Acting and writing allow me to connect to people through storytelling, to explore ideas, perspectives and the many facets of life. I’ve dedicated myself to these things because I love them, and I’m so grateful there are jobs out there that let me share this value with the world.
But I also know not everyone feels like they’ve found what makes them come alive. And it can change depending on life stages, personal circumstances, experiences and even our values. So it’s not always easy to know what makes you come alive, but sometimes there are clues.
What is it, in everyday life, that brings a smile to your face? What’s something that you always want to make time for? Is it a particular topic of conversation, a social situation, or maybe something like watching kids play together, working out or gardening? Maybe it’s a combination of things.
I’m no expert at this – I think it’s one facet of life that always keeps us on our toes – but I do believe it’s important to consider, explore and revisit the things that make us light up. Because when we find it, we can bring value to everything that we do.
I’ve been working on The Actors Process for over a year now, co-producing the series that interviews industry professionals and experts about the craft and business of acting. With 9 of the season’s 10 episodes already live, we currently have some downtime before the final episode’s release on the 10th of August 2014.
But after reading through some of the great comments on the show’s blog and Twitter (@ActorsProcess), I started thinking about what other video resources actors can find online. So here’s some of my favourite videos, YouTube channels and articles that have given me insights, inspiration and motivation as an actor.
The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable Interviews
One of my weekly habits is reading The Hollywood Reporter (among other industry news publications), and that’s actually how I first came across their Roundtable interviews with actors, actresses, writers, directors, casting directors and more.
THR has a whole series of these interviews – often an hour long – discussing different processes, specific productions and roles or challenges the creatives have faced. The first one I watched was the Actresses Roundtable for the 2014 Academy Awards (below), and I got SO much out of it, but just looking through THR‘s YouTube channel now I am getting excited by how many others there are for me to see.
Will Smith’s Philosophy
This video is one that a guest on The Actors Process, actress Sarah Roberts, actually talks about in her episode. I’d never seen it before she mentioned it, but I often go back to it now when I’m looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s many videos and versions, but this is the last one I watched:
Shakespeare: Original Pronunciation
I love Shakespeare, and this video is a fascinating insight into the way it would have originally been spoken. It gave me a greater appreciation for the wordplay, much of which we partly lose now, and I think it’s well worth a watch for anyone with an interest in The Bard.
TED and TEDx Talks
Part of acting is the study of living and being a human. TED Talks and the independently organised TEDx Talks deal with this in every way, and whether you watch one or many of these videos, they are so valuable for acting and living.
Here’s one I watched a few months ago that took me back to my homeschooled roots:
Actor Audition Tapes
There are so many self tapes and auditions available to watch online, particularly for famous actors. These are great to watch as a way of seeing what helped people land a particular role, and also great if you want to learn more about self taping. I started watching them a few years ago – well before I started working at the Self Tape Audition Studio in Melbourne – and I still think they are essential viewing if you’ve never done a self tape or video audition before (and even if you have). Here’s one of the first I watched, of Evangeline Lily auditioning for LOST.
I’m sure there’s many more video resources out there that I haven’t mentioned or come across yet, and I’d love to hear suggestions of others. What other videos are out there for actors and other creatives? What else should I be watching?
The relationship between acting and emotions is clear, but where does human nature fit into this dynamic?
This question has been on my mind for a while now, and often comes to the fore when I’m in a production or watching theatre, film or an acting workshop.
On the one hand, an actor’s job is to live authentically within the circumstances they are given – which means being a human being, with all of the nature (and nurture) that brings with it. That in itself is often enough of a challenge to keep us busy with home work and preparation.
But, on the other hand, we are also living, breathing human beings, separate but entwined with the characters we play. Great acting requires complete commitment to the given circumstances and the moment, and in a sense that means the actor must surrender to that reality, giving up their own life temporarily in order to be real in a different way.
The challenge that I think we often miss is that human beings don’t want to feel everything. Human nature (and social conditioning) has shaped our views of emotional states, creating judgments around certain feelings.
Showing and expressing anger, sadness, embarrassment, envy and many other feelings is not something human beings openly and freely tend to do. At least not 100%.
