The Choice is Yours

The Website is Slowly Coming Together, but the writing doesn’t stop. Here’s another little tidbit to hold you over until launch – Colin

I’m a sucker for a good courtroom scene. The overly-varnished oak, the lofty prose, the everyman attorney and his wronged client up against the smarmy wealthy prosecutor and his cadre of good ole boys…mmm. The problem is, it’s all bullshit. All of it. Nothing happens that way in court, right? New evidence is rarely allowed, the trial’s ruling can be appealed to a higher court, and people lie on the stand all of the time. So why are they so compelling?

Recently I was trying to find ways to talk bout how the Stoic principle of Reasoned Choice relates to acting. There were plenty of quotes I could pull from philosophers and acting teachers alike. Still, nothing ever came together in a way that felt useful. Anything I wrote was like a courtroom speech: it was pretty, it was lofty, much like a courtroom speech. AND THERE IT WAS! The connection I was looking for.

Courtroom scenes are compelling because they show us characters in impossible positions who must nevertheless make a choice. What choice they make isn’t as important as the fact that they do make one. Check these two out from WILDLY different periods.

Skip to 2:47 for the Good Stuff!

What I love about both of these scenes is that they put characters in impossible positions. Cordelia must lie to her father and gain a kingdom or be honest and lose everything. Tyrion must decide to accept his trumped-up death sentence or wade in and fight an unwinnable battle. Neither is in a desirable position, but each makes a desirable choice. Think about your own courtroom scene; would you actually have the guts to tell the truth if your death or banishment was assured because of it? Not likely. But these two do. How?

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it. Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.


Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher born into slavery and crippled by his master. He lived a difficult life but obviously tried to make the best of it regardless of circumstance. In Epictetus’ eyes, both Cordelia and Tyrion realize that — though everything has been taken away from them in a moment — they still have their reasoned choice. The can always choose their attitude towards the situation. Each reacts in a very different way — Cordelia with the quiet resilience of love, Tyrion with rage at an unjust world — but neither ever denies what is happening. They accept their fates and try to move forward despite the rulings.

I feel like we get too hung up on emotions and moods when we’re acting. You can pull out all of the clichés at this point: mood is doom spelled backward, it’s acting not feeling, etc. I hate all of them, but they have a point. We ignore the actions we can take that produce an emotion, and become hung up on the emotion itself. I get it; we’re humans too. We worry about doing a good job or being asked to return or receiving praise. But there’s a better, more heroic way to look at it.

Every time you get on stage, you should look at it like the character is put on trial. Their decisions are judged not only by the other characters onstage but by the audience, just like in a courtroom. We talk about raising the stakes until they’re life-and-death, just like the stakes often are in a courtroom. We’re bound by specific rules and principles that we only break if the cause is merited, just like in a courtroom. So, instead of worrying about the effect you’re having, try to put your character in the shoes of someone like Cordelia or Tyrion. You are placed in a situation where you only have a few paths to choose from, and they all suck, but hey, you have a choice! Make it.

Clearing the Air

Before I begin anything lofty, like a Stoic acting blog, I need to get a few things off my chest. This isn’t therapy. This isn’t the annual airing of grievances. This is an honest-to-God attempt to rationalize why writing about two things I love is so fucking hard to do. So if you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’d like to share my tale with you.

About 5 years back, I graduated from a Master’s program in Acting at UC-Irvine. If you know me, you’ll know this because I talk about it all of the time. I had brilliant classmates, I received fantastic training and — despite a few setbacks here and there — I felt ready to start my career as a professional actor in Los Angeles. Jump ahead six months and find me in a hospital in Glendale, not knowing what happened and not knowing who to call. Apparently, I had a seizure on the sidewalk while walking back from the grocery store, and a good Samaritan called me an ambulance. I have epilepsy that is brought on by periods of incredibly high stress, drinking, and sleep deprivation. Trying to live in that city alone while struggling to pay my rent, let alone meet people or find a fulfilling job, must have checked the box on all 3. After a few more months of the same struggle, I threw in the towel by moving back to my hometown of Evansville, Indiana.

