How Thespians are… ‘Different’

Brad Pontius

I have a confession to make.

I call non-Theatre people muggles.

Yes, those muggles – from Harry Potter. The name for non-magical people. I picked the habit up from a wonderful, lovely individual who is no longer in my life. Regardless of how it happened, though, I have gotten more than my share of weird look after saying that I don’t really listen to ‘muggle music’ or that ‘muggles are weird’. So allow me to explain, because I honestly think it’s something that every performer/technician should consider.

Before you jump to conclusions – no, I don’t use it as a derogatory term. I don’t have anything against people who would rather talk about how the last rugby game ended with a goal by the quarterback making a slam-dunk-hole-in-one after running for three yards of scrimmage and won’t shut up about it at the water cooler even though I’m clearly uninterested, STEVE… Okay, so I’m perpetuating that particular stereotype about artists. But that’s not why I refer to them that way.

No, I do it because many other ‘normal’ jobs don’t ever do what we do. We’re weird. We’d almost always rather go to a Theater and see a show and then discuss it afterward. We dissect it. For us, entertainment isn’t just entertainment. An example; after I got the opportunity to study film out in L.A. for just a summer – just a single summer – I haven’t been able to really enjoy cinema. It’s not even a conscious decision. Hell, the only television shows I’ve been able to really enjoy are things like Sherlock and Game of Thrones – specifically because they are so well written and lovingly crafted. It isn’t mindless entertainment, they’re projects that have creative teams that obviously care about making worthwhile products. I still enjoy Breaking Bad because of the same caliber. And that’s why I prefer Broadway and the stage – because it’s so hard not to see the positive things that came from a collaborative effort in a stage show. Because it has to be as good if not better to compete. You only get to see it one time. Even if you go to see multiple performances they’re going to be different. Whereas every time you binge-watch Walter White’s descent into becoming a kingpin, it’ll be exactly the same. Brilliant, but the same.

So our mentality as actors is wildly off-putting, I think, to many normals. We savor the experiences and we are way too analytical for them. But it’s something more; and I’ve been dwelling a lot on it recently. “Why do I feel so different, not better, just… different” is the phrase that constantly keeps coming up. And honestly? I’ve come to the conclusion that Theatre people are just magical. We really are! People in the entertainment industry make magic, real magic, come to life.

When I was in college, I spoke with a very talented set designer about her concept for Midsummer Night’s Dream. She told me in no uncertain terms that it was her job to “not only create an entirely different world on the stage, but also to breathe life into it with her art.” The designers create the world, the various crew members build it, the playwright conjures life, the actors live it, the stage manager makes sure they all do their jobs or so-help-me-I’m-coming-up-there. That’s not just making people smile with dopey songs and wistful love stories. That is honest, true, living magic. No one else does that for a living. No one else makes other people forget that they’re just wearing a costume, that what they’re seeing isn’t them. Why do you think normal people are so amused when they see actors in normal environments? Because they’ve seen us create life. It’s difficult to divorce us from the characters we play.

Again, however, that’s not the only reason I use the term ‘muggle’. No, it really comes down to self-esteem.

See, I’ve noticed a pattern in many actors. Specifically theatrically trained ones. Many of them are borderline too humble. Obviously, you run into the divas. The ones who are just too good to be part of the chorus, for example. And maybe they are, but the really fantastic ones are the actors you see who are down-to-earth. Who knows that it’s a rough business and they could probably be replaced at any time. And honestly, that is such a taxing mentality to have. Even if it’s the right one, it’s hard to constantly hear ‘no’ or to recognize that you’re just one cog when you’re helping to create all this aforementioned magic. I’ve met so many incredible actors who have absolutely no confidence in their ability to get work.

That is not right.

I don’t care how much you should be humble. Here in New York, I can’t tell you how many times one of my friends (usually girls) complain that there just aren’t any parts for them. Or that there are, but the competition is so wildly difficult because there’s so many of them. Or that there are parts, but they’re only for the ‘perfect one’ (read, Megan Hilty). And then those passionate dreamers see their vision fade away because they just don’t have the confidence to go get it. That is why I refer to non-Theatre folk as muggles. Not because they are lesser, but because if you are pursuing your dreams you need to have a measure of confidence about it. Bordering on cocky, but not going too far to become the diva.

“Why bother when there are half a million other actors who look just like me trying to get it?” Screw you. Get the hell out there and take your dreams. You were born to make magic. To entrance ‘the other half’ with your art. If you are dedicated enough, if you are willing to make the sacrifices you think you need to, then there is no reason you can’t rise up and show off why those casting directors need to hire you. Ergo; I refer to normal people as muggles because there should always be a constant reminder that no matter what happens, no matter what I think, I am good enough. It might take forever but there is no reason I can’t succeed.

You can make magic. Go show the world that you can.