The Lie of ‘Never change who you are.’

The Lie of ‘Never change who you are.’

Protean Personality
Protean Personality (Photo: FeatheredTar)

One of the core, central beliefs by which I live is this: that all human beings are malleable. That I, and all of us, are capable of change, of growth, and of discovery, of making fundamental shifts in our worldview and in how we relate to others and ourselves. I’m a junkie for self-help books, websites, and audioguides ranging from C. S. Lewis’s Christian conundrums to Marc and Angel’s motivational posts to Morty Lefkoe’s limiting beliefs to Steve Pavlina‘s open discussions on everything from worklife to domination-submission. To anyone with an eye for how a person can improve.

In my own, personal story (elaborated on more substantially here), the single most important moment in my life was a time when I was in church, ten years old, with tear-filled eyes, my head down at my knees. At that time, I said to God, ‘I don’t like who I am. Help me become someone else, someone better.’ After that day, I looked to the people around me and observed what I admired about them, then sought to instill those values within myself. Courage. Humour. Honesty. Openness. Community-mindedness. Counsel. Extroverted exuberance.

When I tell this story to people – my origin story, essentially – the most common reaction I receive is this:

Well, you shouldn’t ever have to change who you are.’


(If you know me in person, you know it’s exceedingly unusual for me to use such strong language. If you don’t know me and don’t consider this word as ‘strong language’, please replace it with a suitably surprisingly bold word of your choosing.)

Don’t change? Bullshit. I say, change who you are. Constantly. Discover the very core qualities that make you, you, and on a deep, gut level, grok them, understand them, and then decide whether or not you want them as a foundation for who you are. Reevaluate. Over and over again. Everything from how often you smile and laugh, to how you spend your time waiting in grocery line-ups, to what you believe is fundamentally true about human beings, to how you interact with strangers, to what makes you afraid, to how honest you are, to whether or not you’re as good a friend, lover or acquaintance as you could be… constantly identify ways to grow, prune, build, and level. Then do it. Change.

Be the Change

It’s not surprising I entered the world of theatre. Here, I can wear the skins of people with different intentions, worldviews, tempos, and rhythms to my own. Sometimes while exploring a character I’ll find an aspect of them that satiates me on a deep, gut-level – a whole-body grokking – and decide to try to hold onto that aspect for myself. Iago (see here, here, here, and here) helped me explore the intensely gratifying thrill of untethered ambition. As Donald (The Boys In The Band), I discovered the honest love behind unconditional loyalty. As William (William vs The World), I spelunked into the dark world of how a person can use self-delusion to shield oneself from loneliness, and into the desperation that kicks in when those illusions disappear. Malvolio (see here, here, here, and here) taught me how to use heartbreak as a powerful driving force, and performing improv taught me to trust not only my own gut instincts, but also those of whomever with whom I am sharing a moment. Over and over again theatre has helped me continue to shape and mold the very nature of who I am, cutting into the marble, adding slops of wet clay, drilling and firing and smelting and blooming.

One of my other core beliefs is this: I respect anyone who is trying to better themselves, be they an addict, my mother or even a former serial killer. We can all be better than who we are; we are all works in progress, always. That doesn’t mean we are not good, honest, eager, excellent people in the here and now. What it means is that we’re human. Malleable. Full of hope and opportunity.

Whether you want to or not, we all change. It happens. No one remains the exact same person throughout the course of their life, or heck, throughout the course of a year, or a month. What we can do, however, by admitting our protean possibilities, is direct that change for the better, be that through eliminating beliefs that are hindering, through shifting your perspective of yourself and of the world, through adopting new practices and personality goals such as honesty and openness, or through pursuing an innumerable other opportunities to grow, weed, cut, feed, nurture, and breathe.

There are many reasons someone might tell you to never change who you are. Perhaps they’re worried you don’t feel self-worth in who you currently are. Perhaps they worry you’ll trip up somewhere along your personal journey and get lost. Perhaps they’re afraid you’ll become someone other than their expectations of you. Perhaps they worry you’ll leave them behind. Perhaps it’s just their way of saying ‘I love you for who you are now.’ But I would add to each of these that anyone who tells you to never change who you are, refuses to see how amazing-brilliant-marvelous your future self will be.

