Dear Actors, you are enough…
But do you really believe that?
Following nearly 25 years of working in the performing arts industry as an actress myself, I have also had the opportunity to assist directors, train with incredible coaches and view the problems that arise for most actors time and time again.
It’s an elusive art form acting and what it takes to be a great actor seems to be equally puzzling because great acting looks so simple.
But don’t be deluded into thinking that anything that looks effortless, is simple to master.
The recipe for great acting is a concoction of techniques, skills and qualities that need to be prepped, measured, mixed, worked at, and combined together before placing it in the oven to bake.
Starting with the base ingredients, there are the technical aspects such as an expressive voice and body, acute concentration, knowledge on methods of text analysis, character development, stage and screen craft. Mix into that the need to be emotionally available, emotionally intelligent, with a generous dose of being well-read. Sprinkle in curiosity, imagination, with a dollop of playfulness and then place all of this into the acting industry oven!
The baking needs to be at just the right temperature, for just the right amount of time, observed regularly for the cake to rise...
Headshots, resumes, reels, representation, auditions, remaining financially solvent yet available for last minute castings, taking class and workshops to remain flexible in your craft. Then, when you get the work (hoorah!), you’re navigating working on set or working in theatre, performing, promoting, networking, before it starts all over again.
Sometimes the cake turns out just right and other times it doesn’t - either way, after the cake has gone, if you want more cake you need to gather your ingredients, review everything you have learned and bake again!
It takes resilience to be an actor fueled with an unbridled passion and enthusiasm to continue on regardless of the competition and statistics for success.
And with all that is involved, even with the most experienced actor, there is often an underlying factor that can either make them or break them.
Poster for "Christina's World", I short film I choreographed
It’s the biggest note I hear directors, casting directors, and coaches give when actors are too tense, rigid, stuck in their heads, or overacting… ‘Just be yourself’, ‘Relax’ or ‘Know that you are enough’...
Sounds simple, right?
Well, no, apparently not!
From my own experiences and also from working with my students, it seems to be increasingly difficult to just relax and trust you are enough.
It’s now become an obsession of mine to find out why. I've been seeking the problems to find the solutions and I’ve discovered that what seems to be getting in the way of simply being in the moment has something to do with certain damaging behaviours.
I’m going to name 3 potent elements that can play havoc on creating any sense of knowing that we are enough. The first one is:
This is an inherently natural human behaviour and is a form of judgement to know where we stand in comparison to someone else. We compare ALL THE TIME, so let’s just accept that as being human.
Comparison can be helpful to identify something we value and inspiring to reference our current realities to where we would like to be with our lives.
However, comparing our progress to someone else is entirely unhelpful. We are all on our own path, traveling along at different times. That would possibly be more accepted if it wasn’t for technology and social media, because now, comparison can now take up EVERY SECOND of EVERY DAY if we let it. This means after a few minutes scrolling, it reduces our thinking to...
”Why even try if I’m not beautiful enough
in comparison to…..
It can suck the life out of you and is completely damaging to your wellbeing.
We also can be rather one sided with our comparison.
We will often compare our lowest, least appealing parts of ourselves, with the perfectly curated picture ideal of someone on Instagram. We will also compare our novice learnings on a subject with a professional expert. It’s not fair to ourselves and it’s not realistic but we continually do it and this can create a storm of feelings connected to low self worth.
So, reduce the mindless scrolling (we all do it!) and instead turn that attention to researching subjects that interest you and develop those skills on your own time schedule.
The second hidden hurdle to ‘enough-ness’ is
‘A disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable’
Perfectionist standards are rarely high standards but instead completely unattainable ones.
I’ll say that again
Perfectionist standards are rarely high standards but instead completely unattainable ones.
So let’s just take that in.
If we are never to attain these unrealistic standards, guess what, we will forever feel like a failure. We will forever feel worthless and useless and support the belief that we are not enough. And even if we do reach a standard that feels ‘perfect’, we will then be striving to recreate that moment again and again and start the cycle of worthlessness again when we don’t.
Perfectionist standards are rigid and unrealistic focused on the final outcome or product and they tend to be based on fear.
Fear is a killer for creativity.
