I started writing this post back in November about how I had totally let myself go. Okay not physically. I’m still fly as fuck, obviously. But damn did I let myself go mentally. After I got back from my solo backpacking trip in August, I jumped directly into rehearsals for our thesis project, which is known at USC as the “Three Play Rep.” Fall semester of our last year of grad school, we rehearse three plays. January of our spring semester, we rehearse the shows in the theater, and February-March of our spring semester, we perform all three in tandem. Sounds cool, right?
Except as soon as I got back to civilization and was faced with acting again I got SO HORRIBLY DEPRESSED. I was like: this is all meaningless, art is a waste of time, my life is a pit of despair, WHY AM I DOING THIS?
And I could barely drag myself into putting in the effort of rehearsing these plays which were supposed to be the culmination of my Master’s degree. I just couldn’t figure out what the point of it was. Why bother? Was it going to do something for humanity? For me? Was it any more real than just sitting under a fucking tree and staring at a lake? So something started happening to me that often happens to people when they are bummed out. My hygiene started to slip. Only it wasn’t my physical hygiene, it was my talent hygiene. Andrei Belgrader, one of my film professors last semester, AKA this cool cat… Said to us, “You have to maintain the hygiene and sanity of your talent.” (Go back and read that again in the voice of a 65-year-old Transylvanian chain smoker. Good. Now you’ve got it. )
Whatever “talent” is, for the sake of argument, let’s talk about talent as just a certain level of openness. Some people, like Marlon Brando for instance, were just seemingly born in this state of total openness. You might call it “presence” or “being present” which is really just having all of your senses open and receptive, like a dog. Marlon Brando’s senses were wide open. (Go down an internet hole sometime and watch him. He’s like a fuckin’ animal with super complex thoughts, which is really what we all are except he just lets himself be. He lets the camera see him.)
Some people, like me for instance, jut turn into an awkward monster when there is a camera pointed at them.
DANI, WHY WOULD YOU BECOME AN ACTOR?? I’m not one of those people who seems to naturally thrive in the spotlight and enjoy being seen. It takes work for me to do what I need to do to be open and available in the way that so many talented actors are. Being seen is scary, and it’s an act of courage for me every time. If I don’t believe in what I’m doing, it’s almost impossible to muster up that courage, and my “talent” suffers. I close off.
So Andrei was right, there is a ruthless adherence to “hygiene” that is necessary to keep moving forward. Like how you have to clip your toenails or they get long and gross and scary.
For me, that hygiene involves having some sort of belief in what I’m doing. And right around November 1st, 2014 I woke up and realized I’d wasted two important months of my life not believing in anything. My voice teacher finally said to me, “You know, you can’t just sort of phone it in anymore,” and I was reminded that none of us are ever invisible, no matter what we are going through or how well we think we hide it.
You might say it is necessary to have those times of closing off or shutting down in order to gather strength for tougher days ahead. You might say that way of thinking is purely self-destructive. I don’t know which of those I buy more, especially now that I am looking at my final semester of grad school and wishing that the quality of my preparation had been better.
But I’m playing Nina in “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov, and I have a line that has been stuck in my head since November 1st, 2014:
“And now I know, Kostya, I understand, finally, that in our business–acting, writing, it makes no difference–the main thing isn’t being famous, it’s not the sound of applause, it’s not what I dreamed it was. All it is is the strength to keep going, no matter what happens. You have to keep on believing. I believe and it helps. And now when I think about my vocation, I’m not afraid of life.”
And that, to me, is what it takes to maintain the hygiene of my talent. Don’t lose faith in the journey when it gets hard.
S0 in the wise words of…. Someone-from-the-Interwebs: