As an actor, you’re most often asked to just be yourself. Come to think of it, this could be said of all manner of business, just maybe more so as an actor. Those casting are most interested in you being you. In fact, you’re expected to be the most dynamic, comfortable, spontaneous “YOU” you can be. This can come as something of a contradiction after training for 4 to 6 years to become ‘someone else’. (Be your self? Who the heck is that?)
As actors we’re typically taught we’re supposed to be everything. And certainly that’s the general consensus regarding acting as a profession. We’re supposed to be versatile and as well versed in Shakespeare as Arthur Miller, as comfortable with comedy as pathos, as skilled at sitcom as stage. For what it’s worth, all of these tasks have their own (rather steep) degrees of difficulty and require a mastery that’s not immediately intuitive to any one. Yet we’re told this is the definition of versatility, and expected of us all. No sweat.
Well, as much as I love him, Shakespeare is not for everyone. I challenge you to sit through a few painfully long hours of poorly performed productions of the Bard and you’ll likely come to the very same conclusion. Yet, there they are up on that stage, a gaggle of die-hards who love hearing the rich text of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” waft out over the heads assembled in the local auditorium as they have every July some place since time immemorial. And while most of these actors might be better cast in any other genre but this one, it creates an extraordinary effect on those daring souls up on that stage by challenging their all-too coddled comfort zones. Think not? Try it sometime, Lil’ Chicken.
If you practice this, you are effectively conditioning yourself to play the moment. By doing so, you come to rely on your choices, impulses and commitment to the cast of players you’re immediately working with. It’s quite the high wire act, I’ll grant you. Not a simple feat by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps it’s because only by contrast we will distinguish a significant difference in our desired performance.
Perhaps that’s who we really are. That terrified skydiver with our feet firmly planted ‘on the boards’.
Perhaps by actively exposing ourselves to an unfamiliar performance style with full immersion, a style that’s a good 180 degrees from how we see ourselves, and what we’re used to, is most often where real creativity lies: at the edge of our comfort zone. It’s most likely where you’ll define yourself, and your point of view within the story.
Commit yourself to working with those who don’t simply match your aesthetic and skill level, but honestly surpass you in your estimation. Don’t know them (yet)? Seek them out. Challenge yourself well beyond your comfort zone not just in performance, but in the field as well. They’re equally important.
I suppose it can go without saying, but mastering the art of being your self as an actor, in business, and in life as a whole, is an ongoing drive. To do so with the continued aim of excellence is the goal. This is how we establish our standards, and ultimately defines what we become known for. Without standards, we become known for either not caring or simply settling, neither of which instills confidence—whether in ourselves, or others in us. This is why, as actors, we continually train, because if you’re not working the muscle it will atrophy, pure and simple. If you’re not challenging your comfort zone, you’re becoming complacent.
Of course, at some point we must stop tweaking, step back and simply present. This is where the rubber hits the road: The testing of one’s mettle. The ultimate delivery of everything we’ve prepared for up to this very moment.
So goes coming into our own in any worthwhile field of endeavor, acting or otherwise. It’s what we do and dedicate ourselves to that defines us. It’s failing and weathering the stumbles with equal parts grace and guffaw. It’s learning to trust ourselves and by doing so others come to trust us, as well. It’s about persevering with the intent mission to elevate any given situation we may find ourselves in. Make it your mission to continually problem solve, but stay in your lane to garner the greatest results.
These are the components that offer mastery of any subject, why not on the art of being our selves. Isn’t that one of the overall goals in life anyway? If it’s not yet, I recommend you scribble this one up near the top of that to-do list. Almost everything hinges on it.
Rest assured, the world loves you for being you more than anything else. After all, it wouldn’t be the same place without you.
Copyright © 2021 by Kate McClanaghan. All Rights Reserved.
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