Keep consciously changing,
Andrew Wade

Othello Day 4: Post-Closing Second Thoughts

Andrew Wade as Iago
Andrew Wade as Iago. Red eye-liner and whiteface.

All projects have at least three steps – pre-production, creation, and evaluation. Gather resources, use them, think about the effectiveness of what you’ve just made.

The third stage is where all the damned insecurities can creep in.

Tuesday night was the final night of our scant four evening run. Four nights, ~300 audience members, ~1,800.00$ raised for the Victoria Shakespeare Society. The biggest role of my life thus far. Over in four nights. I could have played him for months.

And what a marvelous experiment it was, to prove to myself that I COULD play such a significant role, Iago, the character with the third most lines in all of Shakespeare (still a lot, even in our ~2.25 hour long production). The character Samuel Coleridge describes as having “motiveless malignity” (which is not a very easily playable consideration for an actor). Such a hugely physical, and even, yes, sexual role, to stir up Roderigo‘s lust for Desdemona and Othello‘s epilepsy over Cassio‘s supposed actions. And by and large, according to the audience reactions and my own overall impression, I pulled it off.

My wonderful stage manager, April Fortin, on several occasions remarked that while all our patrons enjoyed the show, most of the comments she received consisted of complimenting how unsettling, two-faced, and, yes, evil, my performance was as Iago. Several people commented on how great they found it that I could twist into such hatred, then resettle myself and turn around as honest, honest, Iago, friend to all. One patron said I was better than the Iago that played at Bard on the Beach.

I’m listing all these compliments to build up my ego for what I am exploring next: the second thoughts.

But Andrew, all those comments on your portrayal being evil – Surely that meant you were missing the humanity of his character? After all, don’t all villains believe what they’re doing to be right?

Well, yes, and no. Iago specifically acknowledges that what he is doing is Villainy (“Hell and night shall bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light!”), is devilwork (“When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, as I do now”), is evil. But I do think he believes what he is doing is right, just that he absolutely acknowledges that what he is doing is both right and so very, very immoral. My Iago really did feel everything he is putting Othello through, really does feel he lost his wife to this savage thing the moment she and Othello copulated together. So I don’t feel I played the mustache-twirling melodrama side too much, though there is certainly a glee he feels when his cunning plans come into effect. Plus, with make-up like what you see next to this post (yes, that’s me), there’s no getting around it in the design of the show.

But, Andrew, what about that line you misinterpreted, where Iago’s mention of “my lady” refers to Desdemona, not Emelia, his wife? Doesn’t that ruin your whole motivation, remove the proof that Othello had slept with her? How dare you continue performing with a mistaken line reading!

Faith, that was not so well, but I maintain that Iago still felt everything he puts Othello through, even on the mere suspicion, even if it is never proved. And yes, I could have changed how I was performing that scene, but I actually like the miscommunication, with he and Othello referring to two different people. I’m not sure what a difference changing that meaning would make for the audience.

Weren’t you playing against a white Othello? Does that make your play racist?

(Note: I never said second thoughts always made sense. They just linger.) Quite right, our Othello was white, which is why our design pushed everyone else into white-face and black clothes while he wore furs with tribal make-up. Does this ruin the integrity of our production? No, certainly not. The important aspect of Othello’s character is not that he’s black; it’s that he’s an outsider who gains power, a military man with a savage bent within him. Sure, we had to edit a few lines, and a few others make a little less sense, but I don’t feel bad that we went ahead with the show even after no black people auditioned (Victoria, BC, Canada has a very, erm… white theatre community). It’s a powerful show that deserves to be performed, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

But, Andrew, couldn’t you have found better blocking? I’m sure you weren’t getting lit right for some of those scenes, especially when you chose to roam about the stage.

For a show being put on in a non-theatre designed space, without a tech rehearsal, where the lights were still being put up with half an hour to go before the first performance, I think we did pretty darn well, thank you very much. I actually got quite a kick out of the improvisational element of moving to find the light on my face for certain moments, and I appreciated being kept more in the dark for some of my roaming asides.