But actors have to feel these things 100%. We’re often put into situations that we would hate in real life. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to embrace these moments and explore things we can’t fully express in our own reality, but sometimes it’s confronting and challenging and incredibly scary.
And that’s where the challenge really is. Part of us, as actors, wants to explore these emotions and this work so that we can become real in the circumstances we’re given. Another part wants to stop us from feeling thinks like hurt, embarrassment, betrayal, abandonment, devastation, bitchiness or whatever the scene calls for.
I think these conflicting parts of our selves are often the cause for common actor problems. Human beings tend to do everything we can to not show how we feel or say what we want in everyday situations – and there are all kinds of “tools” we can use to do so, such as “collecting” ourselves before broaching a subject with someone, keeping busy with other tasks, lying etc etc.
Actors, bless us, have even more tools. We can use the script. We can pre-shape moments so that we “know” how to act, react and feel. That’s a real safety net for our human nature when you think about it.
These ideas all really me yesterday when I was auditing Howard Fine’s Master Class in Melbourne. I could see the struggles and I could see the actors overcoming those struggles, letting the challenges be in the moments rather than between their two realities. That is the goal.
At one point, Howard Fine said something that struck me as relevant not only to my theories about human nature and feelings in acting, but also in life: “The fear of feeling must not over power the need to experience.”
So it can be scary, whether it’s feeling in acting work or in life, but acknowledging and fully expressing emotions leads to more complete experiences and fulfilment in every moment.
Last weekend I went to meet a friend at Abbotsford Convent, where she was doing an acting workshop. I got there really early and decided to wander around the place, taking in the people having late lunches at the cafes, a happy wedding party and a very interesting photo exhibition that was partly morbid and partly fantastical.
I think I was fairly open to going with the flow and filling the time however I was meant to, and maybe that’s why what happened next was so strange and interesting to me.
I was in the bathroom (which has all sorts of inspired messages scrawled on it, like “I will love you no matter who you are” alongside other statements like “go vegan”), washing my hands next to a woman in her 30s and a little girl. The girl’s mum was waiting for her at the door, but she was there trying to reach the taps.
“Do you want me to help?” I asked the little girl. She shyly nodded and I turned on the tap as her mum came over to hurry her along. The woman next to me glanced towards us and started shaking her head.
“Well that may be the case but I just don think it’s right,” she said. “Just because a person goes to parties and takes some drugs in their 20s, doesn’t mean they are always going to be that person.”
At first I thought she was continuing a previous conversation with the mum, as if they knew each other, but as she kept talking I realised that wasn’t the case. I wondered if she was talking to me, or to herself? Or maybe one of the acting students that trains at the convent on weekends. But for some reason I made the decision to listen.
As she kept talking she revealed that she was “that person” who had gone out partying and taking drugs. She told me that she wasn’t accepted by her family or by anyone else, that her mum and stepdad had rejected her and that “everyone else can go and do all of those things and make mistakes and then be accepted, but I’m not”.
At some point I noticed the mother and daughter left and several more people came and went, giving the woman a wide berth, and looking at her like she was a crazy person. I stood there and listened.
She told me about how she felt strong and knew who she was but that everyone else “tries to make me out as someone I’m not”. She felt like she’d been made a victim and was all alone in the world. She said single people she knew hated her because of her independence and people in couples saw her as a threat to their relationships. I could see she was really frustrated by the assumption that she would interfere in other peoples relationships, and she told me that she had “more integrity than that”.
“I could have that,” she said. “I could go out and be in some relationship with a guy I don’t really love. I could be married with kids but I don’t want to do that if it doesn’t feel right.”
At this point I felt like I was in the middle of a scene from some kind of indie film with a message. What was I supposed to do? Drawing on my training as an actor, I decided to follow my impulses, which were currently telling me to stand there and listen. It was almost like doing a Meisner exercise, almost like repetition.
But my sense of being in a heightened moment, in a scene from a movie or a play, grew from there. Here I was, listening to a stranger open up about her struggle to find acceptance, choosing her integrity over “settling in some compromised relationship”, in a bathroom at an iconic location in Melbourne. Outside the bathroom – as if on cue – a man suddenly started belting out “I Will Always Love You”.
