In many of my shallow conversations with strangers, I am often asked how I can possibly devote my free time to doing something as difficult as acting. Always, I reply with the truth: that acting is one of the easiest aspects of theatre. That’s not to say that I’m good at it, I’m certainly not. But in terms of organising an entire production, being an actor is by far the most rewarding role. Not only do you get shit tonnes of praise at the end of a successful show, but everyone remembers what you did in your role that was so remarkable and thought-provoking. Sometimes I’m so well recognised that I’m occasionally recognised by a member of the public while buying hummus from Dickson Woolies.
In my opinion, a good actor needs three key characteristics: dedication, creativity and guts. I, however, only have dedication. You need to be willing to do whatever the director wants, whenever and however they want. Or at least have that mentality. Most of the time, you’ll have a director who wants to work with you rather than control every aspect of your performance. Depending on your role, you can expect to attend between one and four rehearsals a week over a period of two to four months. On top of that, you hold the responsibility of learning your lines as fast as possible. To satisfy the director and more importantly yourself, you must be willing to dedicate yourself to your character/s and put as much effort in as you’re hoping to get out.
Creativity is a trait you can naturally improve. Although the word immediately reminds me of all the essays where I struggled to write, it is also one of the easier characteristics to fulfil. All creativity means is that you, as an actor, are trying and willing to try things differently and add something unique to your performance and the entire production. The beauty of it is that you improve by simply pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Years will pass before you realise how much more creative you’ve become compared to when you started.
Guts are the key driving characteristic behind every thespian’s performance. In every performance, there’s always a chance that you will mess up a line or that something could go wrong, and often something does. You need to have guts to be able to accept the risks and continue to perform. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be afraid, you just have to hide it when you’re on stage.
Once, when I was performing in a school’s production of Grease as Eugene, I was given a loose pair of blue pants along with some hideous pink suspenders that were too small for me as part of my costume. It was a recipe for disaster, because what ended up happening was that everyone could see my ‘bulge’ through the pants. But I didn’t back down from my performance or awkwardly cover myself up on stage. I accepted the fact and continued with an amazing performance that made my teachers proud. In hindsight, I should have handled this wardrobe malfunction earlier, but like I said: guts and determination rule in theatre.
The number of times I’ve been backstage regretting why it is that I decided to act as a hobby, or anxious about whether the months of preparation have been enough is shocking for someone who participates in plays and productions regularly. But it’s all a part of any actor’s performance. We learn to put aside our fears and worries to entertain the people in our community. That’s the main reason I do all of this. To entertain.
But also the praise and fame from each performance. That’s always good as well.