When I first arrived in Evansville, I expected it to be a brief stay (6 months tops). Still, I didn’t realize how broken and skittish I’d actually become from my stay in LA. I had trouble leaving my parents’ basement for work, and I didn’t take the initiative to save money or apply myself. I wound up having to get an apartment of my own in Evansville. At the time, I saw this as a significant defeat. I was 26-year-old Master’s Graduate waiting tables in my hometown while my friends were pursuing their dreams. Still, I wasn’t giving up quite yet. I started looking for teaching opportunities, but as you might suspect, theatre opportunities are scant in a town of 120,000 people. Eventually, I found my way to a few theatre troupes in the area and started performing again. I rediscovered my love for acting for the first time in years, and I flung myself at it as much as possible. Still, something wasn’t sitting right.

I started to see somebody, eventually blossoming into a full-fledged relationship — we even moved in together! — and things were beginning to take shape. Deep down, however, the shape they were taking wasn’t sitting right with me. I had this fabulous, life-altering experience in school, yet I was doing nothing to make a career with all of this training. I tried to branch out to other cities to audition, finding a modicum of success, but not enough to sustain myself. I started teaching at a local university, still one of the proudest 4 months I’ve ever had. Still, even that crumbled after a time. Eventually, the relationship collapsed too.

This is where the story takes an upturn. Amidst all of this, I met the love of my life. Despite some chaos at the start, my life took on a new perspective, and I saw friends that I hadn’t considered myself worthy of. I realized that I’d been hiding for years out of fear of failure and running from my past mistakes, unable to fully engage with the life I’d envisioned for myself when I undertook my training as an actor. In this spirit, we decided to move to Los Angeles, although it’s more accurate to say I chose to move with her as LA was already in her plans. I was terrified. Visions of sidewalks and alcohol and pits of depression steadily flooded my memory, and I questioned whether this was the “right” move for me. I looked at all of the happiness I had recovered in the year prior and the overwhelming fucking love I have for this woman and said, “fuck it, let’s do it.”

February 2020 rolled around, we had a remarkable going away party that I will remember until my dying breath. I hadn’t quite realized the impact I’d made on those people in the 4 years I’d called Evansville home again. The party filled me with joy that I’d built this thing up and the goodbyes with melancholy that I was leaving for a dream, but I knew the dream’s call was too strong, and I’d be an old man filled with regret if I didn’t chase it.

Jump ahead another month. My partner and I were killing it in Los Angeles; she was booking auditions and commercials while I found a job at a brewpub that I loved. We went on adventures to museums, visited my old stomping grounds at Irvine, helped a professor’s husband move his voiceover studio, even caught the occasional midnight movie or Taco Truck. Money was tight; we were concerned about getting an apartment, but the plan was actually working. I’d returned to LA, and things hadn’t fallen apart!

Then Coronavirus struck. In a saga too long to tell here, our AirBnB evicted us with only 3 hours to pack and nowhere to go. We decided that it would be best to stay with my Mom in Austin to wait it out and proceeded to haul ass across the desert, fearing that Texas would shut down before we got there. We made it in once piece — me wearing the same clothes I’d had on for 3 days, her exhausted from a 22-hour-day at the start — and hoped that it would be over soon.

Now it’s August. My car is still full of boxes and clothes that I packed in Evansville in February, I have no job or employment opportunities readily available to me, my partner and I have no idea when we can start chasing our dreams again. But y’know what? I’m still fucking breathing. I get up every damned day, drag my ass out of bed, go swimming, and sit down to write, read, and think my way through this pandemic.

I don’t tell this story to garner pity or attention, I tell it to get it off my chest and own it. The last 5 years have been incredibly difficult for me, and I’ve persisted through a lot, but I’ve never felt like I had a chance to thrive or pursue the career I dreamed of. I hope that writing this blog will start a conversation about the perseverance it takes to be an actor or creative of any kind. My story is just one of many, of that I’m positive. Our lives as artists aren’t straightforward in the first place, and the current crisis doesn’t make it any more clear-cut, but that doesn’t mean we can just “give up.” We have to wake up every day and commit to who we are. Let me be the first: I’m an actor, I’m a Stoic, and I’d love to share those two with you. Let’s start this journey together.