We have all heard the word COMMITMENT. An Actors commitment.
Whatever we want to accomplish requires that 10 letter powerful word. Nothing in life comes easily but if we fully go for it, we will always be rewarded. This month was an opportunity for my master ongoing class to go for it. To truly have an Actors commitment.
My students get 4 classes a month in their on going class. First is a “frozen read” where I give them an exercise of using the pages with the Haber phrasing that supports relationship and need as well as supports being present and not playing an idea. The second week is a “cold reading” where they get the “slices” an hour before they come in for an assimilated casting session. Then the 3rd week, the students receive the script and their slices a week in advance so that they can create and enjoy living the life. Well this month the men had to live a life of a transgender and some were up for that challenge. Michael was one of them. It was the “call back” 4th class where they had the opportunity to bring back their “Slices” from the previous week.
I had given quite a lecture on what full actors commitment means to living the life of a transgender. It wasn’t just using the Internet and getting an intellectual understanding of the life of a trans – it was experiencing and exploring “her” life. In this slice he is transitioning into a woman and even wears a dress in front of his wife. I wanted them to walk in her shoes all week. Dress up and go to the supermarket, the drug store – walk down the street or in an elevator and feel the eyes staring at you with judgment. Only then will you understand what all actors need to experience – EMPATHY for the life you live (character). Well, one student dared to go where most men cant due to subliminal homophobia.
Below is that student’s story from his own words about an Actors commitment. His:
I had a lot of resistance at the beginning. So many questions and judgments crossed my mind. Do I really have to live this life fully? This means I have to get a dress for a five-page “scene” I may only do once? It’s only an “audition” class, I know I would do it for a “real audition”…little cracks of doubt tried to let me off the hook. And making it more difficult was the fact that I was boxing and lifting weights, relishing in my masculinity in preparation for new headshots.
But I cannot not go to class, or not do the work. So in the two days before having to do the “scene” (to simulate the short amount of time I actually have for an audition), I prepared: relationship, purpose, history; I explored the emotional life, created and experienced images and personalizations. Thoroughly researched the trans community before: I interviewed members of the community, read and watched whatever materials I could find, so I was familiar with what the character was going through in the scene. I watched Transparent and The Danish Girl to explore that avenue. I did all I could to prove I can do this “part.” Except the dress. It’s talked about in the scene; she says I’m wearing it so what’s stopping me? There was a block.
All of this resistance was because it was out of my comfort zone, and it would take a lot of work for me to believe that I was this “character.” She is not a cross dresser, not a drag queen. She is trans. I had to live it. Margie demanded it. Finally, a switch went off. I decided to commit. I had to get the dress.
My wife and I shopped and shopped for the right one, a dress that would make me feel like a woman. The material, the color, the pattern, the cut, how it falls on my body. At first, I felt awkward; I didn’t want to carry the dress to the fitting room, or have anyone know I was trying it on. How do you get in this dress? Is this how my “character” would feel trying on a dress for the first time? This one is too small. This one, too big. Oops, I ripped the seam on this one.
And as we continued to shop, and I felt more confident in what I was doing, I became self-conscious of certain body parts: my broad shoulders, my stomach, and my private parts. I wanted to hide them, get rid of them. They were getting in the way of my fully embodying this dress as a woman. I began to ever so slightly scratch the surface, and empathize with gender identity, being trapped in the wrong body.
Without the dress, I felt I was “putting on” the femininity. But having the dress on, my femininity came to me, from how it felt, what it did to my body, how it made me feel inside. Finally, I no longer had to act.
Then I had to find my walk in that dress: how I hold my body, my torso, and my shoulders. I watched, observed, and emulated how different women walked in the mall. On the sidewalk. Do they sway their hips? Much? How do I walk? How do I carry my hands?
I had my toenails painted. The little detail of cotton in between my toes connected me to an unexplored aspect of my femininity. The choice of color, fire engine red, reminded me of how badly I wanted to express, and be free about, this side of me. For that reason I decided to get a wig, another way to express who I am, who I wanted to become so I felt like I was putting together a new identity, the birth of a new person.
And the day of the callback class, I walked to the studio fully dressed, make-up and all. As I was walking, I saw a shadow of a male figure in a pick-up truck slow down and look at me, taking his foot off the gas a little too long as he passed by—there was no traffic in front of him. Shortly after, in the distance, a man was walking toward me on the sidewalk. Therefore Im thinking Do I “pass” as a woman? Am I pretty? These thoughts and feelings would never have come up if I hadn’t committed. A real actors commitment.
When it came time to do the “scene” (or “slice of life,” as Margie would rather have you call it), I felt no attachment to the outcome. I had committed to living this life, even if for only a short amount of time, to try to fully realize the scene, to come just a little bit closer to understanding what this beautiful, conflicted, and vulnerable person was going through. And it was only the beginning maybe so much more could be researched, understood, explored, learned, discovered, but I took a chance, and did my best with the time I had. And by committing, my work became deeper, fuller, and more rewarding in the process. It was well worth the journey.
Congratulations Michael. You have jumped out of your comfort zone. You risked to fully live this life. What a growth experience for you. I am so proud of you! Margie