Acting Life – T. Hartke


“What am I doing?”

“Acting. Act for me.”

“Well I wasn’t given a script.”

“How many times do I have to explain, there is no script. There are no cameras or an audience.”

“Then how is this acting? What’s the point?”

“Acting is more than giving a show, performing for the masses. Acting is a pure art form and one cannot truly indulge in actual acting unless it’s done for themselves.”

“But I’m not acting for myself, I’m acting for you.”

“Well just act like it’s for yourself.”

“Can you give me some pointers?”

“Well you’ve got the stage and a bottled up mouth; how about a monologue?”

“A monologue on what? Like a personal anecdote that has some direct subtext and reveals underlying details about my character?”

“Too cliche. Do something realistic.”

“Ok, man, you’re being impossible to work with. You drag me out here in bumfuck nowhere, telling me I won this acting part. I’ve been here for an hour and have yet to see a cast, production crew, how do I know you’re not some sicko trying to rape and kill me?”

“Rape and kill you? Now that would make a great plot, wouldn’t it?”

“Don’t test me, man. I need some context.”

“That would be too easy. Movies often don’t tell you what’s going on, you’re just thrown right in and you figure it out yourself. So maybe if this act is played out, then you’ll finally realize what’s going on.”

“Life isn’t a tv show, that’s not how this works. Tv shows follow cliches and tropes, character extremes, and absurdities. You ever see someone in a tv show sit on the couch and watch tv for 6 hours? No. But that shit happens in life. It’s just extremely boring. Life is boring, you can liven it up all you want by pretending it follows a sitcom format just to find some solace by trying to piece together this chaotic and decaying world, but I won’t have any part in it.”

“I believe what you’re saying, the world is hectic and undetermined. But can’t we just relax for a moment and have some fun? You seem so hypocritical of television when you, yourself, are an actor.”

“See, I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to get me to perform a personal anecdote, an exposition as to what my character’s flaws are, what his opinions are, and what his name is.”

“I mean if your name hasn’t been revealed yet then it’s probably not important.”

“My character is important! He’s the only one in the show! Look around, man. Nobody is here except for you and I.”

“Doesn’t that make me a character, too?”

“No, are you new to this? You’re the director, the director can’t also be an actor.”

“Why not?”

“Because the director is backstage, managing people and making sure the crew is doing everything perfectly. He’s not filmed.”

“Well what if there was an actor playing a director in a role?”

“Then yeah, that makes sense.”

“Well that’s me.”


“Come on, give me a story. It can be completely made up. How will I know if you’re lying?”

“Ok fine. Let me think… Once, when I was little, nine years old, I had sort of an existential crisis per-se. It felt like everything was a lie, I didn’t know who to trust. My parents were Santa Claus, the Easter bunny, who else could they be? I was outraged and told my whole class at school, making the whole class burst into tears. Truth hurts, I almost felt empowered from this rebellion. I was called down to the principal’s office with a smile on my face and prideful as fuck. Upon getting this news, my dad grabbed me by the ear, dragged me home, and spanked me, telling me that I was ‘an ungrateful little shit.’ I felt so trapped, I was stuck with these oppressive monsters with no way of rebelling.”



“I could tell that story was fake from the very beginning.”

“No, man. It was actually true.”

“And let me guess, that incident brought upon years of distrust and lack of authority, ultimately ruining your relationship with your parents and weary on trusting others in a relationship.”

“Well I mean…”

“Ha! This whole time I’ve been wanting you to perform for me, yet you’ve been living in this role your whole life. That’s hilarious.”

“Isn’t that life though? Aren’t we all just living in an acting role, playing ourselves? And everything that happens is just merely another plot element, revealing and adapting traits about the main character? Shit happens in life and we just have to go through it and we are changed in the end.”

“Weren’t you just saying that the world isn’t a tv show?”

“Well yeah but like, it’s different.”

“Different? That’s what we’re doing here, I’m glad we’re finally on the same page.”

“Ok man sure. Now what does that even mean?”

“Now that means the viewer is comfortable with us and can learn our names. Your name is Michael from Albuquerque and I’m David from Buffalo.”

