Playing the odds: Acting in New York (By: Sara Duplancic)

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New York City. The lights, the legend, and the laundry. In a city where its reputation and gravitas outweighs its reality, reconciling the idea – the legend – that is New York City and the reality of living there was my first challenge.

When I moved to New York from Ottawa, Ontario to attend acting school, I found myself marvelling at every street corner and turn I took; ‘This is the Flatiron Building that is immortalized in so many photos and prints, This is Wall Street, where thousands of testosterone infused decisions steer the fate of the nation. These are the Brooklyn streets that inspired and birthed so many artists like Arthur Miller, and this is the beautiful Public Library where Mr. Big broke Carrie’s heart – again. But these thoughts are quickly pushed into a mere undercurrent by the tasks of mundane life; ‘do your laundry tonight, cook dinner so there’s enough for lunch for tomorrow, circumvent those trash bags because rats will definitely come running from them at you, call mom and dad, do your homework, GAWD there goes a cockroach yuck, try to be in bed by midnight, you have a long day tomorrow’. With the confluence of these thoughts in my brain, I found myself both humbly and smugly a tiny tile within this great mosaic called New York City. And I loved it.

It’s fascinating to consider what it is that continually brings people to a city of 8.4 million, with exorbitant rents and no space. It’s a test and a calling – to carve out our own path through the hard and rough terrain. For me, the pilgrimage was a classic one; to study acting from and among the best of the best. And I found myself situated to do just that at the Atlantic Acting School, which provided a community within the lonely density of the city, and an eye-opening education. It took me many years of soul searching to finally make the head-on dive into the pursuit of acting, the passion for it, like for many, awoken within the walls my high-school theatre. But at university, I decided to undergo a B.A. in English Literature rather than theatre – because I deemed it to be the more career-safe choice – and subsequently I began building a career at the City of Ottawa government for several years, all the while still working on my craft. Upon making the irreversible leap into the full-time pursuit of acting, however, my love for it only grew.

What is acting? Is it a vain pursuit of recognition and fame? Is it playing pretend and dress-up? Is acting the art of lying? I define it as the challenge of telling the truth within imaginary circumstances. An amazing place to exist in where the physical and mental aspects of our existence need to be so tuned and pure, that in many ways the art of acting largely involves stripping away bad habits we have all developed throughout our lives. And that’s very similar to many other self-improvement pursuits we undertake, whether it be yoga classes, meditation retreats or seeing a therapist. Acting requires you to become reacquainted with your instincts, to know how to be present and to deeply listen. All the while bringing to life important stories, to teach, uplift or do both.

So you work on your craft, which requires self-motivation, discipline, and practice to ensure you’re at the peak of your performance (no pun intended) – and then come auditions. At the end of the day, being an actor is often getting rejected from jobs that you didn’t really want in the first place. And what our “jobs” often end up requiring is rather surreal; bursting into (real) tears at a precise and often arbitrary moment, or like Benedict Cumberbatch gloriously did for The Hobbit movie, slithering around a greenscreen soundstage in a lime green onesie with a camera attached to your head. Or walking into a room, pretending to see something, and gasping. You kill yourself wondering if you gasped appropriately, convincingly, beautifully enough, and then the directors end up casting the girl with blonde hair because it matched the colour of the set couch better.

Being an actor quickly becomes a numbers game – the more auditions you go on and projects you undertake, the more you increase your chances for success. Much like with New York itself, the numbers at times can feel staggering and suffocating, but perseverance is key. The relentless buzz of the city, its electric energy – the same thing that exhausts you – simultaneously re-energizes you. You never get to see the entire landscape until you reach the top of the hill. So appreciating that climb – that journey – is ultimately what it’s all about.

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