I am performing April 18 in Dallas, Texas at the Dallas Museum of Art in the Horchow Auditorium (which is beautiful) Here is the link.
Sara Greenberg asked me a series of questions to promote the event. I found them very entertaining. I thought I would share our exchange. Her questions go to the heart of acting and writing.
Sara: As an actor, you enter the psyche of the character you are portraying. As a memoir writer, you turn the microscope around to inspect your own innermost thoughts and personal history. What do you find most challenging about working in an artistic mode that exposes your private life and requires you to be introspective?
Me: Actors have someone else providing a story. Hopefully, it is in three acts. A clear beginning, middle, and end are luxuries the memoir writer does not have. I would argue the central element to any scripted entertainment is revealing what is hidden. This principle is as true for Oedipus learning the tragic truth of his family history – to Bill Murray realizing time has stopped in Groundhog Day. When you write a memoir you often don’t know your own motivations. As you write, you may be delighted or horrified by what you have hidden from yourself. I believe this is why all writers drink.
I think one of the most important elements of writing a memoir is to be truthful and not clever. If you endeavor to tell a true story, the story can continue. In My Adventures with God, there are three longer storylines that have surprising “third acts.” They only exist because I told truthful first acts and I lived long enough to see the surprising reveal of “what was hidden.”
Obviously when you act, teachers always hammer students to be “truthful.” That doesn’t happen sometimes in Hollywood. Writers or directors may want you to produce a phony response to help prop up a hastily patched together logic. Being able to lie with a straight face may be one of the greatest talents a professional actor can possess.
Sara: Are there any creative devices/exercises you use as an actor that help you as a writer, or vis-a-versa?
Me: I never think of anything I do as tricks. At a certain point I started calling them life choices. I like to work on acting parts or write stories early in the morning or late at night. Quiet is the most important part of the creative process. I work in my sleep. I always keep pen and paper by the bed in case an idea comes to me in a dream. If you let them – they will come.
An important element of narration I learned when I began writing is that you don’t often know the story you are telling when you start. If something taps you on the shoulder, write it down. Don’t censure. After I finish writing a piece of the puzzle I have been surprised that I wrote the ending first! Sometimes it is act two. I have worked with young writers who are stuck on the first page. They can’t craft the beginning. You don’t have to. Just write. Once you start, the story will take over and instruct you as to what comes next…or what came before.
Whether writing or acting, the main attribute you must cultivate is trust. You must trust your process and respect it in either discipline. Give yourself the time you need. The quiet you need. The space you need. Trust is like a great love in your life: inspirational and joyful while she is there – devastating when she is gone.
Part 2 coming up next week. If you are in Dallas April 18 please come by and say hello. If you are interested in the programs they run at the Dallas Museum of Art information is here: