Question: What skill can we cultivate in real life that helps us out on set or in rehearsal?
Actors: The one skill that has not only changed my life, but my craft, is without a doubt the art of meditation. I became aware that it’s not about having a life outside of acting, but having a life that includes acting.
I will never forget my very first agent interview in Los Angeles. I was sitting with a potential agent talking all about my acting when out of the blue the agent asked this question, which has never left me, “What else do you like besides acting? Because it will be those skills, those passions, that keep you fresh and exciting. It’s so important to have a life because that life is your acting.”
I have to be honest, that question threw me off. I had just moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco to act, and all I heard was I had to eat, breathe, and drink acting; I can’t count how many times I heard that. As I sat there, it felt like I had put my “life” on hold so I could act, instead of creating a life that included acting.
Unbeknownst to me, I had separated my life outside of acting from acting. I didn’t realize that my life, the things I love to do now – yoga, meditation, traveling, writing, exercising, cooking, going to retreats, even wine tasting – were roles that would someday play into my characters.
However, when it comes to auditioning, rehearsals, or working on set, the one skill that surpasses all the others, hands down, is the art of meditation.
When I first started to meditate, it was very challenging to sit in silence because, for the first time, I became aware that I had a set of characters in my mind, all vying for my attention! Some were loud, some were not so nice. It was like I had these built-in critics telling me what I can and can’t do. I couldn’t believe I was not aware of all this noise going on up there as I walked through life. This made me even more determined to learn to meditate; I knew not only the amazing health benefits that came from meditation, but the sense of peace I could attain in a world that is more often than not chaotic, unfocused, and not present . . . the opposite of where an actor needs to be.
There are many books and classes on meditation. If you haven’t read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, I highly recommend it.
I began with Transcendental Meditation and now I simply focus on my breath every morning, with eyes closed, and LISTEN. I became the observer of those characters in my mind instead of allowing them to characterize who I am.
Even if you start each morning with two minutes in meditation before you check your phone or computer, you will see a big difference in how the rest of your day unfolds. I make time to meditate at least 20 minutes every morning and in small increments during the day when I find I have gotten caught up in the chaos. Eventually you will crave more time to be at a peace that surpasses all understanding, and to be vulnerable in scenes that require you to tune out the noise and chaos that surrounds you.
Now when I am on set and twenty or so more people are running around fixing lights, moving cameras, and calling shots, I am present, focused, and free to be who I am for that particular scene. Before meditation, everything that was going on around me distracted me and when “action” was called, I was so stressed out, which made it almost impossible to be present to my “performance.”
Having a life that includes acting instead of having a life outside of acting will make you a much more interesting person and give you a deeper sense of who you are; character traits you can pull from when you are fine tuning your craft.
Incorporating meditation into your life will give you a sense of patience and peace as you become the observer of situations, not the participant, creating a sacred space which will allow you to be present and vulnerable to do your best work, whether you’re on set with a hundred eyes starring at you, in a rehearsal room of twenty or so people you’ve met for the first time, or in that audition room with just you and the camera person.
Start now: just close your eyes for two minutes. There are a lot of characters up there, vying for your attention, but eventually, I promise, there will simply be the character you want to play!