As I Wake

illustration of girl on the moon in night sky

When I was eight years old I saw the movie “Chaplin” with Robert Downey Jr. I looked to my grandpa and said, “That. I want to do that.” I didn’t even know what it was that I wanted to do, my eight-year old brain just knew I loved what I saw and wanted to create that kind of magic. As I grew and continued to watch films and go to the theatre, I felt that my calling was to be an actor. I would go on to study different methods, but stick closely with the Meisner method. How I was going to become an actor was still a mystery to me, but I felt that it was what I was born to do.

I went to a college with a very small theatre program. My friend and I took it upon ourselves to direct a play because it seemed like we were the only members of the school who were interested in the art. Then we followed it up with another play called “Matt and Ben” about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck before they became famous. The play, co-written by Mindy Kaling, was meant to be performed by two women. I took the part of Ben Affleck and the immense pride I took in acting and directing was profound. It is still one of my favorite parts that I played and the dual responsibility of actor and director made me feel like I had a purpose. During this time, I was also studying to get my BA in English. While I wasn’t great at the grammar and technical aspects of the subject, the creative aspect lit a fire in me. I started writing short stories and kept a journal of different ideas. My research papers always ran long because I had a lot to say and didn’t like the confines of a certain structure.

After graduating college, I began taking acting classes again. There was the Meisner technique and on camera and commercial work. I signed with an acting agency, but I didn’t book much commercial work. Being around a group of actors is great because you feel like you are part of a community, and you are around people who get your brand of weirdness. But at the same time, it was uncomfortable. I would see friends living in poverty just so they could go to an audition for an industrial video. I held a full-time job after college, so I was restricted to what auditions I could go to. And every time I went on a commercial audition, I wondered what I was doing wrong – it just wasn’t working for me. I felt like I had studied so hard and I knew I was a good actor. I wasn’t the greatest, but I knew I had potential. But there was something about commercial or industrial work that didn’t resonate with me. I wasn’t able to find the art in it, and I felt more like a spokesperson.

In 2013, I met a group of other creatives outside of the acting class who were creating their own material. While it wasn’t the healthiest environment to be in, for a multitude of reasons, it was the first time that it occurred to me that I could take my directing and writing background and marry it with my acting. I knew in college I loved to direct and write, but for some reason I thought that I just had to be an actor. It became apparent to me in the years that followed I would not carve out an acting career in the way that my peers were. I wasn’t going to get my SAG card from commercial work, and I wasn’t going to be able to forego a full-time job. And to be honest, that wasn’t the way I wanted it to be anyway. I have such respect for actors in any medium, but my love for acting was born out of telling a story and I found it very hard to push through with work that didn’t set off a spark in me.

I’ve written and directed three short films and one is currently in the editing process. The past two years have been an awakening. The films have played at different films festivals and while I certainly have not garnered huge success from them, I feel a strength from just the creating process.  As I wake from the specific dream I once had, there is an immense feeling of sadness and pain. While I still consider myself an actor, I don’t know if it’s my life purpose. You can love something, you can appreciate something and you can be good at something, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be your life purpose. While I might be good at acting, I despise the business. I’m not like my peers who are willing to live as vagabonds to work toward something that may never happen. I applaud them for their strength and fearlessness, it’s just not me. I need stability, I need routine. The life of an actor does not include those things.

So here I am, waking from a dream that has taken up a good portion of my life. And it’s terrifying. I don’t know what my life is supposed to look like any more and I don’t know what direction it’s going in. Being a creative is not something I can just give up, it’s a part of me. Writing, directing and acting are not things I can give up, but the whole concept I once had is now being repurposed and in a transitional period.

Being a creative person is strange at times because we see the world differently and sometimes it’s hard to explain, so that’s why we create. But I can never be anything else, it’s just who I am. And maybe that’s all I need to know for now; I’m a creative. I’m also a person who likes to have a plan and the fact that I don’t have one right now is unsettling. But sometimes we have to let go of the way we think life should be in order for the life we are meant for to present itself. I know acting will be part of it in some capacity, but maybe the way I used to see life was too limiting. They say life is not about the destination, but about the journey. Maybe we all need to let go of expectations or templates for the way we think life should be. It rarely turns out that way anyway. Maybe I’m meant for something more.

And as I wake from the dream I hope and pray for clarity and purpose, even if it means change.

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Michelle Sabato

Michelle is an actor and writer who was born and raised in Cleveland's Little Italy. Some of Michelle's hobbies include: reading, writing, film and carrying conversations solely made up of movie quotes.

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