Well-meaning coaches everywhere are telling actors to treat their careers like a business. We’re told to be the “CEO of our own Company”. We’re expected to spend a minimum number of hours working hard at our business. But working towards a bottom line “at all costs” is a prescription for anxiety and depression.
It’s what happens when a person finds themself to be the only person who’s survived a tragic event. This past year, in spite of the pandemic, my auditions have surprisingly increased. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty about this, so I try keep it to myself. Are you keeping the good things in your life a secret?
As soon as I came back from my family vacation, I was hit hard with non-stop auditions. In July, I had fifteen of ’em in nineteen days, including two callbacks (see video above). Some say it’s not cool to mention this when so many actors are suffering dry spells, but attempting to control other people’s feelings is a losing game.
This tree was the only thing left standing at ground zero. It defied logic, yet made so much sense. When I arrived in L.A., I only had theatre credits and two co-star roles – I had neither connections nor representation. I did, however, acclimate very quickly. The weather, the driving – I never owned a car before – and the possibilities! Unlike Chicago, I could meet dozens of casting directors face to face and no one had a preconceived idea of who I was or who I should be. That first year I booked three network TV shows and a national commercial with no agent. It defied logic.
I have always loved living on the edge, not knowing how things will turn out. I love it, because deep in my soul I know everything will always turn out fine. And now I am determined to love my way of living more than others fear it.
“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul
So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?
An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.
When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.
Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.
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We don’t see things as they are;
we see them as we are. ~ Anonymous
Every day news networks lead with shocking headlines solely to increase their ratings. To quote playwright, Adam Langer, “You never hear anyone say, ‘that’s too awful to be true.’ No matter how awful it is, you can believe it, why not no matter how good?” (Vivian in Film Flam)
Some may say that seeing the awful is facing reality. That in order to be safe, we must dutifully arm ourselves with worst case scenarios so as not to fall victim. We must watch the news, binge on real murder stories, click on depressing reports about our health care system and the environment – this keeps us ahead of the game! Beware hopeful stories, for they must be treated with suspicion. We must be careful not to have too much hope or else others will call us naive.
Our reality is based on what we believe. I like to play Black Jack, but I never win, because I have a hang-up about gambling. On the other hand, I believe so strongly in my body’s immune system that I’ve never had the flu even though I’ve never had a flu shot. Our beliefs are strengthened by what we choose to focus on. Good news – we can consciously shift our focus as soon as we are triggered by negative comments or disturbing stories. There is always good to be witnessed, and science shows it makes us healthier. Every horrible headline can be countered with something good. This is one of my favorites from last week: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/montana-governor-signs-executive-order-keep-net-neutrality-state/
You’re probably already seeing the connection between this and your career. I’ve encountered some crappy people and situations throughout the years, but the moment I no longer allowed them to predict my future, obstacles disappeared. Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
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There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)
At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible. Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.
Get a jar – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:
- You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
- You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
- Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.
So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.
Get out of your head and you will have access to infinite possibilities. How many times have we been told, “Get out of your head”? The problem is, the harder we try, the more we’re sure to stay in it. When our minds are occupied by thoughts of trying to think ahead or trying to find the joke/game or what furthers the plot, we are no longer open to every possibility. So what to do? Get out of your head and get into . . . the now. You might ask: But if I get out of my amazing memory of impressive facts, how can I wow the audience with quick wit and pop culture trivia? Or, how can I make the scenes relevant without implementing current events and philosophical references? Personally, I hate when a stage gets littered with “clever clutter”. It’s a guaranteed sign that the actors don’t trust the scene. The 13th century poet and mystic, Rumi, said, “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.” Observe the artist who successfully suspends their rational, linear mind andmoves ‘into the zone’. It’s when your thinking mind lures you out of the zone – out of the “now” –that you resort to the clutter. Be present. Look at your partner. Look at them entirely. Really look at them. (Or really feel them.) When you get into the present, your mind stops, and everything that is important rises to the surface. Compare the hyperactive dispensing of cleverisms to a string quartet where the musicians are banging on their instruments. If the “chatter” is noisy, then no one will notice the subtle pluck of the perfectly tuned viola. That subtle pluck could be what takes you to the next level of relationship and scenic progression. That subtle pluck was probably the heart of the scene. If you’d rather make a joke, then that subtle pluck will never be heard.