Introduction: The Lives of Actors

By Seton, Mark; Maxwell, Ian et al. | About Performance, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Introduction: The Lives of Actors


Seton, Mark, Maxwell, Ian, Szabó, Marianna, About Performance


What are actors' lives like? What kinds of experiences, over the course of a career, do actors have? How does their training prepare them both for the work they will find, and for the lives that they will lead as they pursue that work? What problems confront actors? What kinds of lives do they lead?

Our central aim in curating this issue of About Performance was to open up a range of conversations about the lives of actors, those creatives who are often taken for granted. We invited contributors to submit essays reporting on research into actors' lives, their wellbeing and the impact of their creative work upon their lives, their health, and their relationships. This issue seeks to balance the existing surfeit of memoirs, autobiographies and biographical accounts-accounts which, on balance, tend to be written from positions of eminence and professional success-with research that explores the phenomenon in all its variety, and from a range of perspectives, and applying a diversity of methodological approaches.

We set the scene with a photo essay by Ashley Marinaccio, a New York-based actor, director and photographer, who locates actors, through images and interviews, in their 'everydayness' of keeping their skills fresh, pursuing likely jobs to advance their careers, maintaining networking to 'stay in the loop' while doing other jobs that ensure they can afford to eat and have a place to stay. In addition she draws attention to the reality that many actors may find themselves with ongoing debts, paying off their actor training over many years, while knowing that the marketplace for jobbing actors is highly competitive. In spite of it all, she highlights how actors do all this because they love it.

Meanwhile, the very appropriateness of questioning or evaluating an actor's wellbeing is interrogated by Terence Crawford in the second essay. Crawford brings personal experience as an actor, as a teacher of actors, and as a director working with actors, to inform the various conversations or discourses that tend to relegate actors to a place of either servitude or marginalisation in relation to various processes of storytelling, stage or screen. In particular, he observes an exquisite tension between acknowledging the health impacts of the apparently inevitable servitude of the actor alongside the rewarding delights of being part of a creative ensemble when it actually 'all works'.

It is this delight that is at the centre of the third essay, by Alison Robb, theatre director and PhD candidate in clinical psychology, and Matthew Davis, a practising clinical psychologist, exploring reported experiences of 'flow' for actors in their onstage experiences. Robb and Davis review the psychological literature as it seeks to understand optimal performance, particularly drawing upon Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow. Aspects of this theory are applied as a tool of measurement in their recent study of interviews with Adelaide-based professional actors using interpretive phenomenological analysis. Their findings offer insights into what may contribute to the optimal performance conditions the actor is seeking to manage through craft as well as locating both internal and external factors that can inhibit such flow.

As co-editors of this publication we felt that this would be the appropriate juncture in which to insert our preliminary report of the findings of the Australian Actors' Wellbeing Study that we conducted in 2013. The survey was designed to test anecdotal claims of hazards and stresses associated with lives and careers of actors and establish a health and wellbeing baseline from which to develop longitudinal data. We observe that actors appeared to be disposed to 'finding the positive' and to maintaining a bearing of optimism and 'good energy', even when the circumstances of their lives were presenting challenges which were having profound effects on their wellbeing.

In identifying some of the significant formative events in an actor's life, the fifth essay, by Chris Hay and Robin Dixon interrogates one aspect of the curriculum of actor training, highlighting historical shifts in the priorities of training and the adaptability of training institutions. …

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