By John Bredin
Is it better to be a professional actor or an actor in your own life? Can one be both? These are the existential themes that animate my new play, How to Be an Actor in Your Own Life, which hopes for a Spring 2017 mounting on Broadway.
Broadway?! “This guy must be nuts,” you’re probably thinking. But am I any more nuts than a real estate developer/reality show star who dreamed of being president? But I digress. Back to my play. My one-man show may be the first, ever, to look at a crucial concept in educational philosophy called ‘agency’—a category that blends the personal with the political.
What exactly does ‘agency’ mean? Literally, it means “to be an actor in your own life, to speak truth, and to speak with power.” People with agency are empowered to move through the world, freely and unstuck, making choices and ACTING on them. It gives you the courage to speak your truths boldly, to say: “This is who I am, this is what I think, and this is how I feel.”
That brings me to Greenwich Village—the historical capital of Bohemia. It is also the capital of Agency. These magical streets which incubated the voices of Eugene O’Neill, Woody Allen, and Bob Dylan, also educated ME to speak up, speak out, and to go for my biggest dreams.
As the son of a former actor, Jack Bredin, I kinda had a head start. His mom, Doris Bredin, was brought to America by the famous actress Blanche Walsh—a real life fairy tale revealed in my play. Walsh played a key role in forming the original Hollywood star system. She was also the original advocate for an American National Theater—a low-cost serious theater for the masses—an idea she got from her friend Mark Twain.
One of the highlights of my dad’s brief acting career was being in a 1958 play with Warren Beatty called Compulsion, which is where Beatty was discovered. Unfortunately my dad was not discovered! In the 1970s, my dad made a crucial biographical pivot from acting to activism—further evidence of the fine line between theater and politics.
Perhaps my father’s greatest accomplishment as an activist is preserving the majestic New Jersey Palisades from being destroyed by predatory real estate interests. North of the George Washington Bridge, these pristine woodlands are protected by Rockefeller money. South of the Bridge, they were up for grabs, and almost became an ugly wall of condominiums. That is, until my dad turned the Edgewater, NJ council meetings into a Shakespearean stage and stopped the greedy developers in their tracks. He should’ve won the Academy Award.
Though I grew up in, and still live in, New Jersey (Hoboken), Greenwich Village gave me agency and helped me grow into the writer, professor, TV show host, and “actor in my own life” I am today. I’m also the only NJ member of the Village Independent Democrats (VID) (shhh!)—the famous political club co-founded by Ed Koch in 1957 to elect Adlai Stevenson for president.
At a recent VID meeting, I met George Capsis of WestView News, and witnessed his amazing oration to bring back a full working hospital to Greenwich Village. Those pesky developers scored a profitable win when they converted St. Vincent’s into an upscale condo. Thank goodness that George Capsis is, heroically, trying to do something about it.
This was the meeting highlight: In the midst of George’s magisterial performance, someone in the club shouted: “Hey, this isn’t the Globe Theater!” George’s on cue response was: “I always wanted to be an actor.” I thought: This is my kinda guy!
John Bredin is an educator and host of the weekly TV show Public Voice Salon. His first one-man show, How to Be an Actor in Your Own Life, is currently in rehearsals.