Shawn Patrick CLifford
Since I was a young child, my world has been illuminated by the radiant glow of footlights. The stage has been my home, a place of solace and rejuvenation, with beautiful and vivid sets decorating the backdrop of my life. The actors, stage crew, techs, artistic staff and directors have been family who I return to after a long, intolerable day, only to be met with a warm embrace and unquestioning acceptance. The orchestra, like those cousins who you don’t see all the time, but who brighten your life when they show up on special holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, have punctuated and brought to life the score of my struggles and joys.
Because I grew up in a small single parent home where I was the only child, I have always searched for a place to belong, where I could be surrounded by a larger, welcoming family. I was drawn to theater early on and over the years, the productions which started as a hobby, a place to make friends and to find the feeling of family I longed for, have turned into a passion which shapes the context of my life. When I am on the stage, my mind is allowed to dream big. The mental chatter stops and I experience a period of intense focus and presence in the moment. All the troubles and burdens that come with living on a daily basis are wiped from my conscience and for two hours I get to experience life through another’s eyes. On stage, I am a witness to the human condition. I feel grateful, because there are few that can ever fully experience this, but artists are lucky in that this is their life. What is even more beautiful, is that I get to synthesize what I do onstage into my own life. I get to experience moments that I might never be exposed to in my ordinary day to day existence. I’ve only been alive for eighteen short years, but I feel like I’ve lived for one-hundred because I’ve experienced so many different eras, scenarios, relationships, and emotions in the shows I’ve been in. With every production, I overcome a little more of my fear of failure, because there is always another performance, another chance to be a part of something greater.
Through the years, the dark adversaries of doubt and lack of support have been obstacles that I’ve have had to overcome. Comments uttered by family members that don’t support theater such “Actors don’t make any money” or “Acting? More like waiting tables” discouraged me. But at a pivotal point in my life, in my sophomore year of high school, with the help of my theater community, I made a choice to trust myself and embark on the path of being a professional actor. If you are truly passionate about something then you will find a way to make it your life. The stage has taught me how to live in my authentic self and embrace who I am in spite of other’s opinions. There is a freedom in this for me and I wish to help others find that as well. The times when I am most content and when my life has the most meaning are when I use my struggles and joys as an artist in the theater community to uplift others. For as William Faulkner once stated, “The artist’s duty is to help man endure by lifting his heart.”