“We are not professional liars; we are professional pretenders,” Brian Stokes Mitchell began what was supposed to be an acceptance speech for his John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement at the 77th annual Theatre World Awards ceremony earlier this week at Circle in the Square, but sounded much more like the kind of inspirational address given at graduation ceremonies.
And in a way it was. Winners of the Theatre World Awards are being recognized for their New York stage debuts.
Below read the text of Mitchell’s speech, and watch several videos:Theater World Award winners past and present talk about their first time (when they first knew they were going to be professional performers), Life of Pi’s Hiran Abeysekera talks about his “long journey, very trying at times.” Shucked’s Ashley D. Kelley tells a joke.
We are not professional liars. We are professional pretenders, drawing on our natural talent and training and our culminative years of lived experience. Plus we are playing with an audience who is in collusion with us suspending their disbelief. They know we are not really a young man stranded on a boat with a tiger, or a three-card monte hustler who dresses up like Lincoln, but they are willing to sit down at our tea party and play along with us, because they recognize that our make believe together can lead to a profound truth about human nature, about human beings, about living in this time and space. together.
And I think that’s what this complicated world needs right now. Those are pivotal moments when an actor on stage…opens us up and allows us to understand a new truth about ourselves and to walk out of the theater a different person than we were than we walked in.
I believe that an actor or performer has the ability to be a kind of spiritual teacher of the highest order, not by talking to people about what truth is, but by leading people to that place inside themselves, where they can discover and know the truth for themselves: The pain, the passion, the ignorance, the racism, the jealousy, the ugliness, the kindness, the beauty, the empathy, the openness, the enlightenment.
So to this year’s recipients and all the other performers and creators here in this room, the world needs artists like you to continue to do what you do, to continue to tell the truth, to continue to help people know the difference, and see the difference and feel the difference and not fall into apathy. So that we can all get to the next high place together. We need that right now, that connection, that truth, Your truth. in you lies the hope for this brave new world. Go out and tell your story. Let it go far and wide. Make them hear you.