Respect for other side can cool theater battle

This is Alexander Dominitz, war correspondent for the Yale Daily News. I’ve just returned from the front, and things look grim.

Many are tired of fighting. Many want to go home and see their families, to get out of the rain and cold air, to feel safe once more. Most have grown weary of waiting. Still, the battle rages on.

Day and night merge into one nebulous entity. The sleepless delirium only amplifies the insanity of the task at hand. Flashes of light annihilate the darkness and reveal the uncertainty of the coming glory, or desolation.

Yet the army of struggling actors continues on its march.

Each day, brave men and women fall in the line of fire. Their bodies grow weak. Their wills dissolve. They leave this life and pass to the next. And each day, as they fall, more reinforcements come to take their place.

They arrive brimming with the idealism of youth. They intoxicate themselves with notions of possibility and artistic immortality. They worship the icons of predecessors, praying that this war does not destroy their resolve.

Some have been in training for this fight for years and years. Others are part of a growing militia of first-timers that has, out of some sudden impulse, taken up arms against the unrelenting foe. The militia fighters look at the trained actors with awe and envy. The trained actors look down on the militiamen with disdain. Nevertheless, they stand side by side in the concrete trenches, they drink coffee together in waiting room foxholes, and they fight as equals in the sound studio bunkers and battlefield stages of New York and Hollywood.

The enemy soldier, known to all as the casting director, lies waiting in his fortress. He has no fear because he can deflect all the headshots and resumes with a single “no.” He does not worry because the actor must strive to change his will without destroying it. He knows too well that each actor is, at some level, competing with his fellow soldiers to be the first inside the fortress.

Many have asked, “How did you witness all this and manage to come back unscathed?” In truth, I have only managed to deliver such an account because of great cunning and long months of silent observation. Now, I openly proclaim my treachery for all to see.

To fight one’s enemy, one must first understand one’s enemy. With this in mind, I abandoned my acting brethren in the fields and left to join the other side. At first, I thought of myself as the cleverest of spies. The casting directors welcomed me as one of their own. They gave me food and shelter. They invited me to their meetings. They became my friends and shared their secrets with me.

I stood atop the enemy’s walls and looked down at the earth far below. From that perch, I could not help but wonder at how powerless my former comrades appeared. Once I had stood with them, and we had marveled at ourselves. How shiny and beautiful our publicity photos appeared in the afternoon sun! How long and impressive our resumes! How moving our monologues! Now, as the headshots, cover letters and demo CDs flew over the fortress walls and piled up softly at my feet, I wondered if my allegiance had changed.

Nay, I could never relinquish the ties to my dear friends. I picked up the piles of materials and placed them in a folder for safekeeping. I headed for the battlefield — a movie set on which I was serving as 2nd assistant director (it’s not as redundant as it sounds) — and sought out the actors for conversation. I met a man who had been standing in the cold for hours just so his daughter could have a chance at appearing onscreen. I met a glamorous woman who went from audition to audition while her husband paid the bills. I met a singer-songwriter who had appeared in several national tours. I met the poor girl who handed me a new photo every hour, and I met her friend who didn’t have enough money to buy gasoline for the trip home.

If only these struggling actors could catch a glimpse of the world from atop the fortress. If only the casting directors would venture down from their towers of strength and gaze up at the sky, becoming starry-eyed and hopeful, even for a day. If only every marauding warrior and every civilian, every stodgy politician and every rebel, every capitalist and every artist could dare to understand the nature of the other. In the moment before one passes judgment on another, such action is the nexus of wisdom and nobility.

Alexander Dominitz is a sophomore in Saybrook College. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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