Language Redefined

In recent weeks I have begun redefining my relationship with language.

Words have always been an important part of my life. As a nerdy, awkward child I developed a pretentious vocabulary that allowed me to distinguish myself from my peers. Words became a security blanket - both a celebration of my individuality, and fuel in a self-fulfilling cycle of social isolation. I felt empowered, finally able to combat the limiting labels and criticism of my peers with words, self-definitions, and labels of my own. But I was fighting fire with fire.

I became an actor, in large part, because I loved following a script. Onstage I never had to worry about what to say. There were times I would go so far as to use scenes or interactions from whatever play I was working on as a template for interactions in my everyday life.

The problem that I have recently discovered with language is that it fails to accurately describe  anything infinite, visceral, confusing, or changing. Qualities which, the older I get, seem more and more inherent to the world and to the struggle of being alive. Humanity is messy, fragile, and imbalanced. As an actor, who strives to bring humanity to the stage and to stories, I have a responsibility to be messy, confusing, changing, imbalanced, infinite, and undefinable.

In an effort to remain a generous and truthful storyteller, while embracing uncertainty in my work, I have begun to approach the text of a play not as a solution to dramatic problems, but rather as a series of questions...Is this the way of the world? Am I who I think I am? Do you really feel that way? Can we find a compromise? Does this knowledge make you feel any better? The possibilities are endless...

Using language to question and expand the world, rather than to solve problems or define existence, has opened me up to my fellow actors and humans. Living, onstage and off, is all of a sudden a communal effort, a team sport. I feel more loving, more grateful, more creative, more imaginative, and more empathetic. I trust and listen more. I feel free.

I also feel worried. As an artist whose livelihood depends on my ability to work with language, all this change feels rash, scary, and unwarranted. Am I limiting myself? Am I undervaluing the artistry and knowledge of the playwrights whose work I engage with? Will I be able to successfully integrate this new approach with the techniques, processes, and tools that I use daily in my work onstage?

I am trying to trust that my blend of worry, excitement, confusion, and clarity is natural. After all, I'm opening myself to the possibility that the world can't be put in a box, can't be described, can't be limited. I also feel certain that my relationship with language will continue to change and develop. That too will be okay. Right now, however, I am excited to explore the questions and conundrums that language poses.