Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Stars vs. Actors

When I taught high school theatre, I had a number of students who wanted to be stars. They were going to go to Hollywood and become the next celebrity and hit the red carpet at the Oscars. Then I had the students who wanted to be actors. They wanted to learn their craft and absorb as much about theatre as they could. They were going to go to college and audition for every role they could get, and if they didn’t get the part, they would work backstage building the scenery, running the lights, or just hanging out at rehearsal and soaking it in. If they couldn’t make it as an actor, then they would become a director or a playwright or a techie. You can guess which ones actually made it in the business and who didn’t.

It’s not that the stars weren’t talented enough; some of them truly were. Nor were they stupid. They just expected it — fame, fortune, and the cover of People — to fall into their lap. Many of the stars gave up or got distracted by something else. They never had the true passion — the fire in the belly — in the first place. But the people who lived and breathed theatre made it happen no matter what. They took classes, they went to countless auditions and endured innumerable rejections but never quit. In my life I’ve known a lot of actors who made it in the business; they have a very good career with lots of credits in challenging roles and a wide variety of parts. They have made a contribution to the art and to the education of a lot of people. None of them are considered to be stars, but then, they don’t want to be.

It’s the same in politics (which, as some wag once noted, is show business for ugly people). Sarah Palin wants to be a star. She probably has the ability to grasp — with both hands — an understanding of the issues and how things work, but she just can’t be bothered. If she was as truly passionate about it as she says she is, then she would know this stuff cold. She would be reading history beyond who’s the president of Russia, she would be familiar with how the budget process works beyond spreadsheets, what caused the financial meltdown, and the merits of different ways to solve the problems we face as opposed to looking at them through a strictly ideological prism of liberal vs. conservative bumper stickers. But it’s that lack of drive that is more disturbing to me than any scoring on an I.Q. test, and the fact that she seems to revel in it is even more disconcerting.

If Sarah Palin invested as much time and energy in learning about wonky stuff like history, foreign policy, and high finance as she did in her own self-promotion and bamboozlement, she might, in the real world, be a credible candidate for president. But she’s already proven that she doesn’t truly have the passion for it. Appealing to the base because she’s “one of them” may be the way to run for the presidency today, and mocking education and intellectual prowess may rally crowds and even win an election or two, but if recent history is any guide, it’s not the way to lead. And there’s more at stake than just a Tony award.