Actors are frequently described as a species of storyteller. And there is an important sense in which that is true. Characters’ stories have arcs, we are told, and the actor needs to uncover that arc, and bring it to life.

But that’s only one aspect of what actors do. When we live our lives, moment to emerging moment, there is no story yet. No arc. Was it Kierkegaard who said that lives have to be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards? I believe it was. In those moments that we live through, one after the other, there is no shape yet, no arc, just an array of facts, and another array, this one of possibilities.

We meet each moment, as best we can. And how do we do it? We are prompted, by something inside. A hunger: for wholeness, belonging, accord with the world, something. Try to name it and it slips through your fingers.

That’s what the now is like: there’s the world, there’s this inner prompting, and then there is our action, our response. Later, much later, we arrange these prompts and responses into stories, which we tell for an array of reasons, as responses to prompts we encounter further down the road.

When we act, we try to touch our own promptings, our own hunger for belonging, for accord with our world, our own hunger to be enfolded in a harmonious whole the way we were once enfolded in the womb, and bring these promptings from this dark engine inside us to bear on someone else’s circumstances, someone else’s situation, someone else’s life, someone else’s story. Stories are great to watch, but a great actor invites us into that space of flux and danger, between prompt and world, where the story has not yet become a story; it is still a great question, a test of some kind. An actor who does this makes the oldest story fresh, and in her mouth the stalest of speeches becomes a song of arresting beauty and mystery.

A tall order. Acquiring the ability to do this at will, to repeat it as needed, within a broad range of narratives and situations, is earned only with extraordinary patience, dedication, and implacable resolve to keep moving forward. When I see a student take a step closer towards acquiring this facility, I am deeply, passionately gratified