people, rarely about myself. So when I get on stage to perform, the words are meaningless — they’re not real, and I’m not real. The two cancel each other out. There’s no need to wear a mask when you’re already wearing one.
I mean, people get in this business for a variety of reasons. Some do it because they just want to be seen, acknowledged, loved by scores of strangers in a dark room. Some people desire the disconnect from themselves, because their personal lives are tumultuous and require distance. And some people, people like me, do it because our regular lives are relatively empty, meaningless, and donning someone else’s persona for a couple of hours a night is just a lot of fun. An added bonus is that we share a human experience for a group of people in a dimly lit theater, who may find themselves transformed by the end of the performance, as much as we were transformed in the beginning.
Performance is about the simultaneous act of giving yourself up for a character, and giving yourself into a character. It is a transformation unseen in any other art form. When Anna Deavere Smith performed her play Fires in the Mirror, she brought that transformation to light, and some people didn’t like it. Say what you will about the play, her contribution to theatre is one of illumination of the act itself. She was herself being characters. The incomplete transformation, the ability to be yourself and be the character. No man is Hamlet, but every actor who has performed Hamlet was Hamlet.
My problem is: I can’t invest in being Hamlet because I’m too busy being somebody else. Someone who is not me. Someone who doesn’t find joy in the world like he used to.
I guess what I’m saying is: I’m unhappy. There. You’re welcome.