I thought it was the perfect soundtrack to what she was saying: a message that we can all find love. She wasn’t so impressed, struggling to keep up the rhythm of her story and eventually turning and yelling at him to shut up.
I don’t remember if he did go quiet (but I do remember hearing him about an hour later when I left the convent). I was listening to her again. I felt like I needed to listen, like maybe no one had really listened to her in a long time. So she told me how she thought jealousy had got in the way of her relationships with people. She said her mum was jealous of her and that her friends parents had been jealous of her when she was growing up.
She said she was undermined by her two housemates (“who have mums that come and look after them”) because they were jealous. She said her life would be different if her mum had been there for her. And I thought: “maybe seeing the mum and little girl earlier is what triggered this pseudo-soliloquy?”
Then she told me her mum accused her of having mental health issues, and assumed that it was because of the partying and the drugs. She said it was hypocritical, because her mum had once lied about having bipolar disorder as an excuse for her behaviour.
“I knew it wasn’t true,” she said. “She used it as an excuse to raise her voice and yell at me like I’m yelling at you.”
She softened when she acknowledged her raised voice, like it was a beat change. Her voice was sadder as she told me that if she ever had kids she would “raise them better than I was raised”.
“And I’m sorry for telling you all of this but I just feel like it’s really unfair that other people can do things and be accepted and I’m left out.”
“It’s okay,” I told her. “You needed to be heard.”
“Yeah, it’s just really unfair,” she said.
“What’s your name?” She asked me. We exchanged names and she apologised again.
“You don’t have to apologise at all,” I said. Then she thanked me and left.
Image credit: michaelgreenhill
Three years ago I took a plane from the airport near my hometown to Melbourne. I had just one suitcase and it carried my whole life at the time. It was less than a month since I’d moved back from living in Vancouver and traveling through North America, and I was still reeling from the experiences, nursing a broken heart.
I’d moved back to Australia partly because Vancouver hadn’t felt right and partly because I wanted to fully commit to being an actor in Australia. I’d never felt like I had done that, and after some modest successes in Canada I knew it was something I had to do to move forward. Melbourne was my city of choice.
Apart from those thoughts, I didn’t really have a solid plan. I got off the plane, was picked up by a family friend and spent the next few weeks intensely searching for a place to live and a job. The living came first, with one of my best friends from school setting me up with a room in her sharehouse. The job was harder.
I thought I’d try and get some office work, just to pay the bills while I figured out the acting industry here, but somehow I managed to fail at every job interview I went to (and I was normally at my best with the interview part of the process). While trying not to go mad without work I started searching for acting events and opportunities specific to my interested and training.
I soon found Meisner Melbourne and booked in for a free class. After meeting the artistic director, Clare Elizabeth Dea, I signed up for an eight week course. Not long after I met with a writing contact who offered me work that fitted in perfectly with my newfound Meisner training. It became the perfect balance and that acting-writing dynamic is a core part of my life now.
Since then I’ve worked hard, putting in countless hours searching and prepping for roles, meeting people in the acting community, expanding my writing assignments and generally getting established in Melbourne. I’ve grown as an actor, writer and human being through training, work and other experiences. I’ve made mistakes in all areas of my life and I’ve learned from them; I think I’ve even learned not to be quite so hard on myself when I do fall down, and now favour a more constructive approach.
In the last three years I rediscovered dance, enjoyed romance, suffered betrayals, shared achievements, and faced a lot of fears (like doing the Howard Fine Master Class last year, which was wonderful and made me feel like a part of the Howard Fine Acting Studio family). I’ve been cast in films and stage shows and written blog posts and feature articles for a range of publications.
I feel like I’ve really lived, fully, in almost every single moment of my time in Melbourne. I’ve stayed true to myself and my commitment to acting, to writing, to life. I’ve also changed a lot, becoming more self aware, open and adventurous.
