Life As A Three Act Play
“I was working with Father Basil Pennington, a Cistercian priest and monk. I was doing a program with him designed for people from various faiths who minister to others. In those discussions, what came up for a Baptist minister was that he felt that sometimes his emotions got in the way of his being able to be authentic and being able to act with some wisdom when he was working with people.
This made me think about the question of emotions. I have emotions, but at least at that time, I thought I did not have much to say about my emotions. They just happened to me, without being something I caused. So I got very interested in that. And I thought, actors get up on the stage, and if they are acting on the stage they are no good as actors. They have got to be not acting, when they are on the stage.
I have a friend, Sandy Robbins, who heads a highly respected school of theater in the United States. So I said, “Sandy, let’s get some actors together and find out what it is with these people that they can choose to be this or choose to be that.” Because somehow when they are really good at their craft, they really be it, they don’t just pretend it or act it. So Sandy and I worked together with some professional actors and acting coaches for three years, and I really learned something. The idiom is fabulous, as a metaphor for life.
John van Praag and the other classicists here tell us that the ancient Greeks started this all the way back in their time, not as an entertainment but as an access to self in life. One of the things that we do in the program Sandy and I developed is ask people for three days, rather than being themselves, to be someone else.
So if I were in the program, I would not be Werner, I would be an actor playing this character called Werner in a three-act play called “Werner’s Life.” Some very interesting things then happen. Each of us plays the script perfectly. We never make a mistake, not one moment. I played my past absolutely as the script was written. I was the best Werner you could possibly be; people even thought I was Werner. So, in this three-act play, the first act is one’s past. The second act is the current era of my life – we will talk more about that in a minute – and the third act is the future.
Now, we all agree that the script for the first act is over. You can’t change the script for the first act. There are lots of things you can do with the past, but you cannot change the script, nor can you change who you were in the past. You might do some analysis that gives you some insight into the script of the first act that you weren’t aware of while you were playing it. You might come up with some different interpretations, but you cannot change who you were.
Now let us talk about the script for the second act, the current era of my life. I like to think that I am writing the script as I go along. Some of it is automatic, but I can really decide who I am in the current era of my life, and I can decide how my life is going to go.
But I would like you to look at something with me. In a three-act play, the script for the second act absolutely must bridge between the first act and the third act. The script for the current year of my life cannot violate what happened in the first act of my life. It does not mean it has to be the same. There can be a transformation in the second act. But whatever happens in the current era of my life has to be a bridge between the first act and the third act.
I would like you to consider the possibility that, at least to some degree, the script for the current era of your life is already written, and it is already written in the sense that it has to get you to the third act. It has to make sense when the third act opens and unfolds. We’ll talk about the third act in a moment. I want to stay with the second act now. If you think about it, the second act is already written. That is, the current era of my life, the kind of life I lead, is already even more determined than simply having to be a bridge. It has got to make sense when the third act unfolds.
Think about it for yourself. If your third act is one of world recognition as an artist, there are certain things that are going to have to happen in the second act for that third act to be able to be played. The second act has to be consistent with that third act. I’ll give you the extreme example. If in the third act you are a world famous ballerina, there cannot be an accident in the second act in which you lose your legs. Whatever happens in the second act has to have made sense, given the third act, even if the third act is discontinuous. Remember the script for the first act is already written. The third act is the future into which you are living.” – Werner Erhard
A Presentation By Werner Erhard At The Eranos Conference
18 June 2006