I've undergone a huge change in my identity over the past few years. Although I'm still an actor, my main artistic identity has become "filmmaker." For me, that means screenwriter, director, and producer, as well as actor.
The actor-for-hire skin is hard to shed. It took decades to build it, to toughen the skin, to get that identity stuck tight inside to where the belief I had couldn't be touched by others.
I have a headshot and an acting resume, but I don't use them anymore. Not much, anyway. Which is weird, because I've been an actor since I was a teenager.
I spent a long time on the hunt for acting jobs. I worked with an agent for a number of years, and then there was a big shakeup at their office, and I moved to another agency.
These agents sent me on auditions, from the ridiculous to the sublime. The second agency I worked with got me out on theatre auditions all the time, from gigs that didn't pay anything to the rare Broadway audition.
My identity was wrapped up in this. I put my heart and soul into it, and my identity as an "actor" was meaningful to me. What it meant I'm not fully certain.
It was the love of the theatre that really drove me. There were a few years in a row where I averaged seeing 3 shows a week, every week. 150+ plays a year for a few years straight.
I did off-off-Broadway shows, from avant-garde pieces by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, to a new play that had me spending considerable stage time completely naked, and I did a piece I've always been proud to do - Wallace Shawn's solo piece "The Fever." I produced it and became the first actor following Wallace Shawn to do this brilliant script. The director and I rehearsed for a time in a barn in the Berkshires, taking breaks to take a small sailboat out onto a lake.
One of the more out-there pieces of work I did led me, in a roundabout and very surprising fashion, to getting my first agent. It was a lesson for me about following your muse and doing the work that is important to you.
The third audition that this agent sent me out for was a replacement role in a successful National Tour of "West Side Story." I ended up booking that job (a story I'll tell another time), and went out on tour for almost the next year, leaving almost immediately. I was paid more money for that than any job I've had before or since. It was a job that relieved me of my troubles in housing court for being behind on my rent, and it whisked me from tiny off-off-Broadway theatres to grand palaces such as the Fox Theatres of St. Louis, Detroit, and Atlanta.
Yeah. And I was working with singers and dancers in a musical. Fish out of water (I played Officer Krupke, a non-singing, non-dancing role). A very strange turn of events.
I wasn't producing work I cared about, I was making money doing a "Classic." Everyone says it's a classic. It's "West Side Story!"
There's been a restless part of me, a part of the promise I inferred during my college years which has never been fulfilled. The part where the riches of the texts of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, O'Neill, Chekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare and more would be my life's work, that there would be a body of work in the tradition of Odets and Beckett, searing social works that mean something, that have a big impact on our society.
Being an actor-for-hire in our economy is a leap into randomness. It's very much a lone-wolf pursuit, and it's not uncommon to audition for a soap opera in the morning, a classic in the afternoon, and a summer stock comedy the next day followed by a car commercial audition. There's not a whole lot that ties it together other than...me. I was the common thread to the randomness.
And I grew very tired of this question: "Oh, you're an actor? What have I seen you in?"
Well, now I'm writing screenplays. I've finally come to the point in my life where I want to tell my own stories, and to use my acting abilities and considerable experience in the service of my own stories.
And, strangely enough, filmmaking is much more accessible to me than the theatre. I've quickly taken to the process of filmmaking, and the fact that a good script is essential to the possibility of making a good film. With a good script, you've got a shot at making a good film. Without one, you shouldn't even try.
So: Identity. Artistic Identity. After many years, it has shifted. I see my decades of calling myself an actor as a time when I gave away much of my dreams, and my power, to people who sat behind desks and decided whether or not I would have a chance to do the work I loved.
I'm no longer doing that. And I feel liberated from it. Much happier. And my identity is no longer as wrapped up in my Artistic Identity. I'm proud and happy to be a filmmaker, and all that that entails. But more and more, I'm happy to be me, whoever that is, on any given day.