0

Things I Like About Acting

I don’t exactly know when it was that I wanted to be an actor, but it was probably sometime around grade school. Probably because my sister was doing a play and I wanted to be exactly like her. From 6th grade onward, I participated in every school play and musical. I never had a starring role, but I always got a character with a name and a few lines here and there. Most of the school plays were terrible. I was also in a teen acting troupe, and spent many summers at theatre day camps around Baltimore, which usually culminated in some sort of performance.

In college, I realized (well, in a sense) that acting wasn’t for me. Not that I shouldn’t act ever again, but that as a career choice, I had more options and better ones, options that would challenge me more and make me feel more fulfilled. I had a few bit parts here and there, but it wasn’t until I moved to Israel that I was in a full-scale production again, and for the first time, a lead – ironically, the one time that I wished for a smaller role since I was also dramaturging the show and doing stuff at the theatre during the day.

Tonight was the closing performance of Lights Out, the first play that I have appeared in since December of 2009 in Israel. It is an ensemble piece (as everything seems to be these days) but I spent the most time on stage, probably had the most lines, and was one of only two actors to appear in all three scenes. Lights Out was quite the journey, from volunteering for the role to getting formally cast to six weeks of rehearsals to six (well, seven if you count open dress rehearsal) performances. It was a huge time commitment. Mostly, I had a great time, but there was more than one night I went to bed angry/sad/upset (and on one occasion, didn’t even make it home before bursting into tears) and a lot of general frustration. I know I frustrated a lot of people, and though I try not to let stuff get to me, sometimes I got frustrated with others as well. Hopefully I made more friends than enemies among the people in the cast, but seeing as I probably won’t see many of them again until next semester, I guess their reactions to seeing me again in January will be all I need to know.

I had to sacrifice a lot for this show. I really, really wanted to do it, and was told that I was good in the role, but it meant giving up other things. I haven’t been to the gym or to dance class in a month, and I missed two consecutive weeks of Friday night services and dinner due to performances. Plus, I got way behind on schoolwork, self-care, and socialization. Every time I talked with my dad about it, with some complaint or another, he always said “you’re doing them a huge favor,” which is a true statement but kind of irked me after the first few times he said it because it felt selfish to hear and to imagine, and was the cause of a huge blow-up between us one night. I contemplated quitting, but the further and further along I went, the less prudent it seemed to leave the project in the lurch and make enemies of a group of people whom I considered my friends. I’ve never quit anything in my life and I guess now wasn’t the time to start. So I stuck with it, and suddenly it spit me out at the end of the semester, stressed but relieved that it’s over. Now, I have some time to reflect, take stock of myself, and really break down how I feel about things.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Things I Like About Acting

  • I like being a part of something. Whether it’s big or small, just knowing that I’m a cog in the works of a production is a warm and fuzzy feeling for me.
  • I like when I receive praise. During The Comedy of Errors the praise was pretty much nonstop, from everyone, everywhere I went. I played Dromio of Syracuse with all the energy that I could muster, sometimes putting it over the top to compensate for some of the crappier parts of the show and to distract the audience from realizing how low-budget and messy the show actually was.
  • I like receiving gifts. Tonight I got a cocktail shaker, since my character sometimes takes a while to mix drinks. Getting flowers is always nice too.
  • I like when I know I’ve done a good job. I’ve done some really bad jobs in some great plays, but when I can take a bad play and do a good job performing my role to the best of my ability, even better. Case in point: a play I was in during senior year of high school. I had a very small comic-relief role, but I milked it for all it was worth every night, making my exits with a flourish and listening for the laughter and applause to stop so the scene could keep going. A lot of the comments I got were along the lines of “you saved the play” and “I wasn’t interested in anything except for the moments when you were onstage.” That just about made my day.
  • I like the feeling after the show, the afterglow, the rush you get when you realize that your next costume will be your pajamas and your next production will involve lying in bed for several hours.
  • I like saying, “yeah, I was in that show.”
  • I like wearing costume and makeup and getting to be someone else for a little while, kind of pulling a fast one on the world (“Hey, where’d Jacob disappear to for two hours?)
  • I like the satisfaction I get by adding another show to my resume.

