Writer’s Sh*# OR Actor’s Sh*#

The other day, at a class at Actors Creative Workshop, casting director Lisa Pantone told a roomful of actors: “The script isn’t about YOUR shi*#. It’s about the writer’s sh*#.”

The writer in me cheered and wanted to stand up and raise a triumphant fist like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.

The actor in me, however, sank down in my chair and whined, “But I want to play, too!”

So, when putting up a play or shooting a movie, whose sh*# wins? The writer’s or the actor’s?

The actor in me says, “HEY! Of course the part has to be about my sh*#! I’m the one up there BEING it!” When an actor gets a script, we have to breathe life into a character that only exists on the page. What choice do we have EXCEPT to bring our own stuff to the table? We have to fill in our backstories with details from our imaginations; use our own memories, fears, and hopes to explore character; and rely on the emotions brought up organically inside of us “moment to moment.”

How else can an actor “live truthfully in imaginary circumstances” if we don’t stand truthfully on our own junk?

But my problem comes when actors and acting coaches and even directors think the actors’ sh*# reigns supreme – once the script is finished and the performance begins, some people shuffle the writer off to the side as though their sh*# doesn’t matter anymore…

The truth is, none of us would be acting if the writer, first, didn’t sit down, by themselves, dig deep into their own sh*#, and write a story. And ultimately, THAT’s the story we’ve all signed on to make. The WRITER’S STORY. The WRITER’S SH*#.

Remember, the characters in a story DO NOT ONLY EXIST ON THE PAGE. Characters are created by a writer and those characters live – fully and completely – inside the writers’ minds. We talk to our characters. Live with them. They are our dear friends and our family members. I know some of my characters better than I know myself.

It is not your job as an actor to bring those characters to life. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but the writer has already done that. It is your job as an actor to bring them to the stage (or in front of a camera). It is your job to inhabit them.

Now, let’s get something straight. I’m biased. Yes, I am BOTH a writer and an actor – but if I have to choose, I pick writer every time. I moonlight as an actor, but every second of every hour of every day, I am a writer.

So, I come down on the side of Lisa Pantone. The script is about the writer’s sh*#.

Actors, I love you and as a writer I NEED some of your sh*#. So by all means, bring a carry-on bag full of your own crap to the journey, but remember, the writer planned the trip. The writer put together the itinerary, bought the plane tickets, and even picked the restaurants where we will eat. When you pack your bags, pack for the trip we’re taking.

Don’t bring a parka to the beach, you know?

I sort of hate saying all of this. I love acting, in large part because I get to express myself. So, I’m not telling you to hide those emotions or leave them at home. I’m just saying, for me as an actor, I always want to remember to serve the writer’s story.

Besides, if you really want to tell your own story – about your own sh*# – you can ALWAYS write it yourself.

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