Melbourne is this amazing, eclectic, multifaceted, creative, beautiful city that I’m so happy to be a part of right now. But more than that, I am so grateful for the wonderful people I’ve met here. There’s a real heart to this place, to the people that live here and are drawn here. The friends I’ve made in Melbourne are my inspiration and support. My friends make me love living here, they make it feel like a home more than a place I’m just staying for a while (and maybe I am just staying here for a while, who knows? But having that feeling is so important to me).
I grew up in a town with such a strong sense of community that it will always be my home and always have a big part of my heart. But I’ve found a community here that is beyond anything I expected. I came here with a churned up heart and soul and, three years on, I feel like I’m on the path I’m truly meant to follow, wherever it leads from here.
I love trying new things and after getting really sick three or four times last winter I’ve become particularly interested in all things health and fitness.
So last year when I was looking for something new and feeling inspired by the handful of springlike days that graced Melbourne, I happened to get an invitation from Mamamia for a gym trial.
It started with an email in August inviting me to be part of the site’s Opinionator trial for Fernwood Fitness, a women’s gym operating around Australia. I got two weeks there in exchange for writing about the experience as a Mamamia Opinionator (see link above) and really enjoyed it.
The team there and the members were so friendly and I enjoyed both working out on my own and doing classes. I had only previously gone to a gym three years ago, when I was living in Canada and I’d never done classes there.
My Opinionator experience has since led me to look at other gyms and fitness options available in Australia, and also inspired me to write about it. First of all, I’ve discovered that most gyms offer trials, whether it is one day, one week or even two weeks. You can sometimes even find them on the back of shopping dockets (which I’ve also done).
Some, like Fernwood, also offer free fitness assessments and tours to show you how things work, so you don’t end up feeling like you’re thrown in the deep end if you haven’t used a gym before. It’s a great way to figure out what a gym is like and whether you want to go there on a more regular basis. But I couldn’t help wondering what options are out there if you want something more flexible.
What if you work for yourself and don’t want to commit to a contract? What if you have young kids and can’t commit to a regular timetable? What if you’re a uni student or between jobs? Working out at home or doing a team sport are go-to alternatives, but I also think sometimes a gym is a nice refuge from weather or lack of motivation.
The more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I’ve wondered if we need some other options. And one of the things I’ve noticed is that there are some smart people and businesses filling in the gaps between membership options. Take Michelle Bridges 12-Week Body Transformation program, for instance. I’ve never done it, but I’m following the Mamamia team that’s involved now and think it’s a really great, flexible program. I love that you can do it from anywhere and still have the support of a trainer and a community of people all going through challenges during a 12-week period. It seems like a really affordable way to change things up and kickstart or boost health and fitness goals.
There’s also new technology that makes keeping track of your fitness easier, like FitBit, which helps track your steps, distance, calories and many other measurable health markers. Mamamia’s Natalia Hawk has also written a great post about other fitness apps, all of which cost less than $5 and can be used pretty much anywhere.
Another option I came across a few months ago is FitUsIn. This Australian startup offers temporary gym passes, class entry and other packages at locations all around the country, often at much lower prices than you would get at any gyms currently offering day passes. I actually came across the app in an article in the newspaper one weekend, got really interested in it and went straight onto the website to explore.
The whole premise of FitUsIn is to make it easier to visit gyms and get active wherever you are and whatever lifestyle and budget you have. So if you’re new to working out, a traveller or want to change things up a bit, you can search for nearby places on your phone or online.
It is the brainchild of Vanessa Picker, a 22-year-old whose future looks very bright. Already the company has graduated from the ANZ Innovyz START accelerator program and was a finalist in the NYC Next Idea competition.
The team behind FitUsIn seems just as inspiring and just as motivated.When I was first exploring the site, for example, I had a couple of issues and sent an email through about it. I got a response from the team almost straight away, and was encouraged to give more feedback and suggestions whenever I wanted. I’ve since contacted them about a couple of local gyms they could get in touch with, and have been kept in the loop about progress.
Towards the end of 2013 I also had a few chats with FitUsIn Co-founder and Director Liam Darmody about the app, and was really impressed with his passion for encouraging healthy lifestyles and supporting change in the health and fitