Thoughts about actors “quitting” acting


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You can read James Devereaux’s blog entry here and Marjo-Riikka Makela’s response to it below:

James Devereaux wrote: “I ran into an old actor friend of mine recently, who, when I asked him how it was going, replied; “I’m not doing it anymore”, and that he had turned the temporary contract of his day job into a permanent one. Following this admission, he blew out on his lips, scrunched-up his face, and shrugged as if to say; “I’ve made my decision, it’s gone now”. Whenever I hear someone has quit, I still get slightly shocked, although by now I shouldn’t. I suppose it’s because I know he will now move out of my social orbit and into something more normal, this is especially true since his new job has got nothing whatsoever to do with art. I also know that the questions of his life will change radically, and the obsession with which those of us who remain chase our goals, will probably begin to seem incomprehensible to him. Crucially, by leaving the stage as it were, my friend has severed the bond which exists between actors, and which exists despite the ultra-competitive nature of the life. What is this bond? It is the bond of shared experience, those experiences which are unique to acting but common to all actors, and while those experiences will at least reside in memory, we all know that the ex-actor is no longer part of the hunt.

All the actors I’ve known who had purely cynical motives, have failed. All of them. It’s easy to enter the arena, not so easy to stay there. The industrial model of art is false. It cannot be approached as a salaried 9 to 5 job, because it is not that – the actor is not allowed to settle into a cosy routine, for the actor is constantly being asked new questions. In order to find the resilience to constantly face upto those new questions, the actor must pursue goals which are higher than simply making money; he must have longe range aesthetic, technical and philisophical goals, goals which energize him, lift him, help him get back up off the canvas one more time. The mundane goal of paying bills will not nourish him through lean times, through confusing and frightening times, and will not help him overcome the grinding resistence to his work (which all actors face) – in short, he may decide that the tumult of an actor’s life is not worth the hassle, that there are easier ways of paying his rent, and because he doesn’t have those higher goals, he is unable to resist the soothing lure of security, and so turns his back on his art.

The goals that we set ourselves need to invigorate us to the extent that we can overcome the obstacles which prevent us from achieving them.”

~ James Devereaux

Marjo-Riikka Makela responded: (Click here to read it on the Great Acting Blog website)

“Thank you for your article James!

I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. And all of it inspired me to add a couple of thoughts:

This profession is not for every one and it is certainly not for those looking for “cosy routines”.

Routine, in my opinion, should NOT be an option or any kind of goal for an actor, or any artist really. If an artist doesn’t choose discipline for brave, at times innocent, “new born” eyes towards life itself, she/he becomes a cynic. I don’t mean that an artist should not ever exercise critical eye towards a circumstance or life condition, but in order to create new, one must be willing to let go of established and look for new within and outside of ourselves.
“Cosy routines” hardly have brought much interesting or important art to the world!

I especially want to underline your sentence: “All the actors I’ve known who had purely cynical motives, have failed. All of them.”

Yes! And of course they have:

Acting means creating new life and one cannot create life, nor be inspired by anything life affirming, with cynical motives. Yes, sure, one can create out of emotional states of anger and desperation (but those emotions still have within themselves a strong wish of changing the circumstance and a braveness of feeling them, experiencing the emotion) where as cynicism means turning a way from life itself, letting go of hope, saying no to the experience itself, which (and this all actors should know) makes uninteresting stories… or end of a story altogether… lack of an objective….in this case an end to an acting “career”.

Cynical attitude and inspiration (inspiration being the blessed state that an actor must find braveness and a pleasure to live in on daily basis) cannot live in the same house. By “house” I mean your instrument, your whole being.

Being an actor means to be a “professional human being”. It means finding daily inspiration about life, without excuses. This is a very life-affirming profession! Being successful, happy “professional human being” who has the ability, courage and stamina to explore and express all colors of the human condition. To be an actor, one must love the art of acting and understand and keep in mind that this is a profession of calling.

Acting is also a profession of joy. Even when the character is suffering, a part of the actor’s creative being will be enjoying the ride, the creation!

Learning to empower oneself as a creator in any job situation, and being inspired to love all aspects of the actor’s creative process is crucial for the actor’s personal feeling of success and happiness.

I also call for and enjoy working with those actors who want to expand their ability for empathy, widen their emotional and physical range, and find organic ways to achieve character transformation, these being some of the key elements to great acting. Even tough we don’t do brain surgery, we can make a difference of some sort in the world and do what I call “soul surgery”. It is my great hope that we can increase empathy in the world by telling the stories and sharing the visceral experience of the characters we play.

I don’t believe that some one with a true nature of an actor, will never “successfully” quit. One might take break on auditioning or take a vacation after a long run of a stage play, but if someone is an actor, a true creator of this kind, he/she will always look to create in one way or another, otherwise one would find oneself to be miserable!

Of course, I am very happy for those who discovered that acting just wasn’t their greatest passion, and therefore a necessity for them. It is probably a good idea to do something else, if you have an option! One should only choose this profession, acting, if this is what brings you the greatest happiness and makes sense for your life. Otherwise dear people, by all means do something else! Life is full of possibilities! So many more important professions are awaiting, many things to get done in this world! I truly mean this and am not writing this with any sarcasm.
I think what actors often mean when they say that they want to “quit” is that they want to quit desperately running after “the dream”.  This in my opinion can be a good thing. I know many actors who, after “quitting”, started booking much more acting work, because they now had let go of that nasty, desperate energy and neediness of being accepted by every one in the business and “booking that job” and had now grounded themselves to their own special artistic individuality and started nourishing and enjoying their creativeness in a more creative way. In other words instead of trying to impress someone they started enjoying expressing themselves! They got to a place where they felt more whole as a human being and had accepted that whether they booked acting work or not, they had value as a human being. They did, in most cases, return to enjoying and having acting careers. They might also have found other kind of creative work to support them financially so they could enjoy the acting when they did it.

In acting, the real dream is always already here, with every role we are working on. One of the biggest paybacks for actors is that we get to live in the imaginary circumstances on daily basis. We get to experience the many lives and life experiences we never otherwise would, and we get to embrace and nourish empathy and story telling. If acting is seen this way, why would any one want to quit? Unless it is your bliss to be doing something more important in the world, and then please do! If we all were actors, the world would not get much done!
I’d like to end with this:
Acting is not a profession of competing with other actors, but rather a vocation of sharing with fellow human beings.
Stay inspired!

Marjo-Riikka Makela
Actor, Director, Artistic Director
Chekhov Studio International”

Click here to read Marjo-Riikka’s article related in Backstage