Acting and Writing: Painting with words - Dundurn
Mar 25, 2021

Acting and Writing: Painting with words

It was never about fame, attention or notoriety. It was always about the word and the images that words can paint.  I have always been a great admirer of visual arts. In fact, if there is one leitmotif throughout my writing, it has to be the inclusion of visual arts or the visual artist. Full disclosure, I cannot even draw a stick man.  And so, instead, there exists in me the desire to paint with words.

It was the play Antigone that changed my life. Fifteen years old, in a cast iron bathtub in an old farmhouse in rural Ontario, I was happily away from the noise of my many siblings.  And there, reading Antigone for the first time, I had a lifechanging epiphany. If someone could write such beautiful words, then I had no choice but to be an actor so that I could be a conduit between the written word and those who should hear the written word.

I was never meant for the stage, as much as I love the classics. The interior thought process has always meant too much to me. The stage requires a larger-than-life performance. Emotions and movements are exaggerated in order to reach the back row. And while the stage is about ritual, film is about alchemy. It is intimate, honest, and personal in performance and storytelling. A medium that requires honesty and truth. The camera catches every lie.

When I was asked to write a blog about being an actor, and how that affected the writing of Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack, I was somewhat miffed. Why not ask about my life experiences and how they translated into the imagery in the novel? After all, there are no actors as characters in Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack! I felt that my life as an actor and as a writer were complimentary, but quite separate. Then, as I reflected, I started to draw some uncanny connections.  As I said, I am a film actor. As a film-actor, I am an interpretive artist working in the field of storytelling. If film were a painting then an actor, or the character the actor plays, is neither the painting nor the painter, but rather one of the paint colours. As a writer I am a generative artist, also in the art of storytelling but, instead of the paint, I become the painter.

A film actor often is shot out of sequence. What you see may be a linear story, but it is not linear for the actor. And so, from the start of the shoot to the end, you wear that character all day, ready to call upon any moment of that character’s existence. The camera penetrates past the flesh in order to capture the very thoughts of the character. Film-acting takes place in the mind, in the thoughts behind the eyes. When I write, I get to penetrate the flesh of my characters and live in their thoughts. See beyond what the characters do and say to reveal the workings of their minds.

Although acting is not represented in the novel, the camera is.  Jack loses his eye and is monocular but, when he takes up photography, naming his single lensed friend Cyclops, he is able to see things in a more in-depth fashion.

And in the end, although I did not become an actor in order to be seen, this book is about sight. One character makes glass eyes, another is a visual artist, a middle-aged woman feels invisible to her family, and a younger woman’s truth is not seen by those closest to her. And, of course, Jack loses one of his eyes and the Two White Queens, identical twin girls with albinism, have only 30% sight and, yet, they see far more of the world than their contemporaries.

I have for my entire life, at least since third grade, been an actor and a writer. But in the end what am I, really? I am storyteller. Sometimes in an interpretive way and sometimes in a generative way but, either way, through fiction I endeavor to expose the truth...painting with words.

P.S. – And of course, there is a nod to Antigone in Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack.

Heidi von Palleske is a writer, actor, and activist. She has written poetry, articles, and fiction, and won the H.R. Percy Novel Prize for They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore. Heidi spends time on both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, but calls Toronto home. Learn more here.