Originally posted December 10, 2010...
I once had an audition for the Stratford Festival, one of the top theatre festivals in North America, maybe even the world over. I was pretty nervous, especially since non-union actors (which I was at the time and remain so today) only got one monologue that had to clock in under two and a half minutes. No contrasting piece, no do-overs. So I dusted off the Shakespeare monologue I’ve known since first year university, a speech from Hamlet I’ve used at countless auditions and, theoretically, should understand rather well. It’s the scene where Hamlet confronts his mother about how her deceased first husband (Hamlet’s father, who shows up as a ghost and demands Hamlet avenge his death) was super awesome, and the guy she’s married to now is a dick. It’s a good piece because one can play a few different emotions (sadness, rage, wearing tights, thinking) and hopefully show off some range. So I do the piece at the audition and I thought I was just rockin’ it. None of the dense language tripped me up, I hit all the beats and objectives I had worked on before, I didn’t stumble on that awful second-last line (“as frost itself as actively doth burn” which usually comes out “frosty froth action burner”) and I concluded the piece confident and satisfied. The room was silent when I finished and the woman running the audition smiled. I was tempted to extend my arms forward and wiggle them to push all the “acting” towards her. But then she smiled a little too widely, leaned across the desk and said, “So! James! Is theatre a hobby of yours?”
Burnsauce. That’s the equivalent of a baby making a fist and punching the air, and his parents cooing, “Uh oh! We’ve got a Mike Tyson over here, I think! Are you a Mike Tyson? Yes you are!” A hobby of mine, Jeepers Christmas. Like I had nothing to do that day so I thought I’ve pop over and audition for the Stratford Festival. Naturally, I didn’t get the gig. But it got me to thinking: if theatre was merely a hobby, I’d kick ass at it. The meagre credits on my resume would make me seem like an avid hobbyist, an enthusiast, even! That sounds better than my ranking were I to list theatre as my profession—hopelessly amateur. I will continue to keep theatre a professional goal for now and let Hamlet have a few more kicks at the cat, but I feel like I need a past time other than watching tv or cropping my head onto John Goodman’s body just to see what I’ll look like in a few years.
Dream: To have a hobby.
Goal: Achievable. Lots of people have hobbies that appear to really enrich their lives. I know a guy who’s an avid scuba diver (scuba-divist? Scubist? Scubner?) and he seems to work very hard on land in order to go on future dives. He has pictures of boats and reefs and other watery stuff all over, and when he talks about diving he gets this faraway dreamy look that I get when I think about cheese. He tolerates stress very well, too, perhaps because he knows that eventually he’ll be under the sea again, playing tag with dolphins or whatever scubners do. I’d like to be more tolerant in my every day life, and have more things to look forward to. Hence, hobby.
Plan: Cultivate outside interests and perform activities pursuant of those interests.
Something athletic would be an obvious choice. Sports combine the thrill of healthy competition with the benefit of physical exercise. Although to me they’ve always combined the agony of losing to my peers with the detriment of having to get off my ass. Plus there’s no team I could join as an adult that would accept my utter lack of skill and ability. I mean maybe there’s a gay men’s basketball league with teams like the Delicate Figurines or the Wilting Petunias but that’s probably just a pretext to shower in a group.
But I don’t want to pursue something strictly academic either, because nothing’s more off-putting than someone who has boundless information about something completely useless. There’s a frequent customer where I work (we’ll call him Steve) who’s big on graphic novels and the adaptation of those novels into films. And despite my repeated insistence that I’ve neither seen read the novels or seen the films, Steve just stands and the till and talks extensively about them. And it wouldn’t be so bad if that were just one flavour in the hearty Steve bouillabaisse, but that’s all he’s ever got going on. He speaks with this irritating nasal lilt and because he fancies himself an expert, his tone suggests that he’s letting you in on some top secret, amazing information, when really, all you want is for the phone to ring, or another customer to approach you, or a stray bullet to hit the window, anything to shut this guy up. The other day, when pontificating the film Jonah Hex (a movie with Megan Fox which is apparently an adaptation of a comic book or something), Steve was displeased and whined, “I have to say, this really lowers my opinion of Megan Fox.” To which I wanted to say, “Really, Captain Amazing? You have a lower opinion of Megan Fox, I’m sure she’ll be crushed. ‘Oh no!’ she will cry, ‘Where will I ever find another plus-sized bearded man who lives with his mother?’ She should be grateful, I suppose, that you even deigned to watch her terrible film, you smelly, nerd-tastic beast.” My point is, some hobbies are alienating.
I guess the happy medium would be to find a hobby which requires some skill, and some knowledge. Glass-blowing, for example, or making things out of sand. But these are costly pursuits, which ultimately don’t amount to much besides crappy knick-knacks around your house and a small area of your home you can call your “studio”, but is really where you keep the rain boots and dog food.
I guess I’m ultimately eschewing hobbies because I feel like if there’s an interest to be pursued, I often have the time and inclination to pursue it. Like I do stand-up comedy sometimes, I read lots of First Nations historical fiction, or I take self-guided walking tours of strange parts of the city by getting off at random subway stops. I wouldn’t call these activities hobbies, because there’s no passion behind them, really. I don’t dream of the day where I can quit everything else and devote myself to them. But it is nice to plan a set for the next club date, or dip back into the Joseph Boyden novel on my bedside table, when the waves of stress and boredom come crashing in together and it’s all I can do not to dive right in and escape under the sea.