Evalyn Hansen: Backstage

"There is no safety net and you are out there on the wire."

— Ian Swift, actor, San Francisco Bay Area

Evalyn Hansen: What is it that is unique about theater?

Ian Swift: I think it's something you don't do by yourself; it's something that you have to involve others in. Even if you are doing a one-man show, you still have a producer, a light crew, sound, whatever. It's a team effort. It's unique in that respect. It is a team sport. With painting, composing, writing — it's a solo thing.

What goes into theater is extraordinary. You come together to do a play, and it's like a bunch of folks put on an elevator. And the elevator gets stuck. And you are with these human beings for a very intense period of time, for five or six weeks of rehearsal. You see them almost on a daily basis. Theater also calls for putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Otherwise I don't think it makes for a good actor.

And so here you are, out there beating your chest, screaming, writhing on the floor, trying to be funny, trying to be sad, and emoting with your other fellow actors all around you. You spend some very intense time together. And you make all these wonderful vows, "Let's do lunch." "Let's have dinner after the show is over." And then the show opens. And again with teamwork, there is this terrific camaraderie. There are the cast parties. There is a real uniqueness, and connection at cast parties; the actors are intensely involved with one another. And then after this incredible experience, good and bad, it's over. In some cases you do, but many times you never see these actors again.

So there is really this intense time, which I think is so unique to theater. You all come together, the rehearsal process, you have the tension of the opening; you have the run, and then it all ends, and poof. And then a lot of actors move on to the next thing. You always wonder what happened to so-and-so. There really is this incredible intensity that you share: you come together ... and then it's all over. It's a communal effort, theater. It's a joint effort. It really is.

I find that directors like to work with a lot of the same people. It's very difficult for a director where he or she knows all these fellow actors and has to make these of difficult choices when they casting. It's not personal; it's just an artistic choice. It happens everywhere.

EH: What makes an actor?

IS: With acting: it doesn't matter whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. Even if you are an introvert you can be a very good actor, because you can hide behind that character. I was an introvert most of my high school and college life as I recall, very quiet and kept to myself. But when I was on the stage I felt that I came alive. And I think that is true for a lot of actors. It's a very insecure business. I think actors are very insecure people. Maybe it's because we feel we need to have the roles to support our persona, I don't know. (Yes, Dr. Freud, I'll be right with you.)

The thing you never get over is stage fright. I think it's normal. Because it's a tight rope, each night you go out before an audience. There is no safety net and you are out there on the wire. If you fall off, you fall, and all you can do is hang-on or cover-up. And many times the audience knows that you either have screwed up or something has screwed up or someone didn't make an entrance. There are things that do happen. Acting can be dangerous.