The View of a Mere Player on the World Stage

Credit: Kristyn Nucci/UGA

Credit: Kristyn Nucci/UGA

  • Ashley Jones

“Why do you act?” This question was posed to me one day in a peer discussion on my work and passion for theatre. Of course, this is not as simple a question to answer as it is to ask. This is because the question posed is one with a million complicated answers.

Why I choose to act is a fairly long story and rather complicated matter. I guess to bring it into its roots my love of acting came from a similar place as its origins. Aristotle once stated that acting is rooted in the human instinct to imitate. I suppose that this idea came into my life at a young age when I would imitate scenarios from my mind with my siblings. The more well-known term, of course, is “playing pretend.” My siblings and I would create these abstract worlds with improvisation and sets such as a floor made of “lava” that we’d have to run from, or the boat we’d make out of a table sailing the rough seas of the ocean. This can be most closely related to improvisation and the early stages of theatre in both my world and the theatrical one. Another early stage of theatre that entered my life was the concepts of ceremonies and rituals, another root in theatre history that was planted in my young life as well. From school routines to holiday celebrations ceremonies and rituals played a key role in my life as well, little did I know that it was not only a root in my young life but also a root in the history of the art form I love most.

From those experiences, I continued to love exploring the world through work on the stage. One of the stories I remember hearing as a kid was Cinderella, you know the tale the young girl who couldn’t go to the ball until bibbity bobbity bam! She is transformed into a princess and finds true love and all that? Well, that tale is the premise of the first show I performed in, a weird version of Cinderella; I was cast as the king. From those beginning moments on stage, I just knew that it was something I wanted and needed to be doing for the rest of my life. There was just something about being onstage that brought me this unknown energy and excitement I had never felt before. 

 It is quite hard to put this energy into words because feelings in themselves are difficult to convey. Another reason I love acting; you get to test your emotional range and learn and grow by finding yourself researching or living onstage in experiences you may not have ever imagined. Following that production, I never looked back to my life before the theatre. I simply kept craving more knowledge and began to read plays to expand the world. I read my first Shakespeare play at age 12, Romeo and Juliet, not Shakespeare’s best play out there in my opinion but a simpler place to start on the older language. This is an important milestone in my theatrical world; my introduction to Shakespeare. I thought I was so cool, being able to pick up the language and really read Shakespeare at such a young age.

Shakespeare’s quote “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”   is my life mantra. As an actor there is no greater thrill or feeling than standing on stage baring your soul or discovering new worlds as a person you never knew you could relate to so deeply. My mantra reminds me to live my life outside of the theatre as I do in it; driven, passionate, engaged, and enjoying every opportunity and experience thrown my way. I also struggle with confidence so the reminder to continually look for a way to present my best self in my everyday life is the “character” I play day to day.  With this found mantra and a love of Shakespeare, I spiraled into my high school years of theatre.

Through high school, I was exposed to several more plays and only kept reading more as time went by to writers like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and many more before I even turned 18. Since then I have read and experienced so many more brilliant works (too many to list).

My love of plays and acting comes from that feeling rooted in being on stage; there is no other high like it in the world. It is the most therapeutic version of escapism that also captivates you with the brutal realities of your own life and experiences that releases all other stress and strain. It is wonderful and indescribable as well as comforting environment full of great people and experiences. It is a shame that the theatre is so underestimated, undervalued, and looked down upon as a profession.

As a college theatre major I am constantly asked “why would you want to do that?” or “what kind of jobs are you going to get after?” And my answer is simple because I love the theatre and any kind of job I want is easily mine because I have such a range of knowledge and understanding of people. What is most often failed to be seen by those posing such questions is that the natural demands of participating in a production require such a range of skills and disciplines. The theatre is what drives my curiosity and what most people don’t realize is that by studying the theatre you study a little bit of everything. For instance, I study text analysis, history, politics, philosophy, analytical writing, as well as sometimes even science and math. Text analysis and writing is a huge part of studying acting aside from taking notes and reading plays and works of acting practitioners with each role I play there is a ten to twenty paged analysis (and that is on the shorter side of length) to analyze the background of a character based on subtext, history, the play, and the playwright, as well as my own ideas based on any given time or place of the play. History, politics, and philosophy are all greatly rooted in the theatre most of the great Greek, and Roman philosophers were also playwrights or theatre critics. These are things that as someone in the theatre must understand in order to perform certain plays or perform at a certain level of quality. Math and science come into play with analysis of characters, timing, and sometimes even the practice of acting there is a study of anatomy when discussing the voice and movement elements.

While it may seem like theatre majors in college joke around and do improv games all day that is not the case (mostly, we do have a lot of fun and jokes but not always). It is the most demanding and yet rewarding decision of my life. Living as a theatre student most of my hours not in class are spent on auditions, rehearsals, and the high demand of homework (which include analysis of characters, scene work, and independent memorization, research, analysis, and work). Acting is a discipline that requires an extensive amount of focus and time that all pays off with that high. The high of accomplishing something or reaching a new understanding of a person who once only existed in text but now breathes. Also the high of being able to share that discovery with scene partners and even an audience of people. It is hard work but it pays off when you can just create and share the love of what you do that is really one of the true reasons I act — the love of the work and the creativity and collaboration that comes with it.

In short, the best way to describe the choice to be an actor or anyone in the theatre for that matter would have to come down to the love of it. As a brilliant and iconic playwright, Arthur Miller once said “the theater is so endlessly fascinating because it's so accidental. It's so much like life.”  That similarity to life is also what Shakespeare was talking about in his quote if you take it out of the play. As an actor himself, he knew the feeling of that rush and the absolute love of what you do no matter what others may say or think and the way we live our lives as humans resonates so well with how those in the theatre spend their lives.

The real beauty of theatre is its similarity to not only life but the capabilities it holds to change life and the way that we see it. And that is the simple answer to the complex question of why I choose to act and study theatre.