There’s something I like to do occasionally, just for my own personal amusement really. If I’m watching a movie alone, I turn the volume right down. Then I observe the actors & actresses: I look at their facial expressions & body language. It can be quite an eye-opening experience. While the action & drama is in play, accompanied by the sound track, my senses seem to be directed effortlessly toward a different picture, as it were: the movie the director wants me to see, I guess. But with the auditory sense subdued, pure observation reveals a completely different story.. Here we have the purely human element: a number of people on set, playing roles & collaborating. Yet their faces & movements often reveal something quite different. It could be a well-worn expression that they feel is appropriate to the situation in hand, it could be a momentary flicker of the person behind the mask, as their eyes flash an altogether different look & character.
We all wear masks in public, in our work, maybe even at home. It’s totally natural. In a way, we’re playing our varying roles in a life which is like one ongoing, but exceptionally varied, movie. So why is it that when I turn the volume off, some actors appear effortless & natural, while others look & feel to me strained, uncomfortable, above all, scared? Public performance can be a scary thing for anyone, it is true. I was a performer for over 20 years, so I know to some extent how it can feel to be caught in the audience’s gaze, or within the camera’s constant peering motion. But I feel it’s more than that. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, with who you are.
I always feel like there’s two kinds of actors, when I’m watching a movie. The first kind is rare, but very obvious & clear to the viewer; and usually, as a result, quite famous or well-known. The Sean Connerys or John Waynes, for instance…the Jimmy Stewarts. Those characters who, no matter who or what they’re playing, seem never to be anything other than themselves. I imagine this kind of player is a dream for marketing: because it’s in human nature to celebrate the known. For a true aficionado, there could be nothing more exciting than the anticipation of awaiting the next movie of such an actor: the feeling of knowing exactly how he’ll play it even before the curtain goes up! Meanwhile, there’s another altogether different group of players, to my mind: those who subjugate their own personality for the sake of the role & the movie. Daniel Day Lewis or Leonardo di Caprio for example. Both exceptionally talented in the illusory nature of acting other roles, roles that feel real to us, true, eminently believable – and delivered with utter conviction. One could say, this is what acting is about; yet it is the other group which seems to be universally popular & lauded. Why is that?
Not that di Caprio isn’t famous, or lauded. No, it’s more about how we as humans tend to find acceptance in the straight, honest, upfront, no-holes-barred kind of person. Look at Donald Trump, for instance. His policies might have been all over the place, his viewpoints brash at best, deeply offensive at worst, but he came across as a complete person – someone who doesn’t shy away from being himself in all situations. Whereas Hillary Clinton, a highly-experienced politician & an adept professional, would on many occasions come across as guarded, even defensive, in her posture, look & demeanour. There was fear in her body language. While Trump’s may well have exhibited the same, it seemed like his attitude was more in the style of rising to meet the fear – and taking it head on. So he won the election. I believe the majority of people always trust, and entrust responsibility, to those who exhibit the ‘here I stand’ personality characteristics, body posture & attitude. Solid, dependable – in that you know how they’ll act, or respond – and someone you trust to take on a tough attitude on your behalf, and on behalf of the community. Ultimately, we want someone who can wear the right mask at the right time, but still be themselves.
Being who we are isn’t that easy. A very wise person once told me:
How can you decide what you want, or where you’re going, if you don’t first know who you are?
The phrase stuck in my head for so long, I decided to do something about it. It was clear to me I operated through life in more of the ‘Day Lewis’ style: meeting every new situation with a new mask or attitude. Often artists & creative people do this naturally & unconsciously, since it is in their nature to adapt, mold & play with their fantasy & imagination. I realised I lived a life of one continuous set of ever-changing roles, without having a clue what lay behind it! No one ever taught me who I am, at home, school or college. No one that knew me as I was growing up advised me on its importance or value: I simply learned from most people around me how to adapt, how to fit in, so that I could be successful in my own terms without rocking the boat. I could certainly never be described as Presidential material; and in comparison with my own personal name-sake, couldn’t be further in personality & style from another time-less, one approach-meets-all actor, Gary Cooper!
So, what I discovered for myself on one particular day was that there was an inner me. The one lying well beyond all the layers of role-play, behind all the masks, the one who is conscious all of the time. There is nothing new or ground-breaking in this revelation: we all have an inner being. And some of us are more aware of it than others, so it appears. I hadn’t been at all aware of it in my own past, at least consciously. Yet I can see now that characteristics of my own inner being have always shone through in my life, as long as my masking personalities permitted it. Rocking the boat is only ever any good if you have a back-up plan. I discovered in the end that my own back-up plan..was that inner being inside me. The one I yearned to discover & to show more of in my everyday life: the one whom I wanted to become, be more in tune with.
Well, that was quite some time ago now. The process created havoc in both my personal & public life! But I feel it was worth it, speaking personally. And it has, in consequence, become something of a mission for me now. Because, everywhere I go, I see that light in others, and wonder if they, too, are aware of it. And if not, how could I help them to find it? Asking that question enough, I decided to do something about it. And that solution lies at the heart of this website.
I can say, from my own experience, playing these everyday roles in life is a whole lot more fun now. Well, here I sit, you could say..