The Actor and the Obstacle: 2020
Things don’t always go as planned.
It’s cliché, but if the sudden rise of COVID in 2020 didn’t teach me that, being an actor and a mom did. Honestly, I think I was so used to my plans going off the rails, that by 2020 I was prepared. It wasn’t the worst year of my life—it was actually one of the best. If you’re wondering how that’s possible, keep reading.
First, I did more work as an artist in 2020 than 2019.
Here is what I did in 2020:
- January- My adult play, Inconsequential Dreams, was stage-read at a real, live theater.
- March- For a museum, I researched, wrote a monologue, and portrayed the suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage.
- June- Did a local commercial, grabbing letters from a mailbox.
- July- I guest starred in an outdoor children’s theater play and co-wrote a screenplay, Natural Selection.
- August- Natural Selection was filmed and I pulled together a group of friends to voice the children’s play I wrote for my son, Fuzzy and Brown Bear Go Fishing.
- November- I was in an online improv show.
- December- Voiced “Helen” in an online, radio, and live performance of A Christmas Carol.
Here is a list of what I did in 2019:
*Insert cricket sounds*
Okay, that’s not actually true. I had one ensemble role in a musical. Otherwise, most of my creative work was pretty much unseen—I was writing. I wasn’t being cast in shows or other work, so I wrote and started the process of generating my own gigs.
There is a point to me showing you my rap sheet—I didn’t let not being cast or COVID stop me. I worked around the obstacles.
Any good actor knows the obstacles are where it’s at. What do I mean? Obstacles force you into action as an actor. Your “obstacle” in the scene, whether indicated in the dialogue or staging, drives your character. It’s part of your “motivation.” It’s the “what you have to overcome to get what you want.” If you have no obstacle in a scene, what are you even doing?! No one wants to watch a person meander for two hours for no reason. An obstacle gives your character focus and purpose.
Now, let’s bring the actor’s application of obstacles back into real life.
When I wasn’t being cast, I read plays, studied books about acting techniques, and started writing my own pieces. So when COVID happened, I was ready and saw an opportunity to figure out safety solutions and work creatively when others saw an artistic death sentence. In fact, I’d be willing to bet money that if I was continuously cast in shows, I never would have taken the time to hone my acting skills or write scripts. If COVID never happened, I would not have been as ambitious about my own projects. Further, my willingness to work around obstacles is probably what landed me a few (if not all) of my 2020 gigs. The “obstacles” drove me as a person—they gave me focus and purpose.
Beyond focus and purpose, sometimes when obstacles happen or life goes off the rails, beautiful things can happen.
One of my favorite theatrical moments in a play was a mistake. During a scene of Lasso of Truth by Carson Kreitzer, I saw an actor, who was pretending to be ill, ACTUALLY EAT A SALTINE CRACKER ON STAGE. Instantly, his mouth was dry, cracker crumbs projected with every word he said, and he could barely make it through his lines. He was struggling. BUT that struggle was hilarious, it endeared him to the audience, and it honestly worked with his character! I will never forget that moment (and still get the giggles when I think of it). That actor worked through a genuinely bad moment, making the best of it, and created comedic gold in the process. The “derailing” cracker was a delightful treat, creating a moment that otherwise would not have existed.
[Side note: I was lucky enough to have my own food choking moment on stage about a year later. After eating an almond (almost as smart as eating a saltine), a piece that was stuck in my teeth migrated to the back of my throat just in time for a monologue. I tried to solve the problem by drinking vodka on stage—only the vodka was really water and it didn’t work.]
In fact, the children’s play I wrote would not have existed if I didn’t get sick and miss a Storybook Land Theatre show.
Since my son has been two, we’ve been going to FREE children’s shows at Storybook Land every summer. I’ve even been lucky enough to guest star in a couple shows. [See me as “Pebbles” the tortoise here.] Needless to say, this has become one of our “things” as mom and son. [Hear my son’s spot-on “Pebbles” imitation here.] Instead of moping around when we missed a show, we acted out our own play with my son’s toy bears, a fishing rod, and small plastic crawfish. It was hilarious. My son laughed so much (and kept asking me to “do it again” it so often) that I decided to write it down.
Strangely enough, one of the main messages of the play, Fuzzy and Brown Bear Go Fishing, is sometimes we don’t find what we’re seeking, but we find something even better in the process.
In the struggle of daily life, obstacles don’t need to stop us. Whether it’s finding a way to produce theater during COVID or figuring out how to entertain your child when your plans are ruined by influenza—we can change plans, overcome obstacles, and find a silver lining. You might have to look really hard for that silver lining, but who knows—the obstacles might help you create something wonderful.
And that my friends is how 2020 was one of my best years yet.