Actors are a rare breed of people. They are shy but bold, introverted yet welcoming, open and closed at the same time. To say that actors are emotionally conflicted is an understatement.
On stage, actors are bold, confident, self-assured. They come across a huge gulf and reach out to strangers in order to communicate an idea, a character, an emotion. Actors long to take you with them on their adventure. Yet, to know an actor is to know someone who is painfully shy, who is certain that no one remembers them, and who, themselves, never forget a face.
We train actors to project their voices and their character's personalities. We teach them how to turn so that the audience can see them. We teach them how to interact with other characters on stage, how to get themselves and their castmates out of trouble, how to be on time... all of those things. And actors can accomplish this inside the structure of the production and inside the structure of the theatre, but rarely do they do this in their day to day lives. It does not come naturally to them.
Actors are not accustomed to being accepted by the mainstream, and it shows. The successful, genial actor will develop a 'public character' (as we all do, to a certain extent) in order to get by in life. The difference between actors and the rest of us is that actors are usually aware of the role they play in real life and the rest of us are not.
Actors are the sensitive kids who either stand out or feel as though they stand out from their peers... and not in a good way. They are unaccepted, easily hurt, reluctant to join in. Girls are often painfully shy, and very bright over-achievers. Boys are often in trouble for speaking out, being the class clown, and known to be hard to handle. Normally, there are only one or two per class like this, usually only one boy.
These kids try soccer, hockey, Scouts, Girl Guides, and a myriad of other organised sports or clubs, to no avail. Their natural tendencies toward shyness and an imaginary world, or toward boldness and attention-seeking don't often meld well with those sorts of things. The child is again an outcast, or in the case of girls, has cast herself out.
So what do actors need?
They need the same thing that everyone else needs. They need what hockey-players and Girl Guides and the Church Women's League needs.
Actors need community.
Amateur productions usually rehearse from four to six weeks in advance of opening night, some more, some less. Professional productions normally rehearse for two intense weeks. During that time, but especially during the run of the show, the cast can form close bonds, become friends, and share a common goal. They form a community. They become a team.
For someone who is not used to being a welcome addition to most teams, this is a very gratifying and emotional experience, although it is short-lived. When the show is finished, they experience a huge sense of loss; loss of friends, loss of work, and loss of self. Actors are aware that their community may only last for six or eight weeks, and many will only be cast in one show per year. It can be heartbreaking for them to realise that their sense of belonging is so fleeting.
It is important for actors to take charge of their own happiness. They really can build community around them, even if they are not working on a production. The inspiration behind this article is Tony Babcock, who is an absolute go-getter. When he is not being paid for acting, he is calling his contacts and making arrangements to get together to do scene work, to tweak some technique, to run a monologue past them.
Tony understands that he needs community, not just to keep himself working, but to keep himself happy.