A Postface to “Dear Actor”
In the spirit of open discourse, the writer responds to readers.
I am writing this as a follow-up to my post “Dear Actor (Sincerely, Playwright”. First, let me establish that I am a playwright (as the title may suggest)—but I am also an actor, director and producer. I’ve worked on set, sound and lighting design, and even paid my dues in the booth, the bathrooms and anywhere my help was needed. I work for an amazing theatre company called The Shelter, which was formed on the basis of collaboration, discourse and experimentation. I do not speak for them when I write this post. I am writing as myself. Though I am inspired by each and every member. They are my family.
“Dear Actor” went viral (for a theatre post, at least) — if that’s fair to say. In the first two days, it was read by over 50,000 people. I’ve received a flood of positive responses on Twitter and Facebook from across the globe, with messages from United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Philippines, Singapore, Japan and beyond. I have never been so humbled in my life. I am honored to have inspired so many complete strangers. I don’t know how I can thank you all for your enthusiasm. I’m honestly still in shock.
I have also received my fair share of negative responses — some constructive, which I openly welcome. Others, however, have been outright uncivil and borderline barbaric. I’ve been called a “tool”, a “douche bag” and even a “bloviating sh*tbag”. In some cases, no shortage of names and insults were flung as threads of vitriol erupted. As a father of two little girls, I am ashamed to raise them in a world where that is considered a proper and acceptable response. Such is the way of bullies.
I’m sure no one commenting thought I would see these insults, but then again, they posted them on the Internet—a lesson for us all, and certainly for my girls, about the folly of Internet anonymity.
To the actors who feel that I am trying to tell you what to do, I have unfortunately not gotten my message across— and that is my failing as a writer. This post was never meant to tell you how to act. No one can tell you how to act. That is a very personal process. I have my opinions on what processes work best, but that is subject to situation. Maybe I’ll chance discussing those thoughts in another post (God save me).
The purpose of the post is to focus on the exciting mystery we all find ourselves in when we first meet the character we will play. It is a mystery the playwright creates, and one that only the actor with help of the director can solve.
It was inspired by Meryl Streep, acting royalty, who once said that she views herself as a detective looking for clues left by the writer in the script. By Edward Albee, who reminds actors that his intentions are plotted in his words and punctuation (also noted by Edward Norton, whose first big break was an Albee play). By Sanford Meisner, who emphasized the “given circumstances” of the text. And by the genre of “noir”, which I am currently exploring and learning about as a playwright.
So many times, as an actor, I found myself overthinking a role. I worked incredibly hard to find an emotion, to drudge it up through affective memory, “as-if” exercises or even psychological gesture. Often times, I got stuck and felt lost. But I was always saved when a director or playwright reminded me to “just say the words” and listen—when I was encouraged to trust the writer, and just as importantly, to trust my instincts. This was always made easier when I knew the script cold from the beginning of the rehearsal process and when I knew every comma, semi-colon and elipse like heartbeats. A writer’s trail of clues combined with a trained actor’s instinctive ability to find and connect them is one of the most interesting and undiscussed collaborations that happen in theatre.
So, if you believe in constructive discourse, I encourage you to use the hashtag #DearActor on Twitter (which another artist began) or to use the commenting features available here (see the plus signs to the right of each paragraph). And if you choose to discuss elsewhere, that’s great (wonderful, in fact). All I ask is that you remember that a person wrote this piece—a regular guy who just wanted to say something in an interesting and novel way. He’s got feelings, too. He’s trying just as hard as everyone else to make his voice heard in this big, confusing world.
Sincerely, Dave Lankford