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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Checking Out

At some point in our artistic process, no matter how connected we normally are, we normally want to be or we normally seek to be, we will check out.  We, the people we like to think of ourselves as, take a temporary leave of absence.

Checking out can manifest itself in a lot of ways.  Some are much more obvious, like alcohol or drug abuse, compulsive gambling, sexually addictive behavior, overeating, rage-aholism.  Then there's the ones that are much more subtle.  Isolating ourselves, procrastinating, putting up our walls and defenses, getting snippy for little or no reason, enabling someone else's destructive behavior.

This list, unfortunately, is not all-inclusive.  There are SO many ways we can check out.

All of them have one thing in common.  They are self-sabotaging.  They move us backwards rather than forwards.

There are a lot of "reasons" why we decide to do this (and it is always a choice, even when it seems like it's not), but ultimately we find that what we thought were really good excuses are just so much hogwash.

Here's the other thing:  we pretty much always end up regretting what we've done while we were checked out... once we come back to our senses.  In the moment it seems like the thing to do (sometimes the ONLY thing to do), but at some point, we always wake up.  And remember.  And cringe.

What can we do about this?  One thing is to continually check in with ourselves and with someone we trust to call us on our crap.  Don't have anyone like this?  Find someone now.

Oh, and once you've found them, don't let them go.  Because you'll want to.  While we're checked out, we don't want anyone to identify that it's not really us.  It's uncomfortable.  We fight it.

But if we'll just listen and open up in that moment, we can break the cycle of unconsciousness.

The markers of when we're checked out vary quite a bit (remember the list?), but there are a couple of things that I find they usually have in common.  Our focus goes inward instead of outward.  We're looking at all of our misfortunes, instead of reaching out to others to help with theirs.

The only apparent exception to this is co-dependency, but even that is really inwardly focused.  If we're obsessed with helping or fixing someone else, that's really about us.  Otherwise, it's just us reaching out a hand.  If they take it, great.  If they don't, we're sad, but we don't try to control their behavior.

The other thing that I've noticed is that I get really defensive.  I find it so much easier to focus on the problems of everyone else around me (especially those that are pointing out that I'm not acting like myself) rather than take a look at what I'm doing.

When we make the choice to do the uncomfortable thing and really look at ourselves honestly, some amazing things happen.  We become more gentle, more loving, more understanding.  As artists, our work gains resonance and power.  We move audiences instead of just impressing them.

And I don't know about you, but that's why I got into this whole acting thing to begin with.

You know one thing that can really help in this process?  A good, kind and passionate acting teacher.  Which I happen to be.  So, if you're looking for classes or private instruction, shoot me an email at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  Afraid that you're too far away?  Don't despair!  I teach classes online.  C'mon, that had to have made you curious.  Email me and I'll explain how it all works. :)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Joy

My assumption is that everyone that visits this blog on a regular basis loves acting or creating on some level.  I would also guess that many if not all of you have a dream to live by your art.

It's a great dream.  It's a great goal.

It may never happen.

Now, before you get your nose all out of joint, I'm not saying that to discourage you.  At all.  Promise. :)

It is my firm belief that if you love to act, you should act.  I also believe that acting is a viable career choice.  Some have insisted that this belief of mine qualifies me for a padded cell, or at the very least, a long and detailed interview with a licensed professional.

What I am saying is that sometimes, we base the success of our lives on whether or not we're succeeding at acting as a career.  I'm also saying that this maybe isn't the way we want to exist.

We can choose to live joyfully.  Now joy, for me, is different than happiness.  Happy is transitory, fleeting, insubstantial.  I think it's difficult (if not impossible) to be happy in moments of pain.

Joy, however, is something we can have with us always.  Joy doesn't depend on external circumstances.  We can be smack dab in the middle of seeming tragedies (like the loss of an agent, a "failed" audition, the giving of a primo role to an acting rival...or something much more significant) and still have a sense of joy.

Joy is a sense of perspective.  Joy isn't limited by the normal human constraints we normally operate under.  Joy is being connected to others, as we feel ourselves grow and expand outward into a universe filled with infinite possibilities.

