What We Believe
Chop Wood, Carry Water
by Eugene Buica
Artistic Director The Acting Corps
Nothing in this world gets done without effort. It is a modern fallacy, tried and false, that simply intending to do something and feeling inspired about it will result in positive, life affirming action. Perhaps psychology is to blame, specifically the attitude that careful examination of our behavior and a perfect understanding of our neurosis will result in perfect or improved action. Huh? I once knew a man who had been in therapy for 67 years and had had a very unfulfilling life, yet he knew his issues better than anyone alive, especially as they related to his mother…
Let’s be honest about it, we are on the whole an undisciplined lot, we actors. Part of the motivation of going into this whole thing is “I don’t have to do a 9 to 5, I have talent, I can wake up when I want, go to a couple of appointments here and there, and show up on a movie set from time to time so that the camera and everyone behind it, i.e., all those uninteresting technical people, can capture my unique feelings and immortal soul.” And I don’t need acting advice or have to attend acting classes in Los Angeles.
Certainly a media movement gone awry (an easy scapegoat) has something to do with it. We are told that acting is something that only special people do – those lucky few anointed by the Gods of Entertainment who can without training or effort transform into kings and villains, temptresses and scientists, next door neighbors and extraterrestrial beings.
But anybody with two weeks worth of LA under her belt will tell you the contrary. Successful actors are VERY hard working people, including movie stars. And it is real work, even though the result, if any good, appears effortless. Learning and practicing this most challenging and encompassing of all the arts takes a great deal of dedication, focus, and discipline. No one would ever believe that Mr. Armstrong eats pancakes all day long and only visits his bicycle for the occasional Tour De France, would they? Same is true of acting. Before there is an acting career to speak of, there is always a serious effort applied to paving the way.
Everyone (everyone) has trained, even those who say they haven’t. Everyone has studied and learned this craft, and all things being equal, it is because of this that they succeed, not because some ethereal innate talent they possess. Truth is, those blessed with this quantity called talent don’t put in as much work into their acting, and they fall by the wayside. They show up late to auditions, come to class unprepared, have little regard for their fellow actors in or out of class, and generally behave like they’re on a perpetual spring break.
And speaking of talent, acting advice many may not want to hear is that it is a verifiable waste of time to even discuss the idea of talent. No matter how many acting lessons in Los Angeles you attend, if you don’t have it, you can’t acquire it, so get to work and build a great career – just look on any movie screen and you will not find the most talented, but you will find the most driven. And if you do have it, it is a double edged sword which can destroy you, so if you can navigate the tricky waters of living in this crazy town while you find the humility to learn and build a craft on a daily basis, then you also may have a shot at a career. Either way and for all practical purposes, talent is meaningless.
What’s meaningful? Work, dedication, discipline – chop wood, carry water. I am always shocked by people who other people have written off, and even people who I write off in my infinite wisdom. These so called uninteresting actors (in the theater affectionately known as stiffs) often do the work that is suggested and required and wind up improving and blossoming as they exceed all expectations. Then one day there is silence at the end of a scene or a monologue, and everyone looks around in a daze – the person in front of them has just acquired the ability to move an audience.
And it is this journey, the journey of the ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances that is ultimately moving to everyone, on or off screen, in front of the camera or even when you sit in acting classes in Los Angeles. It is these ordinary people (another misnomer) who ascend to the heights and breathe the rarified air of success, a success achieved and evidenced by the sweat on their brow and the look of earned satisfaction. Maybe the media is right after all; our movie star deities are chosen people, chosen to work harder than everyone else; ordinary people who have made an extraordinary effort.