Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What You Can Do: Interview

I had the honor last week of being interviewed by my hometown newspaper, The Worcester Telegram and Gazette.
That's right, Worcester. So for all of you who I may have misled into believing that I am from Boston, well.... sorry.
I had been mini prepped for the questions that Nancy Sheenan wanted to discuss with us. Questions like: what is it like to work with your sister? How has Worcester, MA shaped your life as an actor? Who influenced you growing up?

But as I began my conversation with Nancy, it became clear that she wanted to talk about something a little different. Nancy wanted to talk about why art is important. And, my friends, I so wish I had had a day or so to come up with a lovely and eloquent answer instead of the first thing that popped into my head which was: 'Um. Because it is.'

I'm just kidding of course.

Sort of.

I managed a tad more eloquence (emphasis on the tad), but the question actually surprised me and made me think. And with Arts in Education as our first episode of What You Can Do, why I personally believe that art is important deserves reflection.

My parents are/were both doctors and obviously involved in the healing profession. As such, I have grown up with what I feel is a fairly healthy perspective on the importance of being an actor - as in - entertainment is lovely, but it's not brain surgery. And while I do really believe this, I also do believe that the arts are also a healing profession.
I am so grateful that more and more of our society is recognizing that the health of a person is more than just physical. In order to be healthy and whole in this world, a person must also guard and cultivate their emotional ( and dare I say it? ) spiritual health. To me, one of the most important facets of health is communication, and the skills that we are given as people to communicate are crazy limited. Language in all its depth, beauty and complexity will never be able to truly express the range of what it means to be human. If you don't believe me, try to describe the color turquoise without mentioning a color. I believe that the person who came closest through language was Mr .William Shakespeare, but it is not conducive to keeping friends to break out the old collected works every time your own words fail. Art is what fills in the void that language leaves.

I remember when I dragged my friend Jenna Bans to see the statue of David in Florence, Italy. She and I were backpacking around Europe and we managed to end up in Florence on the hottest day of the year. It was a weekend so almost everything was closed or closing, so I had to really convince her that running across town in the smothering humidity to see one statue in a museum was honestly worth it. Let us just say, words were exchanged. But we made it, and as anyone who has ever seen that statue in person knows, whatever it is that guided its making transcends its medium.

Somehow I lost Jenna in that fairly small room and spent a good ten minutes looking for her. She was sitting on the ground, her eyes closed, leaning against a pillar in front of the statue. When I asked her if she was okay, she said, "Nothing I ever do in my entire life, will be half as impressive as that hunk of marble, so I am taking a ten minute nap."

Art (way more than opposable thumbs), is the closest thing we have that defines what it means to be human - separating us from the animal kingdom. It's one of the things in us most worth saving.

I was lucky enough to work with John Logan my last year at Northwestern University. John has gone on to be a rock star in Hollywood writing such screenplays as "Gladiator", "The Last Samurai" and "Sweeny Todd." It was John's last year at Northwestern as well, and his class on playwriting was a full year course. On the last day of class, with graduation looming and a class full of students terrified to be leaving, John called us around and uncharacteristically became very quiet and serious. He told us a story that I still re-tell myself on days that I question why I chose this crazy profession.
He said, " You know as you head out into the world, people are going to ridicule what you do. They are going to tell you that it is trivial and small and a waste of your time and talents. But I am here to remind you, that in the beginning of time when all people had were campfires in the dark, they would tell each other stories so they wouldn't have to be afraid. There is nothing more important that you can do."

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