All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to the theater with my wife and some friends.
This particular play was being previewed on the West Coast with the thought that if the play did well, the producers would later take it to Broadway in New York.
As it so happens, I’ve managed to see several great plays in this manner, even though I live in what might be known as a cultural wasteland.
San Diego has incredible year-round weather and beautiful scenery, but it would never be mistaken for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Washington, DC in terms of the arts... in any form (Comicon notwithstanding).
The play was a revival of Edward Albee’s "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf".
I’ve seen the movie several times, with outstanding performances by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis (all four of the actors were nominated for Oscars in 1966 with the both women winning in their respective categories).
As I sat watching the play, I couldn’t help but think that these actors were actually better than the award-winning movie cast... improbably as that may seem.
The actors truly made me believe that they were indeed those characters that they were portraying onstage as though they were not acting at all. In a matter of a few scenes, they had actually become George, Martha, Nick and Honey (the four primary roles).
Although I knew the plot well... I sat there mesmerized as I was completely drawn into their world onstage.
It was only after the curtain went down a couple of hours later did the actors break finally characters and take a well-deserved bow.
As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think about the performances I had just witnessed.
How is it that an actor can so fully devote themselves to such a role as to actually become their character for several hours?
The answer is rooted in a series of acting techniques known as "method acting" whereas the actor is encouraged to use personal experiences to build cognitive and emotional understanding of their role.
In this way, the actor can personally identify with their character, abandoning the idea of stage acting but rather transcending the role to become the character themselves.
The method acting system was developed and taught by famed acting coach Lee Strasberg who had a profound effect on American acting.
Notable students of Lee Strasberg include many award-winning actors such as Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Al Pacino, Anne Bancroft and Jack Nicholson.
As I thought about acting some more over the course of the weekend, a deeper thought suddenly occurred me to me.
I began thinking, "What if all the people in the world were simply just method acting, by playing themselves... or more specifically... how they imagined themselves..."
I often think of myself playing different roles... but it’s still the same me.
There is Jim the dad... the entrepreneur... the husband... the blogger... the cyclist... the musician... the community volunteer... and the guy who goofs off doing crossword puzzles
In each of these roles, I often adapt a different persona...
Sometimes I’m the guy who is the quiet sympathetic friend... other times... I’m the son-of-a-bitch who is in your face trying to motivate you to do something great with your life...
I vividly recall an instance several years ago when I was called to my son’s school to meet with him and his teacher (along with the school’s principal and "guidance counselor").
In the opinion of the other adults in the room, he had committed some heinous crime, whereas in fact, it was something I thought it was an ingenious idea (he had begun a type of matchmaking service - charging a small fee for matching up boys with girls at a school dance).
The role I needed to play at that exact moment was that of angry and concerned parent (and I played it well)... but real person inside of me was giving my son a high-five.
The angry and concerned parent was just a role; a character who needed to act a certain way and say certain things.
I suspect that many (if not all) people play distinct and different acting roles in living their lives... depending on the situation at hand.
We are all simply method actors doing what we think the character we’re playing might be thinking, feeling, or acting.
So if it is indeed true that we are spending our time playing different roles, is it then possible to change our roles and play a different character altogether?
Certain life events give us the opportunity (sometimes through force) to turn a page and start over.
A divorce, a new job, relocating to a different city, the loss of a parent or spouse or a health scare have the power to transform us into very different people.
Can we simply wake up one day and say to ourselves that we no longer desire to play a particular role anymore?
Can we suddenly choose to become an entrepreneur by finally acting on that great idea that we have?... getting off the sofa and training for a triathlon?... quitting a life-endangering habit such as smoking or habitual drug/alcohol use?... becoming a better spouse, parent, care-taker?... going back to school as a student in order to learn new skills that might keep us employed as the markets evolve?...
These new roles are indeed scary...
...but if you ever see a professional actor in an interview explaining why they took on a particularly difficult movie role... often times they will say, "...because it scared me".
Imagine for a moment that your life story is being played by a different actor... who would you choose to act the part of you and how would you want that person to play you?
Are they playing a courageous hero, a sly and cunning villain, or a cowardly victim?...
If the play or movie was about your life... would other people feel compelled to see it... or would they be leaving after the first act?
We are the lone actor, director, and producer of our own lives... we have the talents, skills and abilities to create something great... something meaningful ... something magical...