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Minnesota Musings

Life as Theater

I used to be an actor many years ago. I was bit by the acting bug in a big way in my late 20s. Starting out in my hometown of Minneapolis I studied and performed in theater, commercials and independent films. After a few years I decided to take a giant risk giving up a well paying sales job, selling my fiery Red VW Jetta, and bachelor pad condominium.

Paring my life down to 12 boxes I went for it and move to New York City. I used the money I made from selling everything to cover expenses for a year while I go my bearings and continued to study acting before venturing out on auditions. While I was not successful as an actor, it was a great experience and no regrets. In fact, none of what I expected would be the end result. What I learned pursuing a dream, taking risk has carried over into life long after.

One thing that stood out, life in many ways is nothing more than theater. What I mean by “Life as Theater” is that we all have a variety of masks, costumes and stories we tell ourselves and others depending upon the context. Some use it to cover up the person they really are out of fear, maybe due to insecurities and unresolved issues. Other times it is just playing the game such as in a business context. I used to play salesperson back in the day with my suit and tie, salesperson attitude and a voice to match. Other times it is just that we have no idea who we are always creating a different mask, costume and story for whatever occasion having never really gotten in touch with our inner life.

During a recent podcast I was listening to, the person spoke about health care as theater. I had no idea where he was going with this. He brought up this notion that doctors and nurses wear costumes. Think about it, a doctor wears a lab coat, you are more apt to trust someone wearing that regardless of credentials. If for example you went to a doctor’s office where nobody wore a lab coat what would that experience be like? This is not meant to demean doctors or nurses, they of course need schooling and credentials to do their job. The point is the costume.

Let’s talk about businessmen. Looking down the row of commuters on my local Tokyo morning rush hour train I see nothing but costumes in the form of suits and ties. Costumes are everywhere if you pay attention. We all wear them to portray to the world who we are or in many cases want to be or conform to. I went through a long phase of wearing a variety of costumes from suits to high end name brand fashion to convey to the world I am trendy and fashionable. To complete the ensemble there is one final piece to this idea of “Life as Theater.”

A good story line makes for good theater, or movies or TV for that matter. I am not talking about that kind of story. I am talking about the internal story we constantly tell ourselves to maintain our image to the world, whether as a way to hide or just to portray who we really are.

Story lines range from victim to the prince, to rich, to the expert, fill in the blanks we all have our own. We tell ourselves these stories to reinforce who we are and the labels we place on ourselves or one another. This is part of the human condition.

What I have found over time is that paying attention to the stories does not make who we are. There is far more to who we are than just that. I would also add that if you let them, stories change over time, as do the masks and costumes. Look at old pictures of yourself. What mask and costume were you wearing? What was your story? What’s your mask, costume and story now?

I have found that by tapping into a creative life, which incidentally came about because of my acting and carries on to this day as someone who writes, is one way of getting in touch with those stories. In some cases extricating them allows new stories and experiences to emerge and ultimately tapping into the person I am becoming, which is ever evolving and never ending. As are the masks and costumes.

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