Michael: “But Michael isn’t actually my name, and I’m not from Albuquerque.”

David: “Your character’s name is, though.”

Michael: “I thought my character was me!”

David: “No you’re the actor.”

Michael: “Is David your real name?”

David: “No, it’s my actor’s name.”

Michael: “Ugh fine, man. Whatever. Where do we go from here?”

David: “Tell me more about your character.”

Michael: “You’ve given me no background on Michael’s character.”

David: “So tell me, Michael: how many children do you have?”

Michael: “None I uh, never got married.”

David: “Wrong, you’ve got two beautiful daughters, one named Holly age 7, the other is Abigail age 3. You lost your wife shortly after Abigail was born. Not a day goes by when you don’t long for her; you pray and pray for God to give you strength. Strength for the children, you desperately want them to live normal lives but that’s beyond the question without a mother and being raised by a father that’s deranged with anxiety-driven depression. You’ve ran out of tears, ran out of hope, ran out of reason to live any more besides for the children. How do you get out of bed in the morning, Michael?”

Michael: “I uh, it’s hard. I guess I like to think of it like she’s still with me. Any interaction you make with others, David, leaves an impact on your heart. My late wife, bless the woman, still lives inside me and guides me each and every day. My children, Holly and Alexandria–”

David: “Abigai.l”

Michael: “Holly and Abigail are works of beauty. Living embodiments of my love. They get me through. I don’t need anyone else: fuck everyone else, fuck my parents, my sister, my friends, fuck God himself. The only God I need is the heart that pumps blood and gives me life. My heart has been broken, shattered, mended, and rebuilt. The people that I hold dear to me are the ones who have built it. Nothing can change that.”

David: “Have you always felt this way, Michael?”

Michael: “I’ve given it thought. Years of forced religion has truly ruined me. Parents are insane pretentious Catholics while my siblings turned into rebellious smug atheists. Holidays are always quite the yelling fest, believe me.”

David: “Do you love your family?”

Michael: “What? Of course I do, well I mean I prefer staying in uh, Albuquerque, rather than at my folks. I appreciate everything they’ve done for me for sure.”

David: “Have holly and Abigail changed your opinion on them?”

Michael: “Well yeah, parenting ain’t easy. I’d do anything for my beautiful daughters and I imagine my parents feel the same for me.”

David: “How would your parents feel about your drug abuse?”

Michael: “Drug abuse? Ha, I haven’t done any drugs since I smoked pot back in college.”

David: “Yes, the drug abuse. You never called it ‘abuse,’ you hated when people used that word. Drugs never seemed like a problem for you, you would just roll one up at parties sometimes. Then it turned into more casual usage than recreational. You can’t remember the first time you did cocaine, all that mattered was when you could do it next. Uppers, downers, smoke this, snort that, next thing you knew you were passed out with a needle in your arm.”

Michael: “OK when was this? Before or after my wife died?”

David: “Good lord, Michael. You don’t even remember OD’ing on heroin that one time? You’ll never be the same after all those drugs, pal.”

Michael: “OK, OK, I had a problem. I did rehab, met my beloved, and it’s like life completely started again.”

David: “Do you still think about those days? Ever miss the tingling rush that accompanied the line of coke?”

Michael: “Well, those times started out fun. Adventuring into that world was new and exciting; what they taught me in therapy still is in my head until this day.  Whenever I think of inserting that needle again I think of how much I hated myself back then. How shitty and unhealthy I was at all times. I didn’t have motivation or any other desire. I remember one time I uh, started selling my possessions on the internet to buy Xanax and Oxy’s from my dealer at the time. Even sold my childhood collection of Hot Wheels cars. It felt like I traded in the last part of me that was pure. Y’know as a kid learning about drugs I never knew that it was like actually a thing, I guess I just figured it was something people only struggled with and died from in movies. How naive and also ironic.”

David: “You didn’t do any drugs, Michael. I just wanted to hear what you had”

Michael: “Ugh seriously, man? I even had that whole monologue on spot. How was it?”

David: “More believable than that Santa Claus story, that’s for sure.”

Michael: “This is so stupid: if my character didn’t actually do drugs then what you’re actually doing is just confusing the audience.”

