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What is my “essence”???

Over the past few weeks seniors in BU’s School of Theatre have been urged to think about the idea of personal “essence”. This sort intangible, existential crisis inducting “thing” we, as actors entering the business, are supposed understand about ourselves. What is our essence? How do we present ourselves to the world? How do others perceive us? Although I find this concept extremely hard to grasp, I know in my heart that understanding it has its purpose. In a way actors are selling a product (themselves), and in order to know the ways in which to market said product you have to understand how the product actually works and how consumers will receive it. On one hand comparing who I am to a commodity meant to be sold to consumers seems extremely impersonal and completely contradictory to everything I am trying to achieve as an artist. But on the other hand its kind of nice to frame something so abstract in a metaphor that seems, at least a little, more tangible. The only problem is I have no fucking idea what I’m trying to sell! One of the things I’ve loved about my experience at BU is the fact that I have been fortunate enough to play a wide range of different characters. I’ve played gay, straight, black, Middle Eastern, male and (soon to be) a drag queen. As an artist I love to be challenged. I’ve loved being made to explore aspects of a character that lie outside of what I, myself, identity with. In other words I’ve prided myself on, what McCaela Donovan would call, my ability to “transform” as an actor. Up until this point I’ve seen this an asset I should strive to cultivate. But now, at the very end of my training I am being led to believe that none of that matters. Now I’m thinking that it’s best just to find my “type” and stick to it.

The thing about all this is that I completely get it. I’m not necessarily upset, or even worried about the prospect of finding my essence. I agree that it’s important for directors, casting directors, etc. to get a feel for what it is I’m “selling” right off the bat. And I also feel as though I have a pretty strong grasp of who I am and what my perspective is as an artist. However, I also think that it’s difficult to envision myself as one type. Even deep down at my core I believe that I am more than just one thing. My identity is multi-faceted. For example, to the outside world I might just seem like a black man. This is an identity that I take pride in and relate to deeply. It is also something that I can “play”. However there is this whole other half to my racial identity. I am half white. I have been raised by a white mother and have existed in predominantly white spaces for most of my life. This is also an identity that I connect with. Although I don’t think I could ever play a specifically white role, it’s a part of my identity nonetheless. I am also gay, which is another part of my identity I take pride in. I’ve played many “gay roles” which I’ve loved. But this is something I am worried will pigeonhole me in my career. I’m worried about getting stuck playing the “gay best friend” all my life. Basically what I am trying to say is that I feel stuck between two possible realities for myself as an artist. I feel as though playing into one aspect of who I am negates the fact that I am an actor who is complex and wants to explore a large range of human experiences. However, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about making decisions as an artist that would potentially bring me some form of success. I know this is something I’m allowed to explore, and I don’t need to have all of the answers right now. But as of now I feel stuck; paralyzed by the fact that I have now come to the point in my career where I have to be cognizant about the ways in which I present myself as a human being.

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