Things I Don’t Like About Acting (AKA Why I Will Never Become a Full-Time Actor)

  • I don’t like memorizing lines. I’m just plain bad at it. For this show, I don’t think I had all my lines down until opening night. I was freaked out at the thought of having to go on while on book, which I’ve seen done before in community theatre and know that it does not work well. A lot of little lines are preferable, in this case. Long speeches – yeah, like that’s going to happen.
  • I don’t like the drama within the drama. It’s hard to act with someone whom you dislike in real life, especially if/when that person is Public Enemy No. 1. It’s never a nice feeling.
  • I don’t like having to help out at strike. I get really sad when I have to take the set down, it’s so final, like I’m destroying my character’s home.
  • I don’t like the constant comparisons. A good director can get through the whole process without comparing one actor to another. I’ve dealt with productions where there has been blatant favoritism by the director, or where the director is constantly comparing everyone’s performances. Leave the actors alone for a minute before opening your mouth. Fortunately that did not happen for this show.
  • I don’t like when there is nobody I know in the audience. Due to the limited seating and the short run, we had fewer than 100 seats available all told, and only 1 of them ended up being a personal friend of mine. It was really, really sad. Everyone I knew either a) said they wouldn’t come for one reason or another, b) said they’d come and then didn’t reserve tickets in time, or c) said they’d come but didn’t do anything at all.
  • I don’t like the disruptions to my body clock. I am that rare type of person who can get by on very little sleep and food, but there was one string of days when we had rehearsals less than 24 hours apart, giving me little time to process notes, decompress, and freshen up. One night I came home straight from rehearsal, went to bed, and then woke up to find that I had one hour to get to rehearsal again. I haven’t cooked myself a decent meal in ages – it’s all been in restaurants or on the go, wrapped in plastic or in a box/bag/can.
  • I don’t like facing barrages of criticism. I can take it usually, but sometimes it’s just…enough, let me live my life not in fear.
  • I don’t like it when actors tell me what I should feel or what I should be doing. If I’m wrong, that’s what the director is there for. Usually, I’ll figure it out by myself, but I would never tell someone else what they’re doing wrong.
  • I don’t like it when the techies act like all the actors are idiots.

There are probably more things on this list but I’ve been typing for almost an hour.

It’s been great being Oscar in Lights Out for the past six weeks, but I’m ready to turn the lights out on him.

Advertisements
0

26 Years Ago Today…

1:35 PM EST. Baltimore, Maryland.

I don’t remember it, but I was there.

Happy birthday to me.

I woke up this morning, not feeling much different than I normally do, only rushed, because I had to get my checkbook (which I couldn’t find) and hightail it to the hotel to rendezvous with Mom and Dad to go to the bank, because my credit card got cut off through no means of our own, so basically, I have no credit card until next week. We then went to Starbucks, where my parents gave me a card and a 25 dollar gift card to Starbucks, which was really nice 🙂 and then I took them back to the hotel, they checked out, and we parted ways as I headed to kabuki class. It was fun, as always, and afterwards I grabbed a tuna sandwich at Walgreens and treated myself to a French Press at Starbucks on State Street – though actually, getting a French Press is not a bad deal, given the fact that it’s about two grande cups of coffee for $3.69. I shared it with Vincent, then went to find an awesome geocache at the top of a parking garage, then back home to eat cupcakes with Vincent again. Then I headed off to rehearsal, during the middle of which I jetted across the street for the APO meeting to which about fifty or so people showed up, and I gave out mass quantities of candy and then hustled back to rehearsal. Then, at 9, I went BACK to APO – not to the meeting, but the fellowship afterward at Forever Yogurt, where a LOT of brothers showed up, and then home, where I am right now, and I should be working on my presentation for tomorrow, but I’m not at the moment because it’s time to blog.

I feel like I should tell a story, so I’ll talk about how I got my name.

