Since I was a toddler, I had always wanted to be an actor.
It was fun being other people and things, regardless of who watched; as I grew a bit older, I had thought that the characters I pretended to be were far more interesting than who I was. Even now, at 30, I feel that I’m preparing a few roles simultaneously for a production that will never happen.
In my files of the current characters I play, there are: The high school drama teacher, The writer, The out of work actor, The business man, The perpetual boyfriend, The lost brother, The chosen son, The recovering addict, and The romantic traveler( all characters played with the same tone for the most part- low brow and angry). I have left the pursuit of acting professionally; I don’t take acting classes, I don’t seek auditions, and I think I’m better for it. Though, I still teach it; however one can teach “acting.”
Characters don’t need names. I still fluctuate back and forth between using the last names of “Otero” and “Rojas,” both names I have a rich history with: “Rojas” is my legal birth name and it belonged to a man that I found out, at the age of 22, wasn’t my real father; this was good news, I wasn’t fond of the man and I would feel guilty for passing on his name in the case of me having children . He and my mother divorced before I was born. My real father was a Cuban attorney with the last name “Guzman.” I opted not to take his name because I wasn’t too familiar him; as a kid, I always knew him as my mother’s attorney, and found it odd that he took special interest in me on the rare occasions he came over to the house to discuss “legal matters” with my mother. So I chose, in my mid 20s, to go by the name “Otero,” because it is my mother’s maiden name, and I wanted to honor her and her family lineage. Its hard keeping track of who you are.
When I read Await Your Reply over Thanksgiving weekend, I was staying with family.
I like being around my family during the holidays because they refuse to acknowledge my character driven performances; to my mother and brother I am simply son and brother. And I feel fresh with them, as if I just got off stage from performing my only scene and was now able to sit backstage and leisurely remove my makeup.
Await Your Reply moved me because it is a novel that tells the tale of a few people searching for identity while leaving old ones behind. Specifically, the book tells 3 stories: the story of a father and son, teacher and student, and 2 brothers. The first page opens with a father rushing his son to the hospital, on the seat beside them, the son’s hand is laying in a Styrofoam cooler. We meet a young teacher and a student that he is having a romantic relationship with, they are fleeing their former lives that be would cloaked in taboo. We meet a brother searching for his awkward twin brother that everybody has deemed crazy and clinically schizophrenic.
I felt from the first page on that the author had trust and confidence in me; he invited me to journey with the characters , slowly revealing along the way back story, insights, and confessions. He knew that I would keep up.
These are tales of people; imagining they were someone else, longing to be someone else, and having to be someone else. Identity is the central character in the book, and we reflect early on in the novel, that identity, like culture, is not something your born with, but something you learn. And all people are subject to the learning curve.
I finished the book in a few days, and realized that it would make a wonderful manual to an actor in training. I realized that this book destroys the convention of what actors call character building and replaces it, philosophically and semantically, with a new approach– identity creating. Character’s are stock, cliches, made up mostly of projected social perceptions, nameless and void. But figuring out what a character’s personal identity is is the true quest of the actor. Its what makes a genuine performance. Its what brings it its RPGs (Raw, Pulse and Grit).
My advanced acting students read excerpts by great illustrious acting technicians ranging from Stella Adler, Michael Chekhov, Bertolt Brecht, and Stanislavsky. I will assign Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply next semester.
The file of characters I have: The high school drama teacher, the writer, the out of work actor, the business man, the perpetual boyfriend, the lost brother, the chosen son, the recovering addict, and the romantic traveler; they all have an identity, my own.