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May 27, 2013

Doubt. It’s not just a John Patrick Shanley play.

While I sometimes regret not discovering acting until my mid-30s, in some respects it has been the best thing that could have happened for me. When I was young and arrogant, I was young and arrogant. I got off track in my early journalism career because I thought I knew better than I really did, and thought I should be advancing more quickly than I was. This hubris led to easily avoidable missteps.

By the time I started studying acting and auditioning for shows, I had mellowed a bit. I had seen enough of life to know my limitations, and I knew that in coming to a completely new world and set of experiences that I knew nothing. I did not bristle when corrected, and I actively sought out criticism. When teachers or directors or more experienced fellow students or performers would seem apologetic about offering advice, I shut that down immediately. “I know nothing, and you do,” I would tell them. “Do not be shy about helping me learn.”

But while starting late with a clean slate has been good for me, it also feeds that one voice of doubt that is always there.

Acting, after all, is perhaps the most competitive field there is. Thousands actively pursue it, and millions think they could if they put their mind to it. When 50 people turn out for one role, 49 will be going home, even if more than half of them are great talents. If Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud lost out on a part to Laurence Olivier, it would not mean they weren’t still great actors.

It is also a field that can attract people with huge egos, people with vast insecurities, people who are used to getting their way, and people who want you to get out of their way. It’s an odd vocation for a fainthearted fellow like myself.

I know I am doing quite well, considering that I am 38 years old, nothing special to look at, have only a bit of formal training, and must fit my theatrical pursuits in around a full-time job and the equally full-time job of parenting. I have been given some role in nearly every non-professional production I have auditioned for, and have started getting paying work. I have been pre-cast on several occasions, by directors who have either seen me perform in other shows, or who know me personally or by reputation. I am also discovering the strange joy of having to turn down things I would love to do because I already have other things booked.

But still, the doubts come. They come when I am exhausted, or on my way to my “real” job. At these moments, I feel it’s all a silly, childish dream, that I should put aside such frivolities and be a grown up. (It’s then that I remind myself that John Mahoney, who started acting at 37, and Kathryn Joosten, who started at 42, probably told themselves the same thing.)

The doubts come when I see actors I admire on stage or screen, and know that even if I were to have an ongoing cascade of success for the next decade, I could not reach where they were by age 25. And they come when I see a talented actor in some thankless or even humiliating role, and think that that person had to fight for years and give up much more than I have been willing to, just to reach that low rung.

I do not think the doubts will make me give up. I have tried many art forms in my life — I came by acting after sampling painting and music and dance and realized I’d finally found my real craft. It is a part of me that I could not easily forsake. I will keep on my course, auditioning and doing the best I can with each new role. And hopefully, in time, the doubts will dissipate. But for now, they are there.

Peter Sig

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    May 27, 2013 3:39 pm

    Great article Late Bloomer, I really liked your perspective and relate to your well told points. Thoughtful content for all, not just for fellow late bloomer like me who started a year ago at 47 !


  2. May 27, 2013 3:42 pm

    It was really helpful for me to share a dressing room with a Tony-nominated actor who is *phenomenal* and still riddled with doubts. We all have them (this is a crazy career, after all), we just get better at telling them to shut up.

  3. The College Theatre Dork permalink
    May 27, 2013 7:14 pm

    You’re not alone, friend. I am constantly doubting – am I actually a good actor? Can I afford this career? Did I even have a good audition or do I always and really, really suck? It’s a constant epiphany; I just have to tell myself a better epiphany than any thoughts sired by those nasty vampires.

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