First, Do No Harm

I just googled myself. My name is Sean Williams, it’s just a totally stupid thing for me to do.

This isn’t true with a lot of people, though. Some have names that jump right out. Some of my closest friends have the kinds of names, particularly surnames, that if you google them, you get either *them* or a first cousin. That’s it.

I’ve been beating the same dead horse for a while now, which is that your online presence is basically useless without some kind of real world presence, and that too many of us put too much stock in how we’re controlling the message in the magical world and not enough time making sure that the real world avatars we’re dragging around, namely OURSELVES, are functioning as we’d hoped.

Now, I’ve been flogging this because there are certain aspects of human culture that simply can’t be replaced by the virtual world, and theater is one of them, but this morning I woke up to a completely different sense of responsibility.

I worked with a fantastic, breath-taking actress (that I will call simply “Megan”) several years ago. She went to Carolina, and, as such, became instantly part of the family. We excuse Tar Heels from higher scrutiny, simply because once you’ve spent a summer in Chapel Hill, watching the wallpaper glue let go of the wall, watching books swell with humidity until they open on their own, you feel like you have a shared experience that brings you together *outside* of your artistic accomplishment.

I say this because Megan and I were part of a theatrical experiment in the 2004 Fringe Festival together, and as the rehearsals continued, I realized I was in the presence of a really rare talent. I played her father and, despite the incredible casting mistake (I’m about twelve years older than her), I found myself genuinely moved by her portrayal, throughout rehearsal and throughout the performance. I call it an experiment because we rehearsed with a lot of game play and silliness, to the point where we had found a very consistent emotional life for all the characters, but several of us were foggy on plot points even after we’d opened… but all in all, it was more than worth it to get to work with a brilliant young director, a scary-good young playwright and this brilliant young actress.

In a blog that I wrote around this time, I poked fun at my sister’s rather straight-laced demeanor by explaining that when Megan met Michelle, she kissed her and touched her pants while complimenting them. Megan was a really open and affectionate person, and there wasn’t a single person I ever met who was put off by this, she was widely celebrated as a woman who made herself emotionally available, and I felt like this was one of her greatest assets. The point of that passage of the blog was to tease my sister for being a little uptight. My sister, in all honesty, was utterly charmed by Megan.

She is now graduating from her post-grad program as an actress and she asked me (deeply apologetically) if I could remove the blog that referenced her, now almost six years ago. If you don’t know that I’m teasing my sister, it makes her seem physically aggressive. When you google her… my blog is the *second* thing that comes up.

Of course I removed it, Good lord, and I was deeply embarrassed that what I wrote had become something difficult for someone that I have such fondness for. I’m so glad that she *knows* me, and can feel close enough to write and ask that I keep my sense of humor from creating a public perception of her that might make people less willing to work with her.

Some things I feel I need to say, beyond my own humiliation that I may have hurt someone inadvertently. First of all, and most importantly, I desperately hope that we don’t read criticism of ourselves in reviews and blogs and then try to change our fundamental nature because of them. Particularly since this new form is basically the wild west, where people are shooting guns in the air as they scream yahoo… the bullets are only now starting to drift down to earth and it would be a shame if we decide that those bullets are worth dodging.

I know the criticisms of my character all too well, and when I act as a response to those critiques, I lose my voice. As I’ve aged, some of the criticisms have fallen away (especially those that deal with being a young man) but I have been teased about my enthusiasms in the past and… Man, if I decide that I need to modify my enthusiasm in order to steer clear of criticism, I’m gonna end up with nothing.

Secondly, I think we need to have faith, particularly as actors, that what we say and do in the real world will ultimately trump anything that is said about us online. If I had thought that my friend Megan was a bad actor, and I said so, and she asked me to remove it because it was hurting her career, I would. Absolutely. This is a blog, it’s not a paper of record, and although it is my right to express my opinion, I feel a responsibility to my community, a sort of hippocratic oath to do no harm.

I edited the earlier blog because I would never do anything that hurt a friend or a work associate, unless a conversation about their actual art ended up being hurtful. But… I have faith in Megan. She is actually an actor of singular talent. I knew her long before she had completed her training, and if she has held on to her voice and her talent, she will be better than fine. I hope we all can hold on to the faith that, regardless of what is said about us online, we will rise above it. Particularly in the theater, where what we do *in the room* is more important than what is said about us, especially online.

Not only is Megan an extraordinary actor, but her performance, now six years old, is still talked about whenever we look back at that year. She will take the world by storm, I’m sure of it, and if I can be a part of that, I certainly will.

And, as a final thought, I sincerely hope that my friends, as they get older, never lose their emotional openness. I’ve found that I’ve become, if anything, MORE open, more affectionate, more willing to hug the people that I love. If someone described me as “grabby”, I’d probably die a thousand deaths inside, but I hope that I would rally and still hug my friends when I see them. I know, next time I see Megan, I will.