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.
Are you aware of what you want? Having clarity of your desires moves you closer towards them. Confusion around priorities will leave you floundering in circles of frustration. Do you know what your ideal life looks like? Can you visualize it? If you’re having difficulty answering these questions, you might find yourself having difficulty building a life that leads you towards fulfilling your goals.
Setting Long-Term Intentions
The first step towards living a fulfilled life is to make sure that what you want is aligned with what is in your heart. Are you living the life you want to live and not someone else’s version of it? Is your dream really yours? Are you unconsciously wanting fame and fortune because you’re living one of your parent’s unfulfilled dreams? People are ready to give advice on what you should do and how to do it. Sometimes it comes from a very loving place, but nonetheless, it’s coming from someone else, not you. Only you can know and decide what’s best for you. No one knows you as well as you know yourself. Remember that.
Most people feel good knowing there are certain things in life that they can count on. The summer months bring warm weather, children go back to school in September, Christmas is in December, the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. We have an innate, deep-seated desire for certainty and control, it brings peace of mind. On the other hand, uncertainty doesn’t feel so good. Do I have enough talent? Will I work again? Will I fall in love? Will I be successful? People do funny things to manage their anxiety around uncertainty. One of them is to slip into thinking that you will be guaranteed what you want if you are more in control and always do the right things. But it is a lofty illusion to think that by enforcing these behaviors, you will achieve your goals. In fact, taking this idea too far can actually undermine your achievements and your ability to be happy.
Being controlling can have a negative impact on your life and your acting career. A great Robert De Niro quote sheds some light on this concept:
“A lot of young actors have the idea that, “I’ve got to do this right. There’s a right way to do this.” But there’s no right or wrong. There’s only good and bad. And ‘bad’ usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right. There’s a very broad spectrum of things that can inhibit you. The most important thing for actors – and not just actors, but everybody – is to feel loose enough to create what you want to create, and be free to try anything. To have choices.”
Well said, Robert. But how can one attain this sense of freedom to try anything? How do you let go of fear? How do you let go of not being invested in the outcome?
Are your emotions being held hostage by outside circumstances? Do you find that your good mood is reliant upon things going your way? Are you happy when you get what you want and pouty when you don’t? Although these reactions seem logical, they can eventually take a toll on your ability to feel balanced and happy. When outside circumstances control your mood, you’re hitching your happiness to events that are most likely out of your control. As actors, it is especially important for you to learn how to handle the ups and downs of your profession. There is so little in your control. Whether you work or not is dependent on another person saying yes. You may want that particular agent or manager to represent you, but it is up to them to say yes. Even when you work your hardest, you may not get what you want and deserve. Things don’t always go your way. Life feels unfair. You’re not wrong for feeling all those things, but after you kick and scream, then what? Are you going to dwell in the muck for the rest of the day, week, year? What a waste.
Has the “not enough” bug bitten you in the behind? Are you suffering with symptoms of running around, and feeling like you don’t have enough time, money, energy, or talent? Stop for a moment and ponder the wise words of Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” If you’re going through life meeting obligations in a trance and operating on automatic, you may be turning into a human doing instead of a human being. Making productivity priority over presence can be a source of great unhappiness. Busyness can keep you in a constant state of overwhelm and distract you from living life to the fullest. It can also deplete the creative fuel necessary for your acting career. To have more control over the quality of your life, you’ve got to know how to find balance.
Ponder these two simple ideas to help you master the art of living.
Time is a valuable resource – don’t squander it.
The juicy things in life come with a price. To feel the elation of being on a mountaintop, you’ve got to endure the vigorous climb up. Falling in love comes with the risk of getting a broken heart. Playing it safe and putting all your energy in feeling comfortable is a sure way to miss out on life’s adventures. As Diane Ackerman, poet, essayist, and naturalist says, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
As actors, if you’re more invested in not making a fool of yourself than you are in reaching your full potential, your performances will feel safe and not very exhilarating. If Jane Fonda worried about the snot dripping from her nose in Klute, she never would’ve given us that incredible Academy Award winning performance.