David: “What audience? Michael, we’ve been alone this whole time, don’t you remember?”

Michael: “Ugh! Regardless if there’s an audience, if you give your character fake background concepts then he won’t undergo any necessary developments. The character remains stagnant and lackluster. There needs to be some underlying dynamic; he’s in love with someone, he’s addicted to gambling, anything to humanize him and make him more than just a figure on a stage.”

David: “But you are just a figure on a stage. You’re looking into it too deeply, Michael. You’re trying to tell me that acting is convincing people you aren’t acting, are you not?”

Michael: “Yeah, I suppose I am!”

David: “So isn’t reality the truest form of acting?”

Michael: “David, you’re hurting my head. What is it you want me to do, act as my character, be myself, or act like me acting to be my character?”

David: “You’re asking too much of me, I’m just the director here.”

Michael: “And what is it that you’re directing, exactly? Shouldn’t I, the actor, be told what to do from you, the director?”

David: “Michael, I told you this. I’m merely an actor playing the director in this movie.”

Michael: “That makes entirely no sense. Why the hell am I still here? This whole time you’ve been talking in goddamn circles, being vague and confusing as hell. I think you’re acting this way because you have no idea what you’re doing, and hence neither do I. None of us know what we’re doing, we’re just here on this fucken stage we call earth and play whatever role we feel that is best fitting. Sometimes we can’t even do that and end up being some side character or fucken stage prop. That’s just how shit is, man. You think I wanted to be where I am now five years ago? Fresh out of NYU I had high hopes for myself, I knew it was a stretch and quite a cliche but goddmamit I told myself I wouldn’t stand to live my life without seeing my face plastered all over the stupid, goddamn fucking city, advertising this big blockbuster. My wife, my beautiful wife, goddammit why did she have to go… how the fuck did you know that shit about me? Holly and Abigail are my everything and all that I can take pride in now is the unsuccessful shitty actor that I turned out to be. I guess shit just goes on, man. You put on your adult pants, cry a little bit, and pretend like you’re okay with it. We’re never taught that as kids because that shit’s fucked, man. How can I look into my daughters’ eyes and tell them to accept adequacy? And you. You sit here, acting all high-and-mighty, pretending to be the director so that you can outline and scope out whatever your life has become. You understand cinema and how stories go in fiction, but you cannot accept the fact that you can’t understand life. Yes, acting mimics reality in certain ways, but it’s not that easy!”

David: “I-I-I don’t know what to say, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. Out of the millions I’ve made from directing movies–”

Michael: “Millions?!?”

David: “Yeah, out of those millions of dollars I’ve made from those movies, it still feels like there’s a great missing gap inside me. I can’t grasp it, it’s like I’ve felt it all my life. I’ve tried to fill it with friendship, but I always just thought of my friends as actors in the supporting role that is my life’s movie. My wife, my children, all just acting like they love me. That sounds abnormal, but I guess I can’t explain it; I’ve felt loved by them all, but in my head there’s just something that wants to believe I’ve been filmed all my life and that the person that is filming me is going to finish the movie and tell me what a magnificent actor I am. I’m never who I actually am because I’m always trying to be this character that my movie’s about. But then I end up hating myself because if the movie’s about me then I should be acting like I’m myself. Which is a paradox in itself because myself is acting like the character which plays me in the movie about me. Now you understand why you are so confused. I have been this confused for my entire stupid fucking life so please: Give me an answer, what is it we are exactly doing here?”

Michael: “Listen, David. I’m no fancy analyst or nurse or therapist or whatever the flying hell you need, but would it comfort you in thinking that this person that’s watching your life is God in some form or another? We all use some supernatural being as comfort in different ways. What I told you earlier about how I interpret god is completely true, and you know, it really gets me through the day.”

David: “What if your god is wrong?”

Michael: “What if my god is wrong? Dude God can be in whatever shape, size, dimension, what have you, but at the end of the day nobody knows. It’s kinda beautiful in that way. The congregation of religions are so fucked in that way, though. Condemning others for having a belief that is just as likely to be true as anything else is so beyond me. Why can’t we all just live and love?”

