So when I was at the American Chesterton Society Conference, I picked up Kevin O’Brien’s book An Actor Bows: Show Biz, God and the Meaning of Life which was officially released that same day.
I quickly read through it and enjoyed it immensely. It is one of those improbable biographies that can only be true. Life is often incredible. Kevin starts off his story regarding his childhood, and I believe at the age of nine already considered himself an atheist. Most of the book relates the lows and highs of his acting career and his coming into faith. I love conversion stories since they are each unique. His is very different.
This book is often hilarious as he talks about his career. Starting with him doing singing telegrams and all the detours his career takes after that. So many great stories involving how “The show must go on.” The insanity of dealing with other actors, venues, etc. All the false starts and the ebbs and flows of pursuing his career as an actor. The times he just wanted to chuck it and do something “respectable.” For just this aspect and the related stories, I would have enjoyed this book. Even just for the stories related to his traveling mystery dinner theater.
This book goes beyond his day to day career into the moral dimensions of these challenges. Do you deal with some misgivings and quandaries and accept them as part of doing business and making a buck? What if you are just barely scraping by as it is. He brings these obstacles into view as he deals with figuratively selling his soul doing what is not comfortable form him. Just like the rest of us, he does not always succeed. The way he details these stories puts it all into context and brings you into the situation.
Mixed in this is his grappling with his atheism and moving beyond it. Like many people, he and his wife ran through a series of churches. Having to move on again when the squishiness of doctrine once more became unacceptable to endure. Still lots of great stories involved in dealing with this. Especially as he tried to teach other doctrines without stepping on all the restrictions placed on him as to what he could say.
After a murderous attack after one of his performances in his recovery time, he discovered first C.S. Lewis, which then led him to G.K. Chesterton. Ultimately this led him into the Catholic Church. You should read the book to get the details. Just loved so much of what he had to say on the subject of art at a deeper level. Kevin O’Brien later went on to work with EWTN and Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society. I so love his range of playing multiple roles of zany characters and being also being able to play it straight.
So this is probably too much of a summary, it is just that I enjoyed it so much. Partly it was from the points of contact I experienced through Kevin’s story. Through my formative years, I grew up in the theater. My father was an actor in an improvisational children’s theater. He was involved in pretty much every aspect. Actor, a puppeteer, set designer and builder, costume design and creation, writing, painting, etc. So I always spent my summers in this atmosphere with the adult actors. In High School, I was involved in every play onstage and offstage. Loved performing along with building sets and the other aspects of the theater. Considered a career in some part of the theater. Probably for the better that I didn’t pursue this since I am somewhat doubtful of my skills as an actor. I was probably best at imitation such as playing W.C. Fields and doing comedy. So much of what this book talked about I could relate to, especially seeing things through my Father’s eyes and his career in theater and the just making do aspects. The other point was that I was also the young atheist declaring his atheism around the same age as he.
Just so many things I loved about this book because it is not merely about one thing, or maybe that it is about the one thing that matters. If you have never seen Kevin O’Brien perform check out his YouTube Channel for plays, skits, lectures, etc. His skill extends to writing as I testified in this post regarding a Tolkien/C.S. Lewis play he wrote and performed.