Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which will be the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference, “The Global Family.”
In my last column, I interviewed Laura Piquado, a professional actress based in New York who grew up in six countries, including Egypt, where we were drama classmates in high school. As a result of the interview, Laura, editor ML Awanohara, and I had a lively discussion about Laura’s career change from education/activism to acting.
ML said she was puzzled as to why so many intelligent, well-educated Adult Third Culture Kids feel so at home in the acting world. She expressed concern that acting might cultivate a narcissistic outlook on life, which is the opposite of a TCK’s worldly upbringing. She said she found it particularly jarring that Laura could go from go from almost doing a PhD on women’s education in post-conflict societies, to enrolling in acting school—and not look back.
Laura’s response was so eloquent that I am posting it here.
Before you read it, I recommend watching this TED Talk by British actor Thandie Newton:
Born to a Zimbabwean mother and English father, Newton always felt disconnected or “other” while growing up in the UK:
“From about the age of 5, I was aware that I didn’t fit. I was the black, atheist kid in the all-white, Catholic school run by nuns. I was an anomaly.”
Acting gave her a chance to play with her different selves.
And now from Laura Piquado:
I had a similar reaction to yours, Lisa, in seeing acting described by ML as a narcissistic endeavor. While I can certainly understand that reputation (indeed, the Golden Globe awards), I have always idealized what theatre can be: life-changing, hopeful, inspiring, and necessary. It’s the worst to be onstage with someone who’s “masturbating” their way through a show (and equally as painful for an audience member).
I was in Maine a few years ago at a craft school (I’m a potter), and I sat next to a visiting artist at dinner (the amazing Hungarian-born sculptor Gyöngy Lake). She asked me what I did. When I told her I was an actor she said:
“We love you! We need you! You tell the stories of our lives!”
Now while that sounds uber-maudlin, I was completely overwhelmed. I had known this woman for less than two minutes, but she had described, for me, what the essence of art is.
On the other hand, I don’t want to get beaten over the head with social and political commentary every time I go to the theatre. I mean, I love Brecht, but can you imagine if that’s all theatre was? Mother Courage after Mother Courage, after The Caucasian Chalk Circle, after Arturo Ui…ugh. People would stop going. There’s room for pomp-y, wacky, ridiculousness (all hail The Book of Mormon), and everything in between. But I do think theatre at its best, the stories that stay with you, are the ones that connect to a deeper human context.
I was reading an interview with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in the New York Review of Books where he recounts a story he heard while a law student:
At the turn of the last century, the court was called upon to decide a case on prices for theater tickets—could they be considered basic necessities, and could they be regulated as such? The majority thought the theatre was not a necessity. The great Justice Olive Wendell Holmes Jr. replied in his dissent: “We have not that respect for art that is one of the glories of France. But to many people, the superfluous is the necessary.”
The interview was a larger discourse on France and Proust, but the point Holmes made about the necessity of art resonates.
ML also made the comment:
An interest in international affairs implies that you care about effecting positive social change on behalf of less fortunate people… Do you foresee bringing those two strands of your life together at some point?
The notion of “effecting positive social change” is what I’ll respond to. Again, it’s what I believe theatre can be, from Winter Miller‘s In Darfur to Moisés Kaufman‘s The Laramie Project. Being a part of that kind of theatre is deeply gratifying and something I always seek out. (Or as a potter: being able to go to communities to work with local artisans to make pots that filter clean, potable water falls into that same category.)
The leap from one discipline (social justice through academia) to another (theatre) wasn’t so quantum for me. And while they are vastly different on so many practical and actual levels, “effecting positive social change,” for me, lies at the heart of both.
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So, readers, do you have anything to add to the debate? Are we ATCKs doing ourselves, and the world, a disservice by turning to acting, or can acting be one of our more profound contributions?
STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!
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