Updated: Jan 21, 2021
To start the year off, I am sharing an excerpt from Glenn Close addressing the William & Mary graduates at commencement 2019. I love what she has to say about creating a character and creating collaborative communities, but I especially admire what she says about creating the person you want to be. As many of us are making peace with resolutions for the year, I hope you find inspiration in these thoughts and I wish you “gentleness and kindness” for 2021 - not only for yourself, but for wherever your creativity takes you.
“In order to inhabit a character I have had to find where we share a common humanity. I can’t do characters justice if I am judging them. I have to find a way to love them. The exploration into each character I play has made me a more tolerant and empathetic person. I have had to literally imagine myself in someone else’s shoes, looking out of someone else’s eyes. I urge you to learn how to do that. You can with practice. Start by being curious about the “whys” of someone’s behavior. Before you judge someone, before you write them off, take the time to put yourself in their shoes and see how it feels.
I have been a part of collaborative companies of actors and directors for 45 years. Companies are like living organisms, extremely sensitive to the chemistry, to the contributions of all those involved. When I was in a Broadway musical early in my career, my dressing room was right next to the stage door. I wasn’t the star, but I was a co-star and I was working my ass off every night to squeeze all there was to squeeze out of what was a pretty thankless role. It was hard work. The play was a big hit, which was fabulous, but every performance I would empty myself out, emotionally and physically, onstage and every night I could hear the producers come in the Stage Door and pass by my dressing room, on their way up to schmooze the star. It really hurt that they never knocked on my door, not to schmooze or hang out, but to simply say thank you for the hard work — eight shows a week — for which they were reaping huge benefits.
I remember that hurt and because of it, when I am the member of a company, especially if I am leading that company, I am careful to notice everyone on the team, learn about what they do and thank them. People like the craft-service guy on a movie set, who gets up earlier than everyone else and leaves the set after everyone else, who hauls heavy urns of coffee and food from location to location, rain or shine. To be aware of and to sincerely appreciate the contributions of everyone on a team makes a palpable difference.
To end, I thought I’d share with you bits of a letter that somehow got to me from an old William & Mary friend. I wrote it to him 42 years ago, when I had been out in the world for three years. Reading it from where I am now in my life and in my career was quite moving. I wrote:
My mind has been all over the place because of a very erratic rehearsal schedule. I did get the part of Estelle in The Rose Tattoo and am right now of the frame of mind that I should never have taken it. The scene is over before it starts. There is no time to really make any kind of statement. … any kind of progression. So one has to enter as a totally interesting and real person, be on for five minutes and leave. I really hate it, but I suppose it’s a good exercise of sorts. I’m just at the despairing stage and am feeling totally untalented. … Oh, well.
To maintain any semblance of wit and equilibrium seems to be a major feat. As life unfolds before me, I have more and more respect for anyone who survives and prevails. Just to endure is impressive enough, but to endure and to triumph — on your own terms — is the feat of a lifetime. Everyone needs so much gentleness and love. I don’t mean that idealistically; I mean it as a major means of survival. There is just too much working against sanity and civilization… from within ourselves, to the differences between people and sexes … to the whole human comedy. Gentleness and love. I can forget so easily, but it’s always a great comfort to come back to.”