“Play Your Action”: A Salute to the Class of 2012

Posted by Jonathan Moscone, artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater
Yesterday marked the graduation of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2012. The eight graduates were honored at a ceremony at the American Conservatory Theater and saluted with speeches from Artistic Director Carey Perloff, Conservatory Director Melissa Smith, Executive Director Ellen Richard, elected student speakers, and the distinguished recipients of this year's honorary Master of Fine Arts in Acting degrees. Mary Birdsong, the virtuosic and versatile performer who led the cast of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City last summer, was one recipient. The other was Jonathan Moscone, a longtime Bay Area theater artist who has directed for the A.C.T. mainstage and taught in and directed Conservatory productions and currently serves as artistic director at California Shakespeare Theater.
Below is a transcript of Moscone's speech to the graduating class of 2012.

M.F.A. Class of 2012
The class of 2012. L to R: Jason Frank, Christina Elmore, Ben Kahre, Maggie Leigh,
Alexander Crowther, Jessica Kitchens, Matt Bradley, and Courtney Thomas.

Dear graduating class of 2012:
I stand here before you today both honored and excited. Honored to be amongst such a passionate conservatory of students who represent some of the finest young American actors ready to take on everything from Shakespeare to the movies. Excited, because I get to give you advice.
Although you don't have to take any of it, you have to listen to it. You don't have to take notes. This will not be on the test. In fact, there are no more tests in your life. Certainly not ones you can mark with a grade. But only the ones you make for yourself, and judge according to standards that you, and only you, set, and ultimately learn from, for yourself.
Before you get out there, here are some thoughts to consider: think of them as "Koans for Conservatory Grads," or "Tips for Acting Teens," or just a series of rambling thoughts of an artist who was at one point emerging, then promising, then important, and now just happy to have normal blood pressure.
Here they are in no particular order of importance, since they are all important:
  1. The time for blaming your teachers, or your parents, is unfortunately over. They may have been the cause of your pain, but only you can release yourself from it.
  2. Your agents will advise you based on what they need. You have to decide what you need.

  3. Speaking of which, if you haven't already, learn the distinct difference between need and want.

  4. No choice you make will make your career.

  5. No choice you make will break your career.

  6. Pay off your student loans on time. And as quickly as possible.

  7. Some people will tell you the only power you have as an actor is to say no. In fact, your greatest power is in saying yes.

  8. That rule has exceptions. Use your discretion.

  9. Play positive actions on stage. Play them in real life. If your character can imagine the possibility of changing the world, so can your true self.

  10. See as many movies from the '30s through the '70s as you can. American and foreign. They are all acting lessons in style.

  11. Add to that list every Warner Brothers cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. They are all acting lessons in comic timing.

  12. Read books. All the time. Especially Dickens. Just 'cause.

  13. Never feel bad about making money. Artists should be the richest people in our country. So don't romanticize the starving artist. That's just what they want you to think.

  14. That said, don't say no when I offer you a show at Cal Shakes.

  15. The choices you make will define the kind of human you are. And the best actors, in the end, are really the best humans.

  16. Fear abounds in the real world. You will feel it. But as you've been taught, fear is a state of being. Not an action. Play your action.

  17. Vote.

  18. Vote Democrat.

  19. But be respectful of Republicans. They support the arts.

  20. Everything about you should be in your tool box. Your anger, your humor, your idiosyncrasies, your fetishes, your beliefs, your anxieties, your relationship with your parents (whom you should have forgiven by now), your fantasies. Just know when to use them. And when to leave them in the box.

  21. Don't underestimate the value of health insurance.

  22. Take dancing lessons till you can't move anymore.

  23. In TV, you become less valuable the older you get. In theater, it's the opposite.

  24. Travel.

  25. Remember to thank Melissa [Smith, conservatory director] and Carey [Perloff, artistic director] if you win any awards.

  26. Finally: act.
Like I said, you don't have to take any of this advice. You are your own mentor now. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, "Courage is more exhilarating than fear. And in the long run, it's much easier."
You should be very proud of yourselves today. Good luck, good pluck, and good virtue to you all. Congratulations.
The opinions expressed on the A.C.T. blog do not necessarily reflect the views of A.C.T. or its staff. No expressed or implied opinions should be considered an endorsement or recommendation of any kind by A.C.T. or its staff.

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