do you all know molly yeh?
you should. she's marvelous. a marvelous foodie and percussionist (i imagine--i've not seen her, but, you know, word on the street...). and i'd very much like to know her in real life.
she started a student-run newspaper at juilliard (my alma mater) and asked if i'd contribute a retrospective piece.
i hardly ever talk about school and i hardly ever talk about acting (mostly because both are tricky, unclear topics), but i thought i'd take the time to share what i wrote for the ragtimes...
when first asked to write this piece i was…hesitant. of the little i remember of my time at school, i regret much. my story is is certainly not one of juilliard's great successes. and yet, it is mine. and for all its faults and flaws that's worth sharing, no?
the white, blank page before me disagrees. i've been unable to piece together...anything--about any of it. how does one sum up school or the subsequent three years in a nice and tidy plot of words? if the story is fragmented and messy how does one do it justice on the page?
i lost myself at school. that's the long and the short of it. i came to new york at the tender age of eighteen and as others marveled at skyscrapers and central park, i acquainted myself with an unnamable, insurmountable sadness--a sadness that permeated those formidable four years. when graduation finally came, it did not feel like a marker of success but a desperate gasp for air. i felt as though i had failed. deeply. and as though i had lost that little kernel of faith in not only my ability to act, but myself.
this is not to say the school failed me. it did not. i had remarkable teachers and even more remarkable opportunities. i was allowed to dive into some of the most enriching roles within the acting cannon. hard as it was, i am who i am because of those four years. the failings in my story are of me and therefore mine alone.
following graduation and too many auditions walking into a room as a shadow of myself, i made the decision to pause. to step away from theatre.
and for a long time i struggled with the necessity of that action. because was it really a necessity or yet another misstep?
well, here's what i'm learning: misstep or not, it doesn't really matter. there is value in missteps and failings. wrong turns reap great rewards.
in the absence of acting i began to write. i simply meant to document. to put pen to paper to help me remember or preserve a period of my life for the future. but those words became a solace that slowly unfurled me--revealed me to myself. the great roadmap of the journey inward. and i found that all that i had learned at school in terms of sounds and shapes of vowels and the discrepancy between what is thought and what is known leant itself beautifully towards writing.
and writing, gave me back my life. does that sound terribly dramatic? well, it is. and it was.
there are moments i wish i could go back and do it all over again--school, that is. do it as the person i am now. and in doing so, do justice to the teachers and the knowledge they so graciously and freely impart. perhaps this time i'd be ready? perhaps this time i'd get it right? perhaps, perhaps. but i have to remind myself that few stories are truly linear. we twist around, circle back on ourselves, and when we're lucky, move forward. and that's okay. my story is not done. i left acting, yes, but whether or not i will return is simply a part of the story i've yet to write. and that's the exciting bit.
what i mean to say is this: if things don't go as planned, so be it.
everyone says that, you say? okay. okay, how to tell you and make you understand?
how about this: failure is essential. fail as much and as gloriously as you can. fail in little, seemingly inconsequential ways when no one is looking. or fail on stage, under the lights, with thousands watching. it doesn't matter where or how so long as you allow yourself the chance. because, the thing is, others might not see it as such. and given enough time, it might reveal itself as something else. and when the failure fades or passes or wears another mask it gives way to a joy so profound, it lies beyond imagination (even that special brand of imagination that only a school like juilliard can encourage).
and joy, more than anything else i've ever known, is essential to art.
there are times when i wonder how i'll look back on this period of my life--as a pause in the story? a precursor to the next, great plot twist? as a time in which i was tied to nothing--living anonymously in a small, sunlit apartment way high north on the island of manhattan between train tracks and river? whatever it is--whatever it turns out to be--however it works to drive the narrative this much i know: that i am a better person because of both my time at school and the time right now. and a better person makes for one damn, fine (better) actor.