When I Realized What it Truly Means to be an Actor

Crystal Wall

  • OnStage Florida Columnist

Actors, in nature, can be quite selfish. This is in no way a bad trait or an insult, I am an actor too. However, it is natural for us to want the spotlight. From the start we have been trained to do our best to get the part we want or the lead. We cherish our solo moments on stage when we get to individually shine. 

Acting, though, is the least selfish thing someone can do. 

This realization came to me during my last performance of Les Miserables. I had the honor of playing Cosette in this production, and getting this part was a dream come true to me. I did everything in my power to shine, from practicing my songs everyday to turning my script into a rainbow of character notes (I have a love for colored pens). I couldn’t wait for the moment I got to go on stage (which was about half-way through each act, so there was a lot of waiting) and show the audience all of the hard work I had put into creating a memorable performance. However, after an emotional finale, the cast waited off stage for curtain call. I was pulled into a tight embrace by my acting partner who played Marius, and we silently celebrated our last show together. Then, he smiled and said, “We need to bow together.”

Words can hardly capture the epiphany I had after hearing those words.

It all seemed to hit me at once, this huge realization that seemed so simple, yet so foreign. Acting is not about shining or being an individual. Acting is about selflessly giving yourself to something bigger than all of us: art. 

People typically don’t care about what actor is on the stage, they care about the character and that character’s relationship with other ones in the show. Then they care about how those relationships blossom or fall flat, and that cycle of constant caring continues even past the final bow. 

We, as actors, have a duty to those who let us into their hearts, to give our whole selves to them and focus on creating genuine, untainted art. We must let go of our egos and desires to grab attention, and give ourselves to the production. 

Acting is about giving yourself away and trusting that you will be given back in due time. 

After the Marius had said that to me, I nodded and smiled (and probably cried). We ran onto the stage, hand in hand, and bowed in sync. Bows are something all actors adore, for it is our time to be recognized for the hard work we just finished. However, I realized that it is more precious to be applauded for the connection people witnessed on stage than just my individual performance. 

As actors, we are what we give, to the audience and to the other actors on stage. We thrive off energy, so it is imperative that we not only take in the energy, but also contribute some.

True acting is putting away those selfish tendencies all humans have, and selflessly accepting your role in the creation something greater than your individual performance. 

I did tell the actor afterwards about this, and thanked him for being so selfless, for he opened my eyes to what an actor needs to be. We are objects of creation that are pieces to a greater puzzle, and I cannot wait to fit with other actors again. That is what we celebrate about theatre, selfless creation.

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