Shedding the Mask

Tonight is opening night for the newest play I’m in, Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. I portray an astronaut on a one-way mission, and the show dives into the psychological ramifications of this type of isolation. This play has forced me tap into some pretty intense emotions, has pushed me as an actor, and has really made me grow as an artist.

Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. Photo by Michael Kruse Craig.

I’ve been reflecting on whether or not I would have been able to do this role justice, if I had never quit my job and gone on this sabbatical. For the past two shows I’ve done during my sabbatical — both new works, both requiring me to do some wild emotional and physical gymnastics — I given more of myself and grown more in skill set than I’ve done in probably my entire acting career.

And it’s not just the fact that I have more free time to rehearse and develop my character. It’s also not solely the fact that I now have much more mental energy to be present and and give my all during rehearsals and performances. I think an equal contributing factor has been the fact that during this sabbatical, I have found myself being more open and vulnerable.

I think a lot of us experience this — we have a “work self”. The version of you that is a little watered down, buttoned up and guarded, especially when you are in a corporate environment or just a more conservative workplace.

Now, I’ve always prided myself in being pretty open, honest and quick to speak my mind, even at work. But there was also a lot I kept to myself. It’s one thing to be the passionate theater kid in the office that is quick to voice her opinion on a project, but it’s another thing to admit you’re going through serious things like anxiety and depression. It was always calculated and measured outgoingness, with a lot hidden beneath the surface.

But what I didn’t realize, until this sabbatical, is how much I kept that mask on outside of work. I spent so much time being guarded and shielded in the office, that it actually spilled over into my everyday life — even theater! I was always cordial in social situations, but never really animated and open, unless it was with people I was really close with.

It’s been amazing and a bit shocking to see this change in me since the sabbatical. I am more relaxed, open and raw. And I’ve been able to bring that to the rehearsal room and on stage.

Audiences might think that acting is all about wearing a mask. You’re playing a character that’s not you, so you’re hiding yourself behind this role. But, in a lot of cases, it’s actually the opposite. As an actor, I tap into real experiences and emotions to portray the feelings of my character. It is actually one of the most raw and vulnerable things one can do. It’s opening yourself up and giving a little (or big) piece of yourself to the audience night after night.

When I do find that next career path, I hope it’s one where I don’t need to wear a mask. One where I don’t have to be so guarded and cautious. I want to remain open and honest … and yes, even a little vulnerable.

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