The Longing & Pressures of Actors

All actors whether on stage, television or film face a lot of pressure and at the same time have a “holy” longing to keep performing. A lovely saying by Anne Tyler, “One sad thing about this world is that the acts that take the most out of you, are usually the ones that people will never know about”. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise  that many actors stumble into acting later rather than sooner — after living a fair amount of life. Women often have a slightly larger sacrifice to make, working around the needs of their family. Acting is specially hard to balance around a normal everyday family life. One needs energy and plenty of it, so by the time you get home, you are exhausted. Or often, the character you have immersed yourself into won't leave its grip in you, just because it’s 10 pm: pack up time! There is an eternal tug of war between the demands of an everyday life and the need to work with your character. For example, the need to go for a coffee with a friend, to unwind, to enjoy a sunset — if its a successful movie actor, you can bet someone is taking a video of you chewing on a chicken leg and quickly uploading it with a messy title. There is no privacy for a public figure! To be normal, is out of kilter! To get back to your real self, is like going back to survival level!

Social media sites will not allow a famous actor to go back to being an everyday citizen!  There is enormous pressure here!

The other great stumbling block in an actor's life is image. Once he/ she is perceived as good-looking, successful... they cannot let down their public! They can’t grow fat, ugly and opinionated! They can't appear out of line...or they would “fail” their audience. People can be unkind to even the best actor if he gives the one off sloppy performance... even if one were sick or heart broken  or feeling hollow.  Careless, judgemental comments are made as if the actor is no longer allowed to “feel” fallible fragile and human. As an actor, one lays bare ones soul on stage or cinema, which is why it’s so important to have downtime to reboot oneself.

Yet every good actor has a masochistic streak! They will lay bare themselves to an audience and if their performance fails to impress, they will long to go out and try it again. The lure of “acting” goes deep... the passion once tasted, lingers. I once knew a successful exporter who asked his sister “what she saw in hanging around, going for endless auditions for a role...” She replied, “the only thing irrestible was going up on stage...! That feeling... nothing beats it.” Like a moth drawn to a flame, actors flit through their entire lives secretly searching for that perfect role, which will allow them to be swept away by something larger than their own life! Their souls possess that “holy” longing... to love a passionate rather than a passive life.

A poet wrote, “you will always walk this dark earth, a troubled guest, alone”.  I think he was speaking about actors. like a moth to a flame. An actor needs appreciation, acknowledgement, of his talent, of his craft, and if it doesn't come, his wings are singed and scorched. Rejection  is the greatest demon an actor faces, after indifference. Why do you think actors can so easily take to alcohol or other addictive substances, because it's a balm to a lonely pilgrim soul.

A forgotten actor is even worse, he shrivels up painfully and slowly to half his size.

Another devastating pressure is the need to look young and beautiful forever. And every role be played to perfection. Whereas most actors are the most broken, fragmented people... so buffeted by life’s storms. This works towards a finer understanding of human nature, and a more layered performance onstage. A good actor uses every emotion that sits on his soul.

Because every actor like a moth, is born with flight as their destiny!

A taste of immortality is when your performances outlive your lifetime! This is nirvana for an actor.

(Bubbles Sabharwal is a theatre director and author)

Bubbles Sabharwal