Monday, 5. October 2015 0:13 | Author:Jay Burton
Theatre, I often tell students, is a drug. Once you’re addicted, the only choices you have are to keep feeding your habit or go through a very painful and complex withdrawal. Those who succumb often embrace the drug and obsess over it.
This was brought home to me over the last couple of weeks in talking to two different actors about addiction-related matters. One, a method actor, was concerned about a role that he had taken might lead him to a negative mental place. So we spent a couple of hours devising ways to deal with that likelihood, arriving at what I think will be a successful procedure. His vacating the role because it might be unpleasant or even dangerous never occurred to either one of us. One does not simply say “no” to one’s addictions.
The second actor was concerned about how his artistic career decisions, i.e. which roles to go for, which graduate schools to consider might impact his partner, another actor. He said, “I know how I am. Once I start, I won’t stop.” Although momentarily in remission, he’s addicted, and while he might toy with the idea of giving it up, he’s not really serious about it. The relationship will have to accommodate his artistic needs or fail.
There are, of course, other addictions in theatre. There is the fame addiction, which, so far as I can determine has very little to do with anything artistic. There is the “applause addiction.” This is literally the need to hear applause regularly. It has caused some very talented people to break off their formal education and work in the (low or non-paying) semi-professional world instead of forgoing the applause for a time to move into the professional world with a much wider and more discerning audience.
These are not the addictions from which the two actors mentioned are suffering. These actors are addicted to the creative process. They are far less concerned with applause than they are with creating full characters out of a few words in a script and a little direction. Fame is nowhere on their radar. These are people that must do shows to satisfy their creative cravings.
Addiction to the creative process is not unique to actors. All artists seem to have it. Painters have to paint; they will paint with any kind of paint on any surface available. Writers have to write and will scribble on any sort of paper that is about. Photographers will shoot anything any time when the creative fever is on them. Dancers are always moving to whatever music can be heard and sometimes to music that no one else can hear. They’re addicted.
Some will find other things in life to be more important and will go through withdrawal to secure those things. The rest of us, however, will acknowledge our addiction to creativity, recognize that we really have no choice in the matter, and go forward. For many of us that going forward means not only acknowledging our addiction but embracing it. And that means, for some anyway, converting the addiction to an obsession (written about earlier, here and here).
Like most other addictions and obsessions, the need for the creative process will not bring happiness or satisfaction or ease. It will not bring peace of mind. Instead, it will bring a wide range of ever-changing emotions, a constant, sometimes manic, striving, and a sense of purpose. And that’s worth having.