David: “If my god is my god then my god is the right and only god. Because my god is directing my story and everyone that exists on this earth are all just actors playing their roles in my life and once I die, the world will like the roll of credits for my movie.”

Michael: “woah, what the fuck? No. That was an absurd direction. That makes no sense. What makes you think you’re the only one in this movie?”

David: “You said God can be whatever we want him to be, and I told you that’s how I feel.”

Michael: “Uhh maybe that’s not your answer then.”

David: “Yeah that’s what I’ve come to realize. I’m sorry I brought you here, it was quite selfish of me.”

Michael: “I’m sorry, David. I really am. For some reason I feel a great amount of empathy for you. As bizarre as your thoughts are, they all seem kinda familiar somehow. I don’t know, maybe you’re not all that different, maybe just like an extreme? Maybe I can’t help you with an answer and maybe you’ll never get an answer to who you are and what you’re doing. What will happen then?”

David: “I’ll die.”

Michael: “What? Die?”

David: “Michael, I don’t think you realize that my entire life is a lie. I’ve lied to myself so well for so many years that I do not know what reality is any more. Even in this current conversation I’ve fully convinced myself that my name is David, and I could really care less about what your actual name is, besides Michael.”

Michael: “Holy shit, you had me convinced I actually was Michael from Albuquerque.”

David: “yeah, I have that affect on people. I just don’t know how I can continue. My life didn’t start out as a comedy, but you bet your ass that it is now. Complete shit show. What’s fucked is that I’m sane enough to realize how crazy I’ve become. Hell, at one point I convinced myself that I loved my family and that I wasn’t deranged completely. The only thing I’ve never been able to escape is my lack of emotion. My happiest memory? I guess I would tell you when my son was born, how his beautiful blue eyes glistened with pure innocence. The contentment and warmth in my heart I felt when I first held him was incredible and like none other. All of which is bullshit. Could be completely equivalent to a transcending shit which refreshingly cleared my bowels completely. I didn’t feel anything then and I sure didn’t feel anything when I took the little boy’s life.”

Michael: “David stop, you can’t convince me that you killed.. that you killed your own child.”

David: “What’s it matter? You don’t know if I’ve been lying this whole time or not. I know you, Michael. Besides from your wife and children. The second I looked at you I could tell everything about you. The way you hold yourself when you stand and the expression on your face when you talk about things you care about is something actually incredible. You are truly good at hiding the fact that you were cheating on your wife before she died.”

Michael: “H-how? David, I loved my wife. Stop trying to convince me otherwise you sick fuck! What’s stopping me from beating the living pulp out of you, huh?”

David: “Because of your interest in me. My enriched complexity is something which fascinates you and also turns you on. I saw your erection the second I gave the monologue a couple pages ago.”

Michael: “Stop fucking with my head! Why are you doing this? I’m getting the fuck out of here!”

David: “Do you even know where you are right now? You walk away to the backstage, yet there’s no door. Sounds like you’re living my life: confused with no escape. Even ask Timothy over there.”

Timothy: “We’re all lost, really. What’s really fucked is when we finally realize the extent to which we are lost. Are you lost right now, Michael?”

Michael: “What the fuck! David, did you just write him into the goddamn story? Where the fuck did this asshole come from? Who are you and what the blazing hell is going on? I can’t find a goddamn exit here. David, let me out or I’ll tell the police.”

Timothy: “Mike, Mike, Mike. It’s cool, man. I’m the plot-twist third character introduced to rather help or greatly deter the protagonist.”

Michael: “…. well?”

Timothy: “I feel like even if I told you it could completely change at any given moment. Shit’s fucked, bro. It’s like betrayals upon betrayals, some for the good, some for the better, damn it’s a wild story that we’re living in, isn’t it!”

Michael: “You’re just as fucked as David!”

Timothy: “David’s really weird but he’s just playing with you, bro. The exit’s over there, it’s been there the whole time but honestly I wish you’d stay. I’ll let you know what’s actually going on, ignoring David’s convoluted, crazy-ass.”

Michael: “Dude I know right? Have you been listening to this asshole go on and on about how life is a movie? He’s completely mental, he got me scared off my ass a minute ago.”

