Neal Corl asked his students to read "Dear Theo," a fat collection of letters from Vincent van Gogh to his older brother, Theo. He also asked us to write a letter--in the spirit of Vincent--to anyone of our choosing, in which we describe our process as an artist. Here is the way I fulfilled the assignment. It amounts to a short recap of what I've been writing in this blog over the past few weeks:
"Dear Bob –
"I’m writing you during a quiet period. I’m in an acting class. I’m continuing to work on physically ‘re-embodying’ myself by doing a lot of voice and physical awareness work (via singing lessons and Alexander Technique), yoga, pilates, strength-training and running. I’m in a small role in a show, In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but otherwise, all is still. Well, not still. Fallow.
"It’s a necessary time. Until now, I’ve approached acting with equal parts desperation and hope, neither of which serve me well. I need to let these moods go, which means I need to let goals go, for now. When will I get another role in a show? A film? Should I be putting so much effort into this, in the first place? Do I need to ‘get real,’ and turn my attention both to making a living and using the skills I have in other areas, e.g., writing, editing, and—God forbid—even teaching? These are all questions that I can’t answer, and so I need to take this time--in which my soul appears unusually quiet and pliable--to resist all temptations to try.
"So, without much hope--and always with the expectation that I will feel humiliated, one way or the other—I go to acting, voice, and movement classes, for which I may or may not have prepared well, depending on the strength of my internal resistance on any given day. When I’m not in classes, I try to read more, see my (few) friends with reasonable frequency, and take pleasure in those things which have always given me joy—things without goals, e.g., a weekend of skiing, a good movie, scuba diving, motorcycling--all of which help keep me out of my head.
"I called this a “fallow” period, but that may not be right. Perhaps, I’m doing something more like 'ripening,' or just plain, 'growing;' continuing to accommodate myself to this newly-fit body and newly-emergent willingness to accept the implications of being in my forties; continuing to find joy in, and respect of, my physical instrument; continuing to breathe.
"Thank God for Shakespeare & Company for giving me a chance to discover, finally, the essential physicality of acting. To act naturally in an unnatural environment--with freedom of expression, at the speed of thought—is an athletic and spiritual endeavor. Though what isn’t, really? All of life takes stamina.