Until a few weeks ago I was bent on getting a masters degree in Fine Arts in Acting. But as the deadlines for applications got closer, the logistics of taking three years off in the middle of my career started to feel counter-productive.
But I had already written my statement of purpose, well, at least a first draft. And people often ask me why I chose to get into acting. My school friends know the story because they've seen me on stage a thousand times but to everyone else it seems like the most illogical step after spending four years studying engineering and three years working an insanely lucrative job.
So here's the first draft of my statement of purpose without any edits, just a stream of consciousness that will maybe answer the question of why an engineer would give up financial stability to take on a job that has no career path and no certainty.
I have always wanted to be an actor, for as long as I can remember. The first time I was on stage was when I was six years old, for a fashion show. Since then I’ve gone from child model, to backup dancer, to extra, and the whole time, all I wanted was to have a speaking part. In tenth grade I finally got that part, including a solo, for our school musical. At fifteen, I felt like my dreams had come true. Over the next two years I did everything I could in theatre and improv and won awards along the way.
It wasn’t until college that I had to allow theatre to take a backseat. I was in an intense STEM program at one of the most competitive undergraduate colleges in the US. I was barely keeping up with classes. After graduating, I took the natural next step and got a job in the technology space. Just two years later, not even accounting for undiagnosed Anxiety and Depression, I knew I was stuck in a rut. I could see my entire life playing out in front of me. I had only chosen this path because it was safe and lucrative, not because I loved it.
I had to figure out the next step. I gave myself one year to see if I could do more than just work, eat, and sleep, day after day, week after week. So I signed up for an acting class in Atlanta. It was only a six week course, one class a week. There was no audience, there were no lights, there was no stage; just five other students and a teacher. Every week we had to learn a new piece and perform in class based on a specific aspect that we were learning that day. In those six weeks I was happier than I had been in the last six years. Despite the undiagnosed depression and anxiety, I was happy. I spent every lunch break rehearsing, making my colleagues run lines with me, counting down the days to the next class. They also asked me, “Why acting? Why this class?” but they often answered the question themselves by seeing how happy it made me. At the end of the six weeks I knew that I was not living my best life. I wanted to feel this happy all the time.
I made a decision to move back to India. Living in India as a citizen would give me the flexibility to be a freelancer, without all the restrictions of a US work visa. A few months later I was back in India, still working a full time tech job, but doing theatre and film on the side. I started off just watching plays, pining to be on stage instead of in the audience. I bluntly asked for introductions, went to auditions, play readings, contacted casting agents, and finally got a part in a renowned Indian play with one of the most experienced directors in the city.
Since then I’ve been in a dozen theatre productions, including performing monologues which I’ve written, and have even tried stand up comedy. I’ve been in several commercials with the biggest brands in India, and have featured in short films, three regional Indian films, and one independent feature film as the lead.
My colleagues from my previous job think I’ve made it. Next stop, Academy Awards. That’s all most people see. Red carpets, award ceremonies, glitz and glamor. What they do not see is the process. The process that I love more than the results. The script readings, the character analyses, the scene studies, the months of rehearsal and preparation that go into a project, that moment where you lose yourself to your character.
While performing, there were days when I had out of body experiences and could almost watch myself perform a scene. Other days I had sunk so deep into my character that me, the actor, couldn’t even remember how the show had gone. I was in awe of the power of performance and being able to wield it. In a gasp or burst of laughter I knew that I had suspended disbelief long enough for the audience to be completely invested in my character. At that point it stopped being performance and became truth. If at any moment they had thought of me as a performer, I would have lost them. It was the truth in my actions that made them react the way they did.
That’s the power of storytelling. I fundamentally believe that storytelling is the best way to increase empathy. I attribute my ability to empathise with people to stories — to all the stories which were read to me, which I read growing up, which I want to tell as part of my career. Stories teach you that there is more to life than what you as an individual can experience in one lifetime. Stories remind you that there is more to what is happening right now, and that right now is just a page in a larger novel. Stories take words and tone and turn them into emotion. That to me is the power of art.
In my life as a queer person growing up in India, I rarely saw myself represented on screen. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong, like I had to change myself to be what a woman should be. As an actor I want to be a part of an era that changes the way women and queer folk are portrayed. I want to tell stories that I wish I had growing up, that will make queer children and little girls feel represented as more than stereotypes.
In the last three years I’ve had to learn constantly — languages, modeling, fight sequences, driving a jeep, you name it. And as much as I’ve enjoyed learning on the go, I would love to build a firm foundation to support these miscellaneous skills. I believe that an MFA would give me the perfect, well rounded training to take my career to the next level. Having already studied and worked in a field that I wasn’t entirely committed to, and having worked as a full time actor for the last three years, I can say with certainty that the MFA in Acting curriculum is the best thing I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I would give anything to spend three years learning a skill that I have wanted to dive deep into since I was in middle school.
I have never worked harder than I have as an actor. I eat, sleep, and breathe representative storytelling. I cannot imagine a life in which I go back to a desk to work on building someone else’s million dollar idea. I have moved countries, changed jobs, and fought mental illness to be where I am and I refuse to go back. There is nothing I have ever been more sure of.
I’m no longer applying for an MFA because the three year gap between my career is going to do more harm than good, assuming I were to get accepted in the first place. But what I haven’t changed my mind about is my career as an actor and sticking with it.
I also want to acknowledge that I’m privileged enough to have a supportive family that doesn’t need me to contribute to the household income, which gives me the opportunity to even try my luck as an actor. So thank you, fam, let’s hope I can repay you a few times over.
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