Katie Sims, TMU contributor and senior at USC
So, I'm eighteen years old. I've just been uprooted from a small bubble of suburban ignorance-bliss to Los Angeles - to Hollywood. I've come here to study acting. To pursue the silver screen, the stage, the… and… . I'm in way over my naive little head. A feeling of panic floats over me, pushing into every fiber of my being, and then the dark thoughts arrive in crashing waves, "What the hell am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Trying to be an actor when I can barely walk and talk at the same time?" But just as I'm preparing to drown in my sea of self-pity, I feel my metaphorical hand bitch-slapping the side of my face, waking me up. This isn't about me. And it never will be. It's about the story that I'm about to tell. The play is the thing. Cut the crap, Katie. I constantly ask why I'm putting myself through this? Why acting? I can tell you that my reasons aren't logical or practical or economical, but then again, I have never been any of those things. We are a pair of star-crossed lovers, the theater and I, constantly provoking one another, fighting and then accepting each other, but ultimately, I'm in it for the storytelling. People's stories are just begging to be told, and the theater is a place where those stories come to life. To me, a piece of live theater has always been, at its core, an exchange. And I feel that acting is my most fluent language. Therefore, acting was the thing that I knew I had to do with my life,that I had to make my life all about. Though it took bumping into a complete stranger who had to tell me his own story before storytelling became something more to me than a pre-bedtime ritual shared with my mother and little sister. I met this stranger whose story made me understand what it was I had to do with my life in Mississippi. My family had gently coerced me into doing relief work over my spring break. It was right after Katrina had hit. I stood slouched and nonchalant, folding old Boy Scouts' uniforms, worn-in Levis, and Mickey Mouse onesie pajamas at a shelter for people who had been affected by the storm, when this homeless man approached me with a pen and a small pad of paper - one of those tiny spirals that reporters use to jot down notes for a story. It was royal blue and had morphed into a lopsided "L" shape from living inside the back pocket of his work pants. "Honey," he crooned at me, "I want to read you something I wrote. It's my masterpiece." And he did. When he spoke, it sounded like a stilted lullaby that I inherently knew the melody to, but the lyrics danced in foreign footsteps, heavy and aged and graceful. It was some of the most beautiful poetry that I had ever heard. This man, for whatever reason, poured out his heart to me and asked for absolutely nothing in return. His eyes moved from my face to the dimly lit horizon and back again, never even glancing at the notebook. He had committed the full poem, which ran several dozen pages in length, to memory. I know it sounds crazy, but I envied him. He was standing there with a few missing teeth and the rest yellowed from tobacco, hair unwashed, unshaven, and clothes covered in dirt, and I wanted to vanish beneath his skin. I wanted to be him. He radiated pure enthusiasm when he told his story, and did so without need for acknowledgement or praise. He simply felt compelled to share a story with me, a perfect stranger. He had something vital to tell me about who he was and what he'd witnessed. You see, my man from Mississippi did, essentially, what most good actors do every night. They allow themselves to really be seen by perfect strangers. They tell the story because they feel compelled to. And he did just that. He was brilliant, at least in my eyes. I could have listened to him go on that way for forever. And for the next several hours as I folded, he spoke, and I heard every word.
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