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Amo, amas, amat, amamus, amatis, amant, amateur

So. I am a ‘special guest’ in Nicholas Nickleby; it’s a student production of the Actor Training program of the performing arts conservatory that is part of the institution that employs me. There are twenty students in the cast and ten guests, mostly teachers in various parts of the conservatory, former and current professional performers. There’s one local professional actor; I don’t really know what he’s doing in the cast, but he’s terrific and a great fellow. Then there’s the president of the University and a former president of the University, neither of whom act in their spare time (not counting special appearances at University events such as this one) and who don’t really count. I am the only amateur actor, the only hobbyist.

The twenty students in the cast (and another twenty first-year students in the crew) are planning to go into the business professionally. Of course no more than two or three of them will make a living as performers for very long, because that’s how the business is, but I’m sure that each of the twenty is determined to be one of those two or three, or they wouldn’t be at this conservatory. In fact, I suspect that each of them would be disappointed even to have the career that our professional has had: in his sixties he has had ensemble roles in two Broadway plays, probably with as many as ten speaking lines between them. I’m impressed, but I don’t know that these Young Persons would be. They are young, they imagine themselves as future Benedict Cumberbatches and Kristen Chenoweths, going from one exciting opportunity to the next.

At any rate, I think of my job as a ‘guest’, in addition of course to performing on stage, as being a role model for these twenty-year-old hopefuls. I was at their age much like they are now, only with worse training and no contacts: I wanted to be a professional actor without knowing what that actually meant. Or, rather, not even knowing what that meant for the tiny percentage of hopefuls who make a living at the thing, but only knowing something of what it meant for the tiny percentage of successful professionals who could command enough attention to publish memoirs. Once I learned a bit of it, then heigh-ho, no actor’s life for me, no, thank you, no. Even if everything somehow came up sunshine and daffodils professionally and I were able to work and eat, it’s not a life I want. I did a couple of community theater shows back then, and found them frustratingly unprofessional, and gave the whole thing up. Didn’t do any theater of any kind for ten years. Came back to it, eventually, as an amateur, to do good amateur work (I hope) in good amateur productions. And I have a day job, and a wife and a family and a life, and I am above all a happy man.

Do I sound defensive? Well, that’s fair enough, but all the same: I’m just about the happiest guy I know, and I’m an amateur actor. If my 1990 self saw my 2015 self, he would probably be sorely disappointed, dissatisfied and perplexed, but I hope—I hope—he would at least recognize that this 2015 self is happy, and be pleased by that. And so I am parading myself in front of these Young Persons, twenty years old in 2015 as I was in 1990, in hopes that if they walk away from The Stage when they discover that they can’t, won’t or don’t want to make a living at it, they don’t have to spend ten years away. They can do this thing that we love, and love it, and do good work, and have a day job and be happy people.

I have more advice of course, which I would give if they asked for it. But they wouldn’t listen, and why would they? I shan’t be Polonius for them. I will do my best, on stage and backstage, and at my day job, too, where some of them do occasionally come by, and they will take from that whatever they will.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,