Now, before I get too mystical on you (I know... too late, right?), let's take it down to a personal level.  When we are faced with difficult moments, do we contract inward or connect outward?  That's pretty much what joy is.  It's going out instead of in.  In is selfish and victim-y.  Out is loving, soft and gentle.

It's not always comfortable.  Sometimes it seems like it may even be the death of us.  I can tell you, though, that it always feels better in the long run.

Kind of like joy, actually...always taking the long view of things. :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's My Motivation?


Lazy.

We've all heard that word.  Some of us have even had it pointed at us from time to time.

Here's the weird thing, though.  I've been teaching acting for over ten years and I have yet to meet a lazy student.

Don't get me wrong.  I've had students that didn't do their homework.  Ones that wouldn't work in class. Ones that were downright disruptive with their lack of participation.

Not a single one was lazy.

There's something you should know about me (if you don't already):  I love acting.  I don't just love acting, I love teaching acting.  So when I see a student behaving this way, my natural curiosity is piqued.

Another thing to know about me:  my curiosity is quite strong.

So, rather than rant and rave at these supposed miscreants, I did something crazy.  I talked with them.

And without exception, every single one of them confessed to me that their dearest desire was to become a successful actor.  They were also aware that their current behavior was not helping them towards that goal.

So what gives? 

This is normally where the word "lazy" gets thrown around.  Well, obviously these students are just lazy.  They aren't willing to put in the work necessary to become successful.

But, thing is, that's just not true.  Because when I would start working with these students one on one, they would put in some serious hours trying to improve.

After many conversations with these special students (and I'm not using the word "special" in that sarcastic hey-there's-something-wrong-with-that-person kind of way), I realized that what was keeping them from engaging was fear.

They were afraid to fail.  See, if they're not really trying, it somehow doesn't feel so much like true failure.  Of course, there's an uncomfortable truth in there.  If you don't really try, it's kind of hard to find success, especially in an industry like entertainment.

Now that's what was happening on the surface, but then I noticed that maybe it wasn't the whole story.  Because as these actors began to engage and really work hard, I saw something else happening.  They were finding other ways to self-sabotage.  They were now trying, but were obviously still afraid of something.  They were succeeding in the craft, but finding personal (and more subtle) ways to make sure that professional success eluded them.

I think the truth is that we're all afraid of success.  With success comes acclaim and public visibility.  We're now on a much bigger stage.  A stage which, on some level, we're pretty sure will be the venue for our ultimate humiliation and defeat when we're exposed as the hacks and frauds we truly are.

This, of course, isn't true, but the negative voices in our heads are pretty sure that it is.  And they work below the surface to make sure that their version of reality is what happens.

So what can we do about it?  Well, the only thing that I've found that works is to acknowledge those fears when they crop up.  And how do we know when we're scared (because sometimes it isn't obvious)? It's usually when our focus narrows and turns inward. 

The choices that we make when we're scared are usually pretty destructive.  When we're connected and looking out, those choices tend to lead us on to some pretty spectacular things.

Seems like pretty good motivation to me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Move, Baby, Move!



Here we come to one of those topics that most of us would like to avoid.  Getting in touch with our bodies.

Groan.

I remember in both my undergraduate and graduate acting programs, I HATED my movement classes.  Seriously.  Hated.

Which right there should tell you something.  Hatred is a very strong emotion.  It says something about the person who's feeling it.  Principally, that they care.  A lot.

And I absolutely did.  I cared.  I cared enough to moan and complain and grumble and whine any time an instructor asked me to get my body involved in my acting.  "Just let me ACT!!" was my constant (and I'm sure grating) response whenever the topic would arise.

Because (and I'm sure you've all figured this out already, because you're...you know...not thick) I wasn't particularly comfortable in my own skin.  I was always one of those actors that was great with technique.  I could think my way around and through (and under and over) any part on the planet. 

What I couldn't do was just inhabit it.

Because, you see, inhabiting a role means embracing it fully.  Embracing something fully means mind, soul and...you guessed it...BODY!

Crapola.

