When the political reality feeds polarizing views in a country, art can step in and help mend the divide. Through the art of storytelling, an actor’s performance can help create bridges of understanding between opposing forces and give way to common ground. Actors don’t require passports to perform their magic. Their work can radiate across the globe reaching millions of people with just one click. Actors, you are part of a profession that tackles differences in a creative way. Performances have the potential to touch people’s hearts and open their minds. It is only through having an open mind that different ideas can be exchanged and mulled over peacefully. This idea is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago when Aristotle said, ”It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
Not only do actors help create open minds in their viewers, but they use their open minds as a tool to break out of their own comfort zones in order to get at the core of a character they are portraying. Maybe the character is unlike anyone they have ever known, or perhaps is extremely unlikeable. The actor’s challenge is to find some shred of humanity that they can relate to and build from there. They must see a piece of themselves in their character in order to deliver an authentic and moving performance. I’m sure you have all experienced goose bumps while watching a great performance in a play or on a screen. I know I have. You can’t fake that kind of visceral reaction. It comes out of feeling fully connected and committed to the work.
There are some human experiences that can be deeply understood and felt by audience members when they witness an actor who is working wholeheartedly. Writer Ursula K. Le Guin, in her book, “The Wave in the Mind,” put it best in talking about the magic of real human communication:
“Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”
Actors are part of a vehicle that enables people to listen to each other’s stories. Watching and listening to stories of human struggle can create an unexpected bond within people even if they happen to have opposing views of life. When a person watches a character struggle, it also helps them to feel less alone and more a member of the human race. Authentic self-acceptance and self-compassion creates more compassion and acceptance of others. And if that character they are watching happens to be a different race, religion, or sexual orientation, then prejudicial barriers can be broken and common ground can triumph over differences. Good performances free people up and allow them to escape their narrow, hard-hearted views, which may have been passed down to them through generations. In the words of the writer Parker Palmer, “The more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to see that person as your enemy. When we share the sources of our pain with each other instead of hurling our convictions like rocks at “enemies,” we have a chance to open our hearts and connect across some of our greatest divides.”
Here are some tips to prepare you for the important job ahead:
- Actors, know thyself. In order to create dimensional characters, you must always be invested in your ability to connect to all parts of yourself — the shadow side and the light side. This is courageous work.
- Work towards having access to a full emotional palette. Remember, you can’t take the audience anywhere you haven’t been. If you feel blocked with some emotions, get to the bottom of it and free yourself up.
- Become a master of your thoughts and feelings. Know the difference between feelings and facts. F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real. Thoughts are usually a lot scarier than the reality of things.
- Practice meditation, yoga, or tai chi in order to bring more balance and calm into your life.
- Say yes to challenges in order to promote your growth. Safety can create staleness.
- Check in every now and then to make sure you are enjoying yourself and that you are in the right profession. Although acting is hard, it should ultimately bring you joy, not a stomach ache.
Actors play an important role in helping our society thrive humanely, creatively, and with dignity. The work of connection through storytelling is key to igniting transformation and change. Be a beacon of enthusiasm as you carry your passion and sense of purpose out into the world.
During this Holiday Season, I want to express my gratefulness to all of my readers who have supported my articles over the years with their kind words of gratitude and encouragement.
Wishing each and every one of you a very Happy Holiday filled with lots of love.
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.