Fear can be tricky. Sometimes when it’s knee deep and you’ve built a life of avoidance, you’re not even aware of what you’re missing. Don’t let your fear bully you around. It’s never too late to get back on track.
Count on booking a job when you’ve got tickets to go on that long awaited vacation to Hawaii. Be assured that your car breaks down as you’re about to take off for an audition. Expect bad weather on opening night. The universe is not out to get you. Everyday stress is part of life. It’s nothing more and nothing less. However, when you start slapping on negative statements to ordinary occurrences, you are automatically making your life harder than it needs to be.
I don’t think most people wake up every morning and say to themselves, “Mmmm let me see what I could do today to screw things up for myself.” Self-sabotaging is usually very unconscious, but that doesn’t make it less dangerous. It doesn’t make sense to live your life expecting wonderful things to happen to you when A) You don’t feel that you’re entitled to be happy, B) Feel on some deep level that you are terribly broken, or C) Are stuck in the past. If you truly want to be happy and successful, start doing things that will take you towards your goal, not away from it. Here are two tips to get started in the right direction.
Most actors pour their focus into getting work. They struggle to get a great headshot, be seen by the right casting agents, find a prestigious acting class, and, eventually, get the best representation possible. They roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to make their dream come true. That’s a great start, but that is just the beginning. If they’re lucky and happen to be in the right place at the right time and book a job, they will face the greatest struggle of all: proving they can do a great job.
Challenges are a normal part of life and especially work. It’s competitive out there and most people put their focus on getting the job, not developing tools to handle the job. For example, when you eventually cross paths with a difficult director, an unprofessional fellow actor, or script rewrites, how will you get through it all and come out smelling like a rose? When it comes down to it, that’s what everyone is going to remember. The people that hire you are not interested in the difficulties you had to face; they’re filled to the brim with their own difficulties. There is a way to not only get through challenges, but actually experience them as valuable events that have great benefit. It takes work, but oh how much better you’re going to feel when you come through your challenges stronger and wiser, not deflated and defeated.
Follow these steps to start creating the valuable tools needed to weather the storms of acting:
1. Self-awareness is necessary to create change.
Being a productive human being is an important element of feeling successful and worthy; accomplishments are necessary for self-esteem to grow. However, social media can make it hard to keep everything in perspective when you begin comparing your accomplishments to everyone else. It is especially hazardous to an actor’s mental health. How can you go out there, be creative, take risks, be the best you can be when competitive pressure is looming over you? Here’s what you can do when the pressure gets turned up: nothing. You heard me. Do nothing.
Here’s why: Molly just posted on Facebook that she booked a national commercial, her third this month! You read this post and immediately begin to feel envy. As if that’s not torture enough, you start putting yourself down. Negative self-talk begins to creep in: “I guess I’m not young enough, pretty enough, talented enough. Oh, I’ll never be successful. I will never be able to get the right agent or manager. Aunt Harriet was right, I don’t have what it takes to be a successful actor. Who do I think I am anyway?” Exactly, who do you think you are? Because if you’re self-talk is anything like this, you’re not thinking very highly of yourself. With thoughts like these, what direction do you think you’re career is going to take?
Are you using your full palette of emotions on auditions or are you playing it safe by using only the familiar ones? It’s your job to give the best performance possible at every given opportunity. It’s not easy to breathe life into words on a page and make the characters come to life. Acting is a challenging profession. Don’t limit your ability to give a great performance because you are unable to access your full range of emotions. Emotional range is like a crayon box. When you’ve got the jumbo 120 crayon box available, you have so many choices at your fingertips to color your pictures brilliantly. Don’t restrict your possibilities by only using 3 crayons. In the words of Ru Paul, “Don’t be afraid to use all the colors in the crayon box.” Remember, the more emotions available to you the more powerful of an actor you will be.