“When I was a kid I had athletic courage—I was a real warrior on the ball field. Facing my demons as an adult, however, demanded a much deeper level of courage. I was challenged to become a warrior on a whole different plane. In pursuing my dreams I’ve had to cultivate faith and a belief that good things can happen, rather than focusing on the bad things that might occur. That seems to fuel my courage.”
Howard Meyer, 44, is a high-energy, friendly, and enthusiastic man who has a deep passion for truth-telling. He is a writer, actor, teacher, and artistic director of Axial Theatre. Our interview took place in his acting studio which is located in Pleasantville, New York, a short distance north of New York City. The studio is a beehive of activity and positive vibes, as actors, staff, and workmen come and go throughout our interview time.
“I would say that my passion, today, is different from when I walked into my first acting class at 23. I didn’t have a dream to be an actor. I was just a confused kid who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. I had been working in the business world, knew it wasn’t for me, and was searching for my dharma—the Hindu word for life purpose. When I was first exposed to that term it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was convinced that being a 9 to 5 guy and looking for fun after hours would not work for me. So began a quest to find that purpose. “Acting was suggested to me by a number of people over a few years. Later I would see those suggestions as my first big leading (a Quaker term pertaining to inner guidance or direction). “I walked into my first acting class without any expectations and just thinking, OK, I’m checking this out as one of a variety of things I’m exploring. What happened within a couple of weeks, was that something inside me started to stir. At the time, I wasn’t sure what that stirring was, but it was the first instance of me being in a place where authenticity and honesty were held at a premium. That’s what grabbed me and kept me coming back.
“Exploring acting wasn’t about feeling that I had this wonderful gift for imagination. In truth, my imagination at that time was pretty shut down. My whole environment in my formative years was much too frightening for that to be encouraged. My dad had a mental disease, so any time he would move into his wild ideas or fantasies, it would look like craziness. So, for me, it was dangerous to imagine. I did not want to be seen as crazy like him. Thankfully, my long-dormant imagination finally got permission to come through, in my acting. Today, I have what I feel is a pretty good access to my imagination.
“It wasn’t the imagination, however, that first hooked me—it was truth telling. The door that first flung itself open for me, in the practice of this craft, was my emotional door which had long been shut down. For the first time I had a safe environment in which I could honestly express all my pent-up emotions. That kept me going back, long before I knew I wanted to be an actor or theater artist. Acting is about bringing your empathy and deep understanding to the character you’re portraying. In that way, the character portrayal provides the actor a pathway into understanding him/herself better. When there’s a role that I feel really connected to, I think, Wow, this is a story that I’ve got to be inside of!
“In wrestling with the question that you pose, ¯ What is my great passion? ¯ I realize for me, that it is truth-telling and authenticity. The vehicle for this passion has been the theatre, whether it’s through the plays that come through me, or in acting, directing, or teaching. Gratefully, the communal work of Axial Theatre combines all the things I’m most passionate about.
“As a central form, however, playwriting is really where it is for me right now. I just love inventing stories that emerge from our deeply held places. I think that’s what good playwriting is about. If there’s something that’s held deeply inside, there’s a better chance of a good play emerging, rather than, Oh, I think it would be fun to write a play about such and such. The great writers that I’ve known have said ‘Write what you know, because that’s where you’re juice is.’ “I feel very lucky because my passion for truth-telling and expressing this juice has shaped how I live my theatre life. There are people out there who are happy to be ‘hired guns’ and go where the work opportunities and the money are; but I need an ongoing place, a home, where the spiritual and the emotional and the creative all come together. It’s necessary to make money, but fortunately I have been able to follow my particular path and the money has found me.” I’m wondering how this approach to your work affects the rest of your life. “I live holistically, so this work has affected the rest of my life, and, in fact, has given me life. Without this passion, I don’t know what or where I’d be today. Before I discovered theatre I was pretty unhappy. Everything I have in my life today is all organized around this passion. I can’t remember a day in the last seven years when I didn’t wake up with enthusiasm and a kick in my step.”…….