A few months ago, I was out for drinks with two friends after work. We posed the question to each other: Use three words to describe yourself. This wasn’t easy for me. You might not know it yet, but I’m wordy. Then, we determined three words to describe each other. Two of the words that came up for me were “bold” and “story-teller.” I think I haggled “funny” out of them too.
Boldness is a bit like jumping into a pool feet first. It’s not very graceful because you’re leaping on faith not form. Divers prepare for the chlorinated sting with goggles, rubber caps and shaved skin. Each muscle performs with calculated skill and known risk. Both require trust that things will work out perfectly, even if the jumper finds the water too cold, green-tinged hair and water up the nose because they breathed in instead of out. You’re already wet so you might as well enjoy it!
I’ve always been bold. I’ve had gravity-defying hair, I don’t like to ask for permission, I know how to start an Aqua Net torch, and I love to swear. There’s nothing that thrills me more than landing a well-timed joke in a roomful of strangers and getting a laugh. I love to perform. When I was young, I would charge the neighbor kids to watch me sing on top of the pool table in my parent’s basement. Getting onstage in front of an audience that’s there for their personal reasons and somehow magically all of those reasons disappear as everyone embraces the story and sees their own story at the same time. All of these loves led me to Victor D’Altorio’s classroom in the basement of a church studying the principles of Meisner.
There are times when you meet a person for the very first time and instantly you know they’re going to impact your life. You don’t know how, but it’s so clear you actually tell the person. I think that’s when you finally meet a member of your soul tribe. Everyone has quite a few of them. The people who will guide you, support you, defend you, offend you, hurt you, and love you for however long they’re supposed to be there and then, they’re gone. That’s how it was with Victor. I knew he would change my life and he did. He still does, even though he’s no longer alive.
The biggest lesson I learned from him? That if you want to go deep, if you want to really connect with someone at some point you’re going to have to fuck politeness. Always trying to think of the right thing to say–instead of saying exactly what you mean–is exhausting. He wasn’t advocating I throw all social etiquette and manners to the wind. I still cross my legs, don’t talk with my mouth full, say please and thank you. But for an actor, if your head is stuck trying to make certain people like you rather than being present to the energy of emotion connecting you to the other person in the scene and the lines on the page–you might as well be wearing a big target on your back because Victor was having none of it. Which is why he believed there were so many dreadful actors, movies and theaters in this country. And I have to say, he was right.
Theater, movies, television, music, even websites, have become more about the presentation and less about the substance. Yes, I understand that we want to be entertained, to escape a bit into our projections of how life should or should not be. I’m not denying the impact of the medium, but when did we make the pursuit of presentation a constitutional amendment? I would like to see a story that takes me on a journey where I can’t see the end as soon as it begins. Not another movie where one celebrity after another pretends to be a better version of themselves in a thinly-veiled attempt to interest me into eating baked goods after smoking weed in a larger-than-life kitchen. (I’m talking to you Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin! What were you thinking?) I want to feel changed and engaged in some way for having taken the time and spending the money. I want to laugh so hard I pee my pants. Don’t get me wrong, I swoon over Sawyer on Lost every week. I would stay on that fucked up island with him throwing me down on a regular basis forever. But whether it’s drama or comedy, if you’re not willing to get to the core of the collective psyche, you’re not going to really connect. You might get a chuckle or a snort, but for full-on wet pants you’ve got to go long.