The Actor on Empty – By Jonathon Pernisek


Jonathon Pernisek

Editor’s Note: Aside from his work here in the magazine, Jonathon Pernisek is also studying to be a theatrical actor. He wrote up this actor’s manifesto for a class earlier this year and has submitted it to run here in the magazine as a lead in to an upcoming series where he’ll be keeping a month to month diary about his life as a drama student. We hope you’ll enjoy this piece as well as his upcoming series.

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First and foremost, an actor does not walk onstage to entertain.

The actor does not memorize lines so a story can be told.

To enlighten, amuse, irritate, sadden, or exhilarate is not the actor’s goal, and giving you your money’s worth, an even broader and more cynical task, is certainly not on their agenda.

If you were to ask an actor why they work hard at their profession they might try to feed you these lies…but do not believe them.

They do not want to share something with the community. To say so is false.

They do not want to celebrate the living, breathing form of the dramatic arts. To say so is pretentious and tiring.

They do not want to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes.” They’re kidding themselves. It is sad.

They do not, they never have, and they never will, because theatre, in all its facets, has never been a pure art form.

Art is selfish. Theatre is hunger. Acting is desperation.

When the curtain rises, every single actor you will see in the coming production will somehow feel alone…but only after the curtain has descended. When the music begins to play, or the lights change color, or the crowd titters and stirs at a humorous line, the performer is temporarily at peace.

No, not peace.

Unless you count a drug-like state as peace. When the body shivers and the tongue clicks and the blood in your system rushes in a surge of madness to the back of the eyes, the actor is flying. They are exploding; they are the limitless universe expanding into warm, tasty oblivion. Time does not exist because it cannot. The audience must clap a little bit longer, the lights must make you sweat until it burns, and forever must be attained. It has to go on forever. This must go on…it must…

But the glaze will be wiped away at some point. The actor will reluctantly take off his/her costume. What was once a sea of acceptance has now been divided into individual faces, all smiles and hugs and hand shakes and “Good jobs” and “Great shows” and it doesn’t. Mean. Anything. It doesn’t mean anything because it’s never enough. This is not enough. The actor is still alone.

Of course, now is not the time to be sad. No. Forget sadness. Now is the time to be happy, the actor is told. The actor must be happy because if the actor is not happy then the other actors will not be happy because inside they are not happy. You must join them somehow. Push-together-bleed-together-become-oneballofcelebration. Eat the cheese cubes, drink the seltzer water, consume the alcohol, do the line, kiss a stranger, pet your closest friend, and be glad, be glad you can throw your head back and black out.

Yeah. Take all the time you need. You’ll still be alone.

Because the actor is a child. A pasty, chubby, hurt, effeminate, stuttering, limping, metal-mouthed child named…Oscar. Or, for the girl…Betty. “Look what I did!” Oscar calls upward, upward as he looks through chocolate-smudged glasses at the people who smile and acknowledge him before moving on. “Look! I can sing! Look! I memorized quite a large monologue! Look, I can emote! Look at me! Please! PLEASE!”

The actor only works so they can have love, if even as a free sample. A sliver in the form of a chuckle, a compliment, a pat on the back. They then take these slices, these limp, watery excuses for love and see if they can mush it together and make something out of it, something that will stay with them for longer than three seconds/minutes/hours. “Maybe this will fill the angled, gaping wind tunnel of a hole that is sitting next to my rib cage, or perhaps just to the left of my stomach or the inside of my cheek.” But nothing can help gravity. Nothing can keep you from slowly being pulled by the knees to the ground where your head goes between your knees and you start to choke.

Sputter.

Hack. Gasp. Whine. Curse. Hate.

Sob openly…but quietly. Don’t let them hear.

The actor cannot let you know how lonely they are…they must always wait…wait until they are standing in a dark hallway or lying on their backs in a dark room. Darkness is the one element of nature which allows the actor to finally grieve. And boy, does the actor ever grieve.

“Why didn’t they give me what I needed? What is wrong with them? None of them liked me in the first place. They just feel obligated, like everyone else. No one really cares. It’s all generic, it’s all wooden, it’s all robotic. I can’t take it. This isn’t what I want. I want to be filled. I cannot be filled. I will never, ever be filled…”

Is it the audience’s fault for not giving the actor what they need?

No.

Is it the actor’s fault for being cavernous and self-destructive?

Yes.

Because they cannot move on. They are stuck. Nothing props up nothing, so nothing is built. Nothing is laid down so there is no foundation. Nothing begets greed, and greed begets anger, which begets resentment, which begets tears, which begets nothing, which begets greed, which begets anger, which begets resentment…

And on. And on. And on. Mm. Kind of vicious. Ain’t it?

But the actor does love their work. They do. Without the theatre, there would be no release. Without fellow cast members, there would be no family. If you cannot express yourself and what you feel, then you have allowed the blackness of life to swallow you whole. As long as you try again, as long as you try to improve your state of mind and be realistic, as long as you never give up, there is hope.

The actor does not want to be alone.

They do not want to cry or hurt those who reach out to them.

They do not want to be so very, very angry.

And sometimes they don’t. … Aren’t.

Sometimes…sometimes, they are happy.

And they realize: Emptiness isn’t forever.

And also: Happiness isn’t forever.

Because “forever” does not exist.

And God…that just sucks.