I met Diane Smith-Sadak at our 200-hour yoga teacher training. An Associate Professor of Acting and Directing for the past 14 years at Towson University’s prestigious Department of Theatre Arts, Smith-Sadak received her M.F.A. in Directing from Florida State University and is a graduate of Union College where she holds a BA in Economics and Political Science. She is a private acting and voice coach for actors and singers as well as people who want to improve public speaking, interviewing and job-performance skills and specializes in ensemble and team-building utilizing theatre as a metaphor and model for strong ensemble and personal development.
I wrongly thought that as an actor, Diane might present a false front to the world, but I found exactly the opposite: Diane is brave enough to be authentic. With every conversation, Diane brings authenticity and doesn’t waiver from her grounding. In this interview she talks about the actor having to become a blank canvas on which to build a character. She knows where she starts from; really, she knows herself.
Q: You teach acting at Towson University and internationally. What lessons transfer from the stage to life?
DSS: I believe that the most important lessons of the stage are essentially lessons about life, regardless of culture, profession or other distinctions.
When I teach young actors, the first thing we work on is “know thyself”, because without an authentic stock-taking of who and where they are they can not begin to build a character. So instead of putting on a character, each actor unmasks and begins to examine their physical and vocal habits and patterns as well as being honest and clear with their own values and beliefs, while still leaving room for others’ differences.
The second critically important lessons that transfer from Stage to Life are empathy and compassion. There is a saying by a well-known American acting teacher, Sanford Meisner, who said, “Your partner is your performance.” We work hard in actor training in deep listening and responding from your core not based upon your own ego and preconception, but based on getting off one’s self and onto “other”.
I could go on endlessly on this subject, because there are so many bridges from stage to life. After all, what we are doing is creating the truth of each moment in imaginary circumstances. But actors study the idea that, “the foundation of acting is the reality of doing” — where many young actors think acting is all about pretending. We also work on focus, on centering, on being in touch with our impulses and of becoming a blank canvas upon which to begin to build character. We learn the profound value of community, because no show happens in a vacuum, and train ourselves with the awareness that actors are athletes, and as such must know, care for and train their instrument. Those who make it as performers are often not the most talented, they are the ones who can handle the long haul.
Q: What is essential in living an authentic life?
DSS: Knowing yourself, always continuing to be a student of something, deep humility in the awareness that everyone has a story worth telling, empathy, compassion and a practice that keeps you centered in the midst of your busiest life moments.
Q: What brings you joy?
DSS: My family first and foremost. That would be my son, daughter and husband — but also my parents, brother and sister and my nieces and nephew. After that, I can be joyful In Moments in The theatre, especially in the discoveries of the rehearsal process. I am joyful at my pottery wheel, because pottery is both a deeply centering and highly creative outlet. And I’m always joyful with animals, especially when I have a horse to ride.
Q: What is something that everyone should know?
DSS: That nothing lasts, which makes it precious each and every moment. And that life is impermanence and change, and we must learn to accept the incredible gift of time and not waste it in pettiness and fear. Live with your heart set on love.