Notes on the Craft: An Excerpt from Marco Barricelli’s 2011 A.C.T. M.F.A. Program Commencement Address

Posted by Marco Barricelli, Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz and former A.C.T. Core Company member

Let me begin by saying how tremendously honored and pleased I am to be here today to honor you. Thank you Melissa, Conservatory faculty, trustees, and Carey. I am especially pleased, not for myself, but for you, the graduates of this fine theater academy.

I am not saying I am or ever was a great actor, but this is what I now know after 30 years of doing this:

Acting, great acting, allows feelings of vulnerability to inform everything you will do onstage. I hereby require you, as actors, to not cover up or deny those feelings when you work—they are grist for the mill of your craft. And, certainly in terms of the craft of acting, this makes perfect sense because if you try to act starting from a place of “cover” and “denial” of what you really are in that moment, you will be starting from someplace false and then pretending to be something else—which is also, ultimately, not real. If you start from someplace real, what is then produced will have its foundation in honesty and truth. As actors, tell the truth. You can only be you, so be truthful about yourself. Stanislavsky said: “The person you are is a thousand times more interesting than the best actor you could ever hope to be.”

Stay humble: Always search for what to respect in those you work with. When I audition actors, I check on their resume for theaters that have had the actor back for more than one production. This usually means the actor is respectful of others when he/she is working. In the spirit of that, I would argue that we actors are “interpreters,” most of the time, not “creators.” Interpreters. We interpret the words of the playwright, the notes of a director, the reaction of an audience, etc. I say this to urge you to retain some humility, remembering where an actor’s place is in the grand scheme of creating a production. Yes, it is ultimately an exalted place because it is the most direct connection for the audience to the material, but it is still, to my mind, an interpretative role. Remember, yours is only one cog in the complicated wheel that makes a production—an “interpretive” cog. However, as Oscar Wilde said: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”

Keep training: How we “practice” our discipline is, truth be told, very different from the practicing of other art forms. Actors, unlike writers, painters, dancers, singers, and musicians, cannot and do not lock themselves away in a room alone and “act” . . . as these other artists can when they write, or do scales, or barre work at a mirror, or paint. We “practice” in everyday life. We are collaborators. We are “armchair” psychologists. We observe and analyze ourselves and other people in everyday activity, in extreme emotion and in repose. We work at play . . . we do “plays,” after all; our task is to have fun, to free ourselves, to let our instincts have full reign . . . never to judge. Never, ever to judge—neither ourselves nor the characters nor the people we’re working with. Does that sound easy? It’s not. It takes a very special and controlled kind of concentration. And a disciplined concentration is difficult to master. The discipline to free oneself physically and intellectually, and to “live” in the moment spontaneously, is an enormous challenge. As you all know.

Career. What can I possibly tell you about a career? How to be successful? No. As I say, success means different things to different people at different times. No one can tell you how to be successful. Your measure of success will ebb and flow, that you can be sure of—there’ll be times when everything will seem to be going great and other times when everything seems to be disastrous. Be nice to everyone because you never know who will eventually end up in a position to hire you. But more precisely, it’s as important to be a good citizen as it is to be a good actor.

As I said, your definition of success or a career will change as you grow in this business. Speaking for myself, by the time I started to understand why I tortured myself every time I worked on a role, it was too late. That torture had diminished my appetite for acting exclusively as a career and I began longing for something more consistent and permanent which would keep me entrenched in the theater but not require the endless banging away at the same show eight times a week, over and over again, for the rest—of—my—life. And so now I find myself here, 30 years on, having acted some great roles, succeeding in some—failing in others—some shows I would consider outstanding productions—others were turds. Now, as AD, my challenges are different and, thankfully, more rewarding to me. I have to say that with all the curtain calls and (deserved or not) standing ovations and big laughs and muffled sobbing I’ve experienced when acting, there is NOTHING more rewarding than what has now become my favorite part of doing theater: standing in the back of a full house, watching an audience watch a play I’ve produced, and realizing that they’re having this very singular experience because I’ve brought this story and these particular artists to them—and they will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. I still, for example, consider my greatest legacy at A.C.T. to be, not the roles I’ve done, but the creation of the exchange I developed with Prima del Teatro, San Miniato, in Italy. I am certain that each student who goes there will remember that experience for the rest of his or her creative life. There is now, at this point in my career, no greater joy than things like that. And this reward has a quiet sweetness that feels better to me than the big Broadway shows, the jobs on the big and small screens, and (almost) better than making a ton of money (but not really)!

The best advice I think I can give you regarding building a career is to just show up. Whatever the occasion, just show up. But what you show up with now, thanks to this training program, is a vocabulary, a recognition of your own integrity, a burgeoning understanding of your own aesthetic, and a basic skill set which will be informed and honed by the hard knocks and great joys of real life. Life, real life, will take over, like it or not. And Melissa and the wonderful faculty at A.C.T. have given you a technique and craft that will allow those great highs and lows of life to inform your work, thereby making your acting more human and, by extension, more relevant. Allowing you to tell the truth.


• You can’t please everyone.
• Don’t expect praise and especially don’t believe anything anyone tells you in your dressing room right after a performance.
• How you start a play is more important than how you finish, because it is then that an audience makes up its mind about you.
• Don’t try to impress people.
• Never explain, simply reveal.
• You can’t worry and think. So do your homework and show up enormously prepared—that way you don’t have to “worry” about not having done it while you’re trying to work.
• The first duty of an actor is to be heard.
• Vowels travel easily, consonants don’t. Vowels carry the heart, consonants the intellect.
• Do your homework; as I said, show up exceptionally well prepared; then, as you start your scene, let it all go and simply open the door and see what happens.
• Always show up every day in a good mood.

“Do not try to push your way through to the front ranks of your profession; do not run after distinctions and rewards; but do your utmost to find an entry into the world of beauty.”
—Konstantin Stanislavisky

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