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Role Of A Lifetime

I recently sat down and asked myself: What is my role? To me the word implied something inherently false. If I was filling a role it insinuated that I was not being genuine. I became very frustrated because I was trying to put limitations on my existence, and then I realized that I was coming at the question from a skewed point-of-view. I realized that my personal definition of "role" is clouded by what I choose to do in my free time: theatre. In this context my roles are the personas I nurture, create, and portray to the audience. They are something I construct and then force myself to exist in, and while that may be necessary when creating a character, it was very stifling when I tried to apply it to my everyday existence. Using this definition of "role" caused me to think about my personal life "roles" as an act, a façade I have created.

Over the years acting has become part of my identity and affects the way I view the world. As a child I was always interested in acting and the actors I saw on TV. They entertained people and made them happy, and they seemed to be having a good time doing it. I wanted to try acting, but living in a small town in Missouri, I never really had the chance. To compensate for not having real acting opportunities, I would make plays up with the neighbor kids. We would get a storybook and decide who should play which part. We would rehearse for an afternoon, and when we were finally finished we would force our parents to watch what I am sure was a humorous, if not very well put together, performance. I finally got a real acting opportunity in high school, and have continued acting throughout my college career, seemingly non-stop.

After so many years of creating roles and then discarding them when the shows were over, I had developed a biased definition of the word "role." I failed to understand that the difference between the two types of roles was not the important thing, the importance existed in the similarity. The roles I fill in everyday life define my existence. I create them as they create me. This is the paradox of identity. One of my roles is actor, someone who plays roles. This is where my confusion was stemming from, the seemingly inseparable bond between creating and being created. My job as the actor is to go on stage and be every human, make contact with the emotions of every audience member while maintaining a solid character that has the distinct personality of an individual. I knew this for certain, yet I was very uncertain about my role as human, until I realized it is the same thing.

As a member of society, everything I do affects other people. I need to remember to honor this knowledge, while also honoring myself as an individual. It is a delicate balance that sometimes seems impossible to achieve, but that is the way with all goals. My individual roles are too many to enumerate individually, but they are all important, and they all connect me to someone else in the world that is filling the same role. The connection and sameness between all people comes from the roles we perform, and it is these roles that unite the world.

Laura Defenbaugh is currently a sophomore at Missouri Western State College in Saint Joseph, Missouri. She is seeking a degree in Secondary Education of English. She is very active in the theater department and is engaged to a Theater Education major. They plan to marry in August of 2001.

You can write to Laura at

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