Then came grad school and my sadistic German yogi.  Part of our program was an incredibly intensive style of yoga.  If you know anything about yoga, you know about Ashtanga (or flow or power) yoga.  Gerhard somehow managed to make really hard yoga even harder.

I showed up for my first class thinking that I was in for some gentle stretching.  A little downward dog, some cat and cow, maybe the plow pose if we got a little nuts.  Instead, I found myself an hour later with a pool of sweat in front of me, feeling like I was going to die.  And Gerhard, bless his little heart, said, "Dat vas de eesiest day of yoga ve vill haf."

He was right.  It got nothing but harder.  But I loved it.  My body strengthened and got more flexible.  I started wanting to eat better.  I slept more soundly.  I found myself pushing myself further than I ever thought I could.

And something else happened.  My acting deepened.  I could get in touch with my emotions more readily.  My presence and charisma skyrocketed.  And I discovered that I could manipulate my body's energies in ways that seemed almost...magic.

Before this experience, I called any training that wasn't strictly cerebral "Kumbaya" theatre.  I thought it was overly touchy-feely and distracted actors from the "real thing".

No more.

So, if you're like I was, you can fight this.  That's a choice.  I can tell you from experience it's not a great one.

Or you could try embracing your body.  Training it.  Strengthening it.  Exploring what all it can do.

Don't limit yourself!  Martial arts, Alexander technique, Laban's efforts, yoga, horseback riding, fencing, stage combat, stunt work, and on and on and on.  The possibilities are pretty much limitless.

Get inside your body and stay there for a while.  It's uncomfortable at first, but I'm telling you, it's absolutely the best place to live. :)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Personal Standards



This is a topic that isn't addressed all that often within acting circles.  It makes a lot of us uncomfortable.  We find ourselves feeling either judged, with a finger pointed at us, or on the jury, pointing our fingers at someone else.  We compare ourselves to others, checking to see what our favorite actors do when they find themselves in a similar circumstance.  Or, if that doesn't fit with the we're looking for, we go down the list until we find someone (anyone) that agrees with us.

What I'm talking about is deciding what we will and won't do as actors.

One thing I won't be doing in this blog is talking that much about my own standards.  Not because I don't want to talk about them.  I'd love to.  But because, for the purposes of this post, they're irrelevant.

We're talking about personal standards.  Not professional standards (that's a different discussion for another time).  Not industry standards.  Not Standard American. 

We're talking about individual guidelines we determine for ourselves that shape the kind of people we want to be.

Most creative people, actors especially, tend to rebel any time someone talks about limits or boundaries.  And they're right, in a sense.  We don't want to limit the infinite possibilities and potential we all possess, but what exactly does that really mean?  Iambic pentameter could be seen as a limit or a boundary to a writer, but I wouldn't say it limited Shakespeare. 

Talking about establishing and maintaining personal standards flies right in the face of what many say about the craft.  The argument is that we're just acting; therefore, anything we do as we portray a part is fair game.  No exceptions.

And that may work for some people.  There's nothing inherently wrong in that reasoning.  It just doesn't work for me.  And I figure, if it doesn't work for me, it may not work for some of you out there.  The fact that the subject comes up all the time makes me think that must be true.

One boundary that seems to come up all the time is the subject of nudity and/or sex scenes.  But there are others.  Many, many others.  Whether or not to smoke for a part.  Whether or not to eat meat.  Whether or not to act in a film or play whose message goes against our personal beliefs.  Whether or not to swear.  Whether or not to wear the color purple, which CLEARLY doesn't work with our skin.

Okay, that last one may be just a touch silly.  But then again, maybe not.  What seems ridiculous or ludicrous to someone else may be something that you hold near and dear.  Even sacred.

My point here is, each of us get to make our own choices about what kind of people...and actors...we want to be.  Period.  No one else can tell us what to do or believe.  What I decide to do or not to do may not make any sense to you.  That's okay.  It doesn't have to.

Will we miss out on jobs if we decide not to do certain things?  Sure.  It's possible.  Will we really be missing out, though?

The universe is bountiful and wants to give us all that we're willing to receive.  One job here or there doesn't really compare with that, does it? :)