A friend of mine asked me the other day if an actor could really call him or herself an actor if they don’t act professionally. Their example was musicians. Specifically that someone who didn’t support him or herself by playing music wouldn’t call themself a musician. My friend thought it very strange that actors can be primarily occupied by a day job that has nothing to do with acting yet they can call themselves actors. I was immediately offended; though I tried to cover as best I could. But their question was a good one and it got me thinking: Perhaps my offence has more to do with my insecurities…and what does calling oneself an actor mean anyway?
First let me say there are people who simply shouldn’t call themselves actors. And frankly they make the rest of our clan look pretty bad. Not to go off a tangent but these individuals mainly consist of debutants who don’t respect craft, hard work, or the people they work with. Its important not to waist too much energy on these folk however, our business requires so much of an actor they never get very far; I just wish they wouldn’t introduce themselves as actors at dinner parties.
That being said, just to call oneself an actor deserves some respect. Calling yourself an actor is not like claiming to be a mountain climber or a surfer; which is to say it’s not very sexy. Unless you’re talking to a Russian, their culture seems holds actors in much higher regard than ours. Or maybe just the Russians I’ve met have been really cool, and they have; but that’s a subject for another post.
No, in my opinion calling oneself an actor is acknowledging that when you act it matters to you. It matter to your career, it matters to your sense self, and further to your sense of artistry. The first time I called myself an actor it scared the hell out of me. And if doing the same doesn’t scare the hell out of you maybe you should ask yourself why.
In Hamlet Shakespeare describes an actor’s job as “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature’. Stanislavsky described it as (I’m paraphrasing now) showing the truth of human spirit.
To be able to do the above consistently and honestly, an actor must train, read, pay attention, and always be self-aware yet able to let go at the same time. It’s a daunting prescription; one that requires self-discipline and art when one is not working a gig. So yes, if you’ve been out of work you are still an actor my friend. We all know where the real work lies. It’s why we call getting a gig getting a break!
All that said, I cant fault my friend for thinking it’s silly to call oneself an actor if they’re not currently acting. But how would my friend know? The audience isn’t supposed to know what goes on when the curtain is down.
Personally I think an actor is like an architect. Even if they aren’t working they can make something beautiful. But we aren’t meant to have that status necessarily. In America we define work as something painful. Blame the Calvinists. We just have too much fun I guess (when there’s work). Oh well, I’ll take it:)