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Like a Rolling Stone

In the Greek myth of Sisyphus, Sisyphus was an ancient king who played a particularly nasty trick on the gods, just to see if he could get away with it. As punishment, Sisyphus was eternally condemned; compelled beyond reason to push a large rock up an endless hill for all time. If you are a working actor, you probably feel a bit like Sisyphus from time to time. There are so many things which lie outside of the actor's control: we cannot control the general structure given to us by our genetics, we cannot control our place of birth or the level of wealth that we are born into, we cannot control whether or not the casting director “gets” what we are trying to convey in our audition. Even in the best of times, Acting is a difficult and demanding profession because it is so nebulous and subject to the whims of outside forces; all that is asked of the actor is that they be absolutely perfect, all of the time, and on command. No big deal, right? With all of this seeming lack of control, it is easy then, to understand why many actors lose hope, lose patience, give up. Why struggle on when it seems like everyone in any other profession is doing just great, and with significantly less effort? This is the point where we come back to Sisyphus, and your willingness to commit to your actor training. If you've ever read Albert Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, then you know where I'm going with this. You see, in Camus's view, Sisyphus is compelled to push the giant rock by the gods; he has to, he has no choice in the matter. And this, the gods think, is a punishment. What they do not expect is the possibility that Sisyphus might learn to enjoy pushing the rock, that pushing the rock could give him purpose, a reason to never give up (which he can't anyway), and a desire that transcends the simple goal of getting to the top of the hill (which doesn't exist). The gods do not plan on Sisyphus actually learning to love the rock, which has the result that it is no longer a punishment to him, and the gods attempts to crush the spirit of Sisyphus have failed. In Camus's retelling, because he has learned to love the inevitable struggle of his task, rather than being eternally punished, Sisyphus is instead eternally rewarded; he has played one last trick on the gods after all. You, the actor, are Sisyphus, Acting is the rock, and the gods are the Industry/Self-doubt which you as an actor must navigate. It often seems as actors that we are presented with insurmountable obstacles: life gets in the way, bills pile up, and the odds are stacked against us. For the vast majority of us, this is all too true. Meanwhile, we have the burden of our profession, which generally does not pay well, is not taken seriously by others, and is not a safe bet for long-term stability. It's a cliché for a reason! We are nevertheless compelled to chase after it; there is something intrinsic in our natures that cries out for us to get up and try one more time, submit one more tape, learn one more song. And while we cannot control where we begin, we can control where we go. You can change where you live (and thus what markets and training are open to you), you can save your nickels and dimes to reinvest in your career, you can to an extent reshape your body to be more in line with the roles you want to play. This is what your training is for, in whatever capacity that may take: dancing, singing, circus, acting theory, etc. These and other tools give the actor the confidence in their abilities to push ahead when everyone else chooses to fall back, take cover, leave the field of battle. Did you have a bad audition but know what went wrong? Great, fix it! Now get out there and do better! Forget about winning. The only person you are struggling against is yourself. If you fight tooth and nail to better yourself, then there is no possibility that you will not become better. Forget about getting to the top of the hill; there is no such place, it's an idea made up by the Industry, yourself, and all of those people you think you have to impress. If you worry less about getting there, and focus more on the beauty of the journey, then there is no distance you can't travel. Forget about how heavy the rock is, it will always be there. If you focus more on loving the task and why you do so, then there is no weight you can't lift; the gods will lose their power, and you, the Actor, will have the last laugh.


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