Timothy: “I know. That’s why I came to calm you down, bro. Listen, now that David’s gone–”

Michael: “Davids gone? What the actual fuck?”

Timothy: “now that David’s gone, it’s cool now. No acting, no acting like an actor acting about your life or whatever weird ass bullshit he was talking about. Tell me your actual name.”

Michael: “Michael. He was trying to convince me it was some random name and that I was gay for him and some freaky shit.”

Timothy: “Are you?”

Michael: “Am I what?”

Timothy: “Are you gay for him?”

Michael: “God no, oh my god. What the hell, man?”

Timothy: “Just checkin’, bro. Now Mike, are you aware that you’ve been on camera this whole time?”

Michael: “Oh shit, really? I kinda had a feeling, but I mean David had me freaking out, man.”

Timothy: “I totally understand. Mike, I’m so incredibly impressed with your performance. I’m talking every word you gave was just, so damn real. I can easily say that was the best performance I have ever seen.”

Michael: “Well uh, thanks Tim. I gotta admit at one point I wasn’t really acting–”

Timothy: “what? Bro, for 31 seasons you’ve been acting day in and day out, never missing a beat. What really got me hooked was the low 20’s years and the dark descent into drugs. I remember biting my nails I was so scared for you. Your story is amazing, I just can’t get over it. It was so intense and emotional, yet so damn real. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. After all the awards, the money, the fame, everyone kept saying you’d become washed up. Bro I always told them you was that good. You’re my hero, after watching you gain courage to not kill yourself after your wife died in season 28, it gave me the courage to go back to school. Look at me now, I’ve graduated with a degree in Business Management and now I’m working at a business trades company making more than I could imagine. Man I owe you my everything. You seem so shocked, what’s up?”

Michael: “Uh, my, what? Tim, please tell me you’re fucking with me. Tim, please. I’m hyperventilating I, I, I need to leave. See my kids.”

Timothy: “Mike, please, before you leave. Can I get an autograph?”

Michael: “Get the fuck away from me. I’m delirious, I don’t know what to believe any more. Tell me, no, show me. Tell me where the cameras are. The cameras. I want to see them. I need to see the truth. Wait, are you who David was talking about? Are, are you God, the god that was always watching me? Are you here to tell me what a great job I’ve done?”

Timothy: “Ha, there are no cameras, Mike. As conceited as you are, no I’m not God. As much as I know how much that would give you gratitude, I will sadly say that your life is not and never was being filmed. As much as you strove to be special and desired to have a greater purpose in life, you were wrong. We’re all overwhelmingly unimpressive in our lives. Anything we ever do is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. All is lost. Every second spent working, driving, fucking, showering, all time wasted.”

Michael: “You’re wrong.”

Timothy: “Whether or not me or David are wrong, it doesn’t matter anyways. Nobody’s gonna read this script, nobody’s gonna see or hear anything we accomplished come a hundred years from now. Every breath you’ve had is purely wasted oxygen. That’s all the human race is, a competition for who can waste the most expensive oxygen.”

Michael: “Fuck you, my life may be meaningless compared to others. Maybe everything I’ve accomplished or have striven to accomplish is futile, but you know, this life is my story. I am the actor and the director and the audience. I control the story. Yeah there may be twists and turns, ups and downs, but that’s what inevitably turned my character into me. I don’t need you or David to tell me what I’m doing or who I am. My life is me and what I enjoy doing is being me. Acting as me, playing the role that is me. I watch as my actions play a vital role in the story line that is my life. I can recollect memories, relive sadness, happiness, embarrassment, triumph all over again. When my story ends, I will finally be able to conclude my very beautiful movie. It will be perfect in my eyes because it is the purest form of art. Since this is my movie, I think I will be changing my name back to Travis now. And I think I’ll have both my children at my side now.”

Timothy: “You can’t just do that.”

Travis: “Watch me. Kids, let’s go home. Oh, and David.”

David: “What? How? What are you doing?”

Travis: “Thank you, David, you sick son of a bitch. I don’t know who you are and what kind of written-out play we’re in right now, but I believe it’s time for us to bow to the audience and say goodbye.”


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