My full name is very very long and I almost never use it. It’s so long that it takes up my whole driver’s license. In fact, I once bet a Bulgarian women at the airport in Hartford that my name had more letters than hers, and I won. I used to hate my name, the fact that it was too common, easily confused with Jason/Jared/Jonathan/Johnny/Justin (and once, Judith, in a returned phone call, which is kind of ironic in a creepy way), and just too damn long to write on any form. But here, for the first time ever, I’ll break it down for you:

Jacob is my first name. I was named after my mother’s father, Jack, who died in 1971, long before I was born. He was born in Bryansk, Russian Empire (today: Belarus) and came to Baltimore at a very young age. He was obsessed with photography, video, and all things technological, which explains why we have so many strange and random home movies of my mom as a child in the 1950s. He worked for a uniform company in downtown Baltimore. My mother’s brothers both look a lot like him; he was very tall, and fortunately I got enough to the tall genes to make me the height of a normal human. Oddly enough, in my teenage years, we found his birth certificate, and we learned that his name was not, in fact, Jack; it was actually Jacob the whole time, with Jack as a nickname. Funny how that one turned out.

Richard is my first middle name. It’s the one I usually use. It’s also my paternal grandfather’s name. He was born in Gunzenhausen, Germany, and along with my grandmother, took the family out of Europe after Kristallnacht occurred in November 1938. He also died long before I was born, in the 1970s as well, I think.  Before the war, he was a viehhandler, or cattle dealer, and in America, he also worked in clothing, just like my other grandfather. He and my grandmother loved each other very very much, and he was very treasured and well-liked in the family, and also, reportedly, a good dancer. I have not seen many pictures of him, but when he was young, he was very, very good looking – unfortunately, I didn’t inherit all of his good looks, taking after my own dad, who looks like…who knows, someone in the family.

Aaron is my second middle name. It was a last-minute addition, due to the death of my great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Anne Gelb Feingold aka “Gigi.” She died shortly before I was born, either in late 1986 or early 1987. She was a tough lady, and reigned supreme as the queen of her family. She was born in Bystra, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and immigrated to New York City via Ellis Island. I never knew too much about her, and my sister doesn’t even really remember her. Before I went to Slovakia in January 2012, my dad told me that he thought that my grandmother had possibly come from Slovakia, and once there, he did some investigating, and emailed me that the town she was from was, indeed, in Slovakia, effectively making me one-eighth Slovak. Ironically, I was sitting at a bar in Levoca, Slovakia – about 60 miles away from Bystra. She spoke English and Yiddish, and once she got to America, told everyone that she had come from Austria – even the customs agents at Ellis Island – but she had in fact come from what was, at the time of her departure, Poland. I guess she didn’t want to endure the Polish stereotyping. She was a homemaker, and raised my grandmother and great-uncle. She was a very religious lady. I dislike the name Aaron, but the more I learn about my grandmother, the more interested I become in why she was the way she was.

Hellman is my last name. I am not related to Lillian Hellman (sigh), Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, or most likely any Hellman (or Hellmann) you know. It comes from the German word holle (her-la), meaning “the intersection of three streets,” specifically, the intersection of three streets in Gunzenhausen, the town where my grandparents fled from as a married couple, and the area where my family had lived since the 16th century. My dad and his father always were at loggerheads about how to actually spell the name. My grandparents always used “Hellmann” with two n’s, and my dad insisted on only one, because at one point in his life he saw my great-great-great-grandfather’s voting registration card from the 1850s, and he used only one. This is disputed, however, because we have not been able to locate said voting card, neither in Baltimore nor in the archives in Gunzenhausen. But, then again, my grandfather always spelled my dad’s name wrong, on everything, so maybe my dad has a point.

With that said, I should probably go back to working on my presentation for tomorrow, but before I do, I’d like to wish a happy birthday to: Benyamin Netanyahu (former Prime Minister of Israel), actresses Patti Davis and Carrie Fisher, richest woman in the world Liliane Bettencourt (owner of L’Oreal), Kim Kardashian (who wishes she was Liliane Bettencourt), and Judge Judy. 

Also, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), the Battle of Aachen (1944), and the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in NYC (1959).

Oh, and apparently it’s also International Day of the Nacho in Mexico and the USA. Olé!