Aren’t you worried about Iago creeping into your real personality? You were rooming with him for a couple of months, after all…

Well, I did type ‘damned’ near the beginning of this post, but no, I’m really not worried. I feel quite centred in myself. In fact, if anything, I’d say being Iago helped me better connect my body to my emotions in general, day-to-day life, and I certainly discovered the benefit of proper vocal warm-ups before doing anything exerting on that front.

But… but… but… you’re not talented, you… stupid… person!

Okay, insecurities, I can see you’re running out of steam, so I’ll let you go now.

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Othello, Day 2: Acting when Blanking

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othe...
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I am an analytical man; I like to examine a problem from all its angles and determine a solution. In theatre, this leads to much quick pacing and minor hair-pulling the moment I get off a stage where things have gone wrong.

Our second performance was a strange night for theatre; it was the day of Canada’s gold medal hockey win and the olympic closing ceremonies, so we were peached by the attendance of our smaller crowd of ~40 people who emerged to see the show.

As an acting group, our energy seemed quite low – the dreaded second performance of any show always seems to bring with it a lessened enthusiasm for some reason, with less punch behind the lines and less spring in our steps.

This was also the performance where I completely blanked on two of my lines – two hefty paragraphs, rather, in two separate scenes, one before and one after the intermission. I can’t remember ever losing lines to such an extent in a performance.

Had it been one line, I may have dismissed it and simply resolved to go over the line in more detail the next day. After all, we managed to hide my first slip well enough, with myself improvising minor Shakespearean quips while waiting for my scene partner to figure out his next line and work it in. We went off the track a little while, but hopped back on, and  the audience seemed none the wiser.

Had it been two paragraphs in the same scene, I might have worried somewhat about my connection to that one moment, and delved further. But these were two different scenes, two different emotions, same sorry scene partner (my bad, Ryan). And the second blank wasn’t so aptly handled.

No, that time was a calamity, a definite blank, where I kept in character but had absolutely nothing to say, and for what felt like five minutes, but was probably fifteen seconds, I stared at Othello, helpless. And Ryan Levis’s eyes throbbed with “say your f***ing line. SAY YOUR F***ING LINE.” I don’t swear, but his eyes were darned profane.

My only salvage was to lean over to him as if whispering in his ear… so that he could feed me the beginning of my line by whispering in mine.

And so, backstage, with cast members telling me not to worry about it, I set about the mental ordeal of determining why this was happening. After all, I’m trained! I’m a professional, dagnammit! I had warmed up my body, warmed up my voice, read over my lines, rehearsed the fight scenes, gotten into character, into Iago‘s body, what else could it-  Ah. Right.

For such a complicated endeavor, so often acting comes back to basics. Why was I blanking on my lines? To paraphrase a sentence, sure, that may perhaps just be a memorization issue. But blanking, that situation where all words are stopped from your breath like a cork in the esophagus, where the scene disappears and sweat creases along your brow and the whole darn room is as silent as a dead toad and the other characters become other actors, staring at you with strained hope… that’s not memorization at all. That’s losing your objective.

In the scenes where I had blanked, I hadn’t focused on my objectives, on what I wanted in the scene, so when the lines stopped coming, there wasn’t that drive of why I am saying what I am saying that brings the next line on.

Amazingly, my non-theatre savvy friends in the audience didn’t realize anything had gone wrong, though a professional actor friend of mine, had. So for most people in the crowd, they had witnessed a dramatic pause, nothing more, and apparently had nothing but praise for my performance. Whew.

When I auditioned for this show, I decided to take it as a great learning challenge – the largest role with the most lines I have ever undertaken. Believe you me, I’m learning.

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Othello, Day 1: Creating an Active Audience

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Our opening night had a tremendous turn-out, over seventy people there to see the show and raising ~450$ in donations for the Victoria Shakespeare Society.

Energy ramped up considerably, to the point where the fights were verging on real, with myself finding it difficult to breathe in a couple of strangleholds, and I was also stabbed in the leg with a sword (left but a slight mark).