This means as an actor with perfectionist tendencies, you are never going to enjoy the journey. To embrace and explore the process of discovering the character as you go, moment to moment with freedom to play. Actors become so wrapped up in getting it right that they miss out on all the wonderful discoveries you make through trial, imperfections and mistakes. Those discoveries are crucial as they deepen the connection to the text, the character and thereby allow for a more authentic performance.
Another trait for perfectionists is also the intolerance of uncertainty and yet uncertainty is a number one definite within the acting industry (as it is in life!). One of the biggest blocks for actors is to release into the moment and not know exactly how a scene will play out but instead to trust in the journey.
And thirdly, another stinger to our sense of self worth: Self Criticizing.
If I spoke to my loved ones the way I speak to myself sometimes, they would not only be appalled but they would call me out on it. Funny then how self criticizing is accepted by ourselves.
Self criticism is that inner critic reaffirming untruths about yourself that you have internalized to be true based on perceived ideas of what you think you ‘should’ be. It’s of no use to your sense of self, it’s a liar and it doesn’t serve you.
However, even though our Inner Critic can sound quite cruel, it actually doesn't have cruel intentions. Bizarrely, it’s actually on our side and is simply trying to protect us. Our Inner Critic is solely focused on our survival, so when it seems to be telling us that we’re not good enough, it is in actual fact, trying to keep us safe.
Staying safe means we won’t do anything to jeopardize being ousted from the tribe and left to fend for ourselves. Yes, it’s that primal!
Staying safe makes us play safe.
Have you ever watched a groundbreaking performance from an actor because they were playing it safe?
Staying in our comfort zone means we never step out of it where the magic happens.
And the magic is in the process of exploring, discovering and playing.
An actor’s job is to make choices. Sometimes you will get feedback on those choices and sometimes you won't. Sometimes you’ll get the job based on your choices and sometimes you won’t. However, most actors seem to be second guessing what they think the casting director or directors want and therefore they don't make any choice apart from the obvious option of just playing it safe.
And that makes you the same as the majority of other actors.
The few actors that instead choose to go with instinct, turn up fully alive and present, make choices without fear and will most likely be the ones to stand out from the rest of the competition. It does not guarantee the job but it does guarantee a positive impression. And that is gold dust in the acting industry.
There is no ‘one fix solution’ for this or even a graduating certificate that will qualify you with permanent feelings that you are enough but what I do offer in my teachings are many practical steps and techniques to practice bringing you more in alignment with your true self.
A huge factor in dealing with perfectionism and criticism is bringing much more compassion into your life.
Unlike self criticism which asks - ‘Are you good enough?
Self compassion asks ‘What’s good for you?’.
Compassion releases the criticizing and judging of yourself for whatever inadequacies and shortcomings you believe you have, and replaces them with kindness and understanding when confronted with personal failings.
Self awareness illuminates who you really are. Awareness without judgment allows you to accept what is. Sometimes it’s not what we want it to be. Oftentimes, we have conveniently managed to block the reality from our view because we don’t like the idea of it. However, once we are fully aware, without judgement, it is immensely liberating and incredibly empowering.
You see clearly and then you can take action from that clarity.
It is so important for actors to have a strong sense of self and embrace all the facets of their own unique humanity - the shadows and the light. How on earth can you as an actor, own a character's story if you haven't fully embraced your own?
Values are the things that you deem important in life. It’s what matters to you. They profoundly inform you what to pursue day in and day out. Values are something you do and are, rather than something you get.
Values are not goals. You don’t achieve values, you try to live by them or are guided by them.
Values get you to enough as they make each moment in life about something you hold dear.
So my dear actors, when it comes down to it, the acting industry needs you to be you. The real you. The fully alive you, perfectly imperfect you.
You are not broken and you do not need to be fixed. Instead, accept yourself with embracing compassion will be the start of feeling fully alive. And then trust and know that you are enough, because you really are.
“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”
Rebecca Reaney is a movement, performance and acting coach specialising in nurturing the actor to realise their uniqueness, develop their confidence and expand into their true self. Her method incorporates movement as the basis for text analysis, character development, wellbeing and self discovery that is crucial for a fully embodied actor. She is also a Movement Director creating and directing Christina's World which became part of the official selection for the Cascadia Dance Film Festival in 2019, followed by the short film Moved selected for Phoenix Dance Film Festival & LA Shorts Film Festival in 2020.
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