This is the transcript of a speech given a short while before my graduation from Conservatory by my then musical theater teacher, and now Artistic Director of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Choir, Kevin Robison. I just unpacked it recently and I wish to share it with you all. Any typos or other such mistakes are due to my re-typing.
Today I make the following declaration: Now is the most important time in the history of the world to be doing what we do. It is so simply because of the fact that it is now. Now we are called upon to tell stories that reflect the human experience. Now we have the opportunity to change others and the quality of life for all the world. Now we are called to draw upon our own life experience to become the other, to embrace our differences, and to celebrate our most sacred gifts: our ability to empathize. Now.
It is a wonderful thing to pretend, isn’t it? Those of us in theatre have pretended so much that it is now a career. Sometimes we pretend because we want to escape our own lives. Sometimes we pretend because we’re paid to. Sometimes we pretend, but we’re not really pretending. Regardless, of why we do it, it is our calling and we must learn as much about how to do it as possible. But is this all there is to our job? To become others in order to change others? What about ourselves?
It has been said that all we ever need to know about acting we learn in life. After all, we are not only actors, we are professional human beings. take two equally gifted artists with the same training, put them side by side and odds are the older one will be the better actor. The more life experience we can bring to the stage, the more likely we are to strike the ever elusive moment of truth in a scene.
Truth in acting is the essence of our power to change our audience. It also teaches us and changes who we are. Acting lessons can come to us at many different points, whether while reading a play, learning lines, staging a scene or during a performance. But the most powerful lessons tend to come when we know we’ve touched our audience in some way. Like most life lessons, we learn through the process of reflecting on what has happened and pondering the effect it will have on our future. But what about now? If we’re not careful, we can vibrate in the past and future so much that we forget what exists for us in this very moment. Now is the only time we can do or learn anything. Now is all we have. So imagine the power available to us if we were to view every moment, on stage or off, as a life lesson while it is happening to us. As you embark on this next phase of your journey, one that is no doubt full of questions and variables, remember our human tendency to reflect and prophesy, thereby overlooking the present moment. Remember that what causes us to project the worst for ourselves in learned fear. Fear is perhaps the greatest of all actors. He brings more drama to our lives than we could ever put on stage. And we listen to him, we believe him and we repeat what he says. So during those times when you are forced to sit through one of his performances, remember what you know to be true about acting: Through sufficient emotional investment, belief, and repetition, anything can appear to be true.
As you sit here and brace yourself for an uncertain future in an uncertain profession, remember this: We are frequently called upon to play characters whose given circumstances are far more hopeless than what most of us have faced in our everyday lives, yet we find the strength we need to allow them to overcome. Our characters take risks. They take huge leaps forward and when they fall they get up and start walking again. It is their stories we tell, but they need not be theirs alone. The power to change our own lives is within us already. So perhaps what’s really true is this: All we ever need to know about life we can learn from acting.
It could be said that Actors and all Artists of the Theatre are among the most blessed people on earth. We have been given the wonderful ability to access our personal hidden strength on a daily basis. This is what enables us to do our most important job: knowing ourselves. As we continue to develop the tools we need to bring our characters to life, let us remember that the same tools will help us in every moment of our own lives. For us, truth lives in the place where our lives and our work become one. Seek the truth within you, for if you don’t find it within, you will never find it without.
So as you leave conservatory training and embark on the greatest story you will ever tell – the story of your life – remember these four principles of acting and live by them:
1) Make positive choices. Focus on what you want to have happen, not what you want to prevent. Prevention alone is prophylactic living.
2) Be generous with your scene partners in life. Listen to them and give them as much of yourself as you can. It will come back to you.
3) Be clear in your speech and do not underestimate the power of your words. Once said, you cannot take them back.
4) Live in the present moment. Don’t play the end of the scene, because in the play of your life, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
When we are at a crossroad, facing a tough decision, or about to move into a new chapter of our story, fear is standing by, begging us to believe in all that might go wrong. Just remember that the only reality is what we believe. If we choose to believe in the good that exists for us right now, fear dissipates and room is made for all that we hope for.
In short, pretend what you want to be real. Give it your love, your commitment, your dedication and your hard work. It is worth it and it will become true for you. And do it now. It is the only now that you will ever have.
Kevin Robison 2002
Food for thought.