What this building energy resulted in for my acting was, surprisingly, that while I hit all my lines, specific words disappeared from my lips; I must have used at least 20 synonyms throughout the night, with lines switching from, for example, “What, shake you at that?” to “What, tremble you at that?”. But every scene was hit, and hit well.

It was also the first night we had ever used the lighting; we hadn’t been able to put them up for our rehearsals! But I naturally move to where the light strikes my face, so all was well there.

What really struck me (other than the sword) about the evening was my audience interactions. I must confess, I get such glee from acting as Iago and surprising audience members by, say, throwing them a cloak to hold, sitting down beside them and watching a scene, hiding amongst them, roaming behind their backs. It fills me with a radiant energy that carries me for hours.

This isn’t all self-indulgent, of course; I find it helps a play immensely by creating the nervousness of an actively-listening audience, keeps them on their toes, knowing that more is possible here in this space than, say, sitting in a movie theatre. That at any time I might, heaven forbid, interact with them. GASP!

It also sets up the stage as being Iago’s territory. This is far more his play than anyone else’s, and he speaks directly to the audience a great deal, keeping them as confidants to his plans and ploys, as friends for his wicked jokes. It is only natural to extend that branch further.

So if you plan on attending on Monday or Tuesday, be wary – I will not be acting at you; we share this play together.

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My most difficult role ever?

Cruise jumps on the couch during the taping of...
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Iago is stretching me to the brink. All the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years – concentrating on the breath and my objective, how to use an unusual theatre space and project my voice in a room that cuts against your volume… but the primary hurdle I’m facing is lines.

Iago speaks A LOT. As in, seemingly a third of the play is Iago, talking. For our cut of the script, anyway. And we’re supposed to be off-book by now, but I am far from it.

In my struggles, I am trying old and new methods. The old method of making sure I know what it is I’m saying, and why I’m saying it, still works. But I’ve also assembled cue cards per scene-ish part to help me through this (and potentially be cheat sheets before I go onstage, if need be), and I tried what is apparently the Tom Cruise method of recording one’s own voice reading the lines, and listening to that while reading the lines. This was potentially dangerous territory for me, the guy who needs to stop looking for ‘the right way the line sounds’, but I was willing to try anything to get these lines in my head.

Then I met with a former professor of mine, Ned Vukovic, who mentioned that he used to record all his cue lines. So I recorded myself saying everyone ELSE’S lines, turning the microphone off while I read my lines. I have been listening to the readings on my mp3 player and working to fill in the spaces with what I need to say. Thus far, it seems to be successful!

We’ve also just started this week to have a stage manager to get quite upset with the many times I call ‘line’, until I need to just go grab my script. I committed one of those actor errors, last Saturday, where my scene partner and I realized we didn’t have any of our lines down for some reason, and were left parroting half-sentences given to us by the stage manager for what felt like an hour but was probably ten minutes. I knew what was best for the rehearsal was for me to go and get my script, and my scene partner to do the same, but the whole experience was a slow torture, and I felt like that was exactly what I deserved.

Note to self/everyone: There’s never any need to torture yourself like that. We’re all working together to create something powerful, and negative masochistic feelings only get in the way of that. Accept what is what, and move on!

I’ve never had to learn this much before, and opening night is on the 27th. I am determined to be ready. I know Iago’s soul, I know his relationships, I know his motivations, I know his gut, and I know his libido. Just need to get the words.

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I am… IAGO!

Sir John Gilbert's 1849 painting: The Plays of...
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I have been cast in a student production of Othello! As IAGO! Absolutely thrilling and terrifying and everything inbetween! To get to play one of the great villains of Shakespeare… a challenge to say the least.

So – how to approach the largest role of my life? Well, one step at a time. We perform on the last two days of February and the first two days of March (in the Student Union Building here at UVic), so I’m giving myself until about February 10th to try and learn my lines, so I have time to focus on just the character. This means I need to be learning, at the current script cut, around 28 lines (in the script copy we have) a day. Hefty. Wish me luck!

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