The reason we care about acting is not just that theatre classes are great or that Shakespeare is a must-read classic, but that, in a sense, we practice it many times every day, either on stage or off stage. As CA theatre teacher Shelley Bolman says, our interest in acting starts when we are very young—as toddlers, we play with dolls or playhouses and pretend to be a doctor, a cat, a wizard, or a parent. We were trying on different roles and telling stories far before we knew what the word “acting” meant. “It is a primal, human need developed over thousands of years of sitting around fires and passing on knowledge and traditions,” says Bolman. We continue acting in different ways after we grow up. “Chapels, charades, Halloween, role-playing games, and presentations in class; all of these are performative and are acting or acting adjacent. Every advisor meeting is essentially a 20 minute improv with a scene partner,” Bolman says.

Why does Shelley Bolman like acting? When asked this question, he smiled and said, “empathy,” with eyes of enigmatic depth. He later elaborated: “Educationally, I think empathy is the thing I like the most. Empathy is a skill. The more you practice it, the better you become.” Developing and portraying a character requires empathy—understanding their identity, background, desires, and how that influences their decisions. When you share a body with the characters you play, that brings a special connection. That is why, even with numerous styles of acting, empathy is always crucial.

Another thing Bolman loves about acting is storytelling. He first experienced the excitement and power in storytelling through live acting when he performed a 10-minute-long monologue in a production in 9th Grade. He recalled, “It was terrifying and exhilarating to be the only one on stage for that long and to feel that connection with the audience, feel them following along and hanging on my words. I ended up mixing up entire paragraphs and moving them around on the fly when I realized I had skipped entire sections. But I didn't let on and the audience never knew. I enjoyed the nimbleness and quick thinking it required.” This quick thinking and prompt reaction is an integral part of acting, and especially in this present digital age with text messages and emojis, acting as an in-person, face-to-face communication holds unprecedented importance.

Bolman also spoke of a film, Galaxy Quest, where an alien race that does not understand acting mistakes our sci-fi programs for historical documents. What don’t the aliens understand about acting? It’s that, although the sci-fi stories are physically acted out in our time and space, they are instead imagined to be real in the future. However, even though these stories did not happen in the real world, they still express real joy, fear, or hope, as Bolman puts it, “If we're among friends, we want the real person… We want the truth—so much so that when professional actors are performing, we have high praise for those whose performances have the ring of truth.” Acting is a human language where empathy and imagination come together to express genuine, truthful emotions.