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Why actors deserve our respect

Have you ever acted on-camera or in front of a live audience? This career is not for the faint of heart.

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A scene from Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play "August Osage County" on Broadway. The film version, starring Meryl Streep, premieres November 8. (Flickr/Michael Brosilow)

August: Osage County Imperial Theatre Tracy Letts’ (Bug, Killer Joe) take-no-prisoners family saga comes to Broadway after a critically acclaimed run at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Show Dates: Performances from 30 Oct 2007 Opening 20 Nov 2007 Closing 17 Feb 2008 Performance Schedule: Tuesday @7:30pm Wednesday @2 and 7:30pm Thursday and Friday @7:30pm Saturday @2 and 8pm Sunday @3pm Tickets: Pricing: $26.50 - $99.50 Box Office: Phone Tix: (212) 239-6200 Outside NY Metro Area: (800) 432-7250 Group Sales info: Groups: (800) 223-7565 or (212) 398-8383 Show Run Time: Three hours and 20 minutes, including two intermissions Theatre Information: Imperial Theatre 249 West 45th Street New York, NY 10036 US Public Transportation/Parking: SUBWAY: Take the N,Q,R,W or 1,2,3,9 to 42nd Street, walk North on Broadway to 45th Street and walk West on 45th Street to the theatre; Take the A,C,E to 42nd Street, walk North on Eighth Avenue to 45th Street and walk East on 45th Street to the theatre. Synopsis: When the patriarch vanishes, all of the Westons must return to the family home in rural Oklahoma to care for their afflicted (and mistress-of-manipulation) mother. With rich insight and brilliant humor, Letts paints a vivid portrait of a Midwestern family at a turning point. Show Advisory: Mature Genre: Drama Cast List: Ian Barford Deanna Dunagan Kimberly Guerrero Francis Guinan Brian Kerwin Dennis Letts Madeleine Martin Mariann Mayberry Amy Morton Sally Murphy Jeff Perry Rondi Reed Troy West Production Credits: Anna D. Shapiro (Direction) Todd Rosenthal (Set Design) Ana Kuzmanic (Costume Design) Ann Wrightson (Lighting Design) Richard Woodbury (Sound Design) Other Credits: Written by: Tracy Letts

Joan Marcus

Friends may outright tell you that acting is a terrible career choice, or barely conceal their judgment behind a condescending smirk.

However, what these people may not realize is that actors are skilled professionals (no matter how much or how little they get paid) and that acting is more than just strutting around a stage and looking pretty for a camera. If forced to deliver a monologue before an audience of thousands, they might have a better appreciation for what actors do every 18-hour day on a film set or eight shows a week on Broadway.

Acting is hard work. Those who pursue acting as a career often work full-time jobs during the day, then hurry off to auditions on their lunch breaks and to the theater for rehearsals and shows at night. They eat, sleep and breathe their craft, sacrificing other more lucrative job offers in favor of their first love. Actors are a passionate bunch, and many have the jaw-dropping talent to merit star status alongside professional musicians, authors and athletes—even if they never acheive it.

Yes, some actors are hired for plum roles on film and television solely because of their looks or family connections (see Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III and Megan Fox in everything). However, other rising A-listers who are not conventionally attractive (like Steve Buscemi on Boardwalk Empire, the great Tilda Swinton and Chicago’s own Michael Shannon) succeed because they are astoundingly good at what they do.

The act of “acting” is harder than it looks. Although pretending to fall in love with Johnny Depp might not look like the hardest job in the world, imagine the real-life scenario. Under the pressure of hot lights, multiple camera angles and several dozen crew members watching with bated breath, just remembering lines (not to mention delivering them well and performing convincingly) is a rare and truly impressive skill.

Many of the best film actors working today (Meryl Streep, Edward Norton, Al Pacino, etc.) first honed their skills in the theater. Myriads more have studied under the rigorous acting tenets of Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg, devoting themselves completely to an art that few people can master, and even fewer actually acknowledge or respect as a viable career.

Good acting deserves to be seen and celebrated. Go to the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens or practically any other small storefront theater in Chicago to see the sublime acting talent that our city has to offer. For a better understanding of film actors and the intense work that goes into their craft, watch Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton (recommended episodes: Jack Lemmon, Paul Newman and Kate Winslet).

Not everyone has what it takes to be a great actor; but to study acting as a true art form is a noble pursuit, and certainly worthy of respect. In the words of legendary acting coach Stella Adler, “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”

Leah Pickett writes about popular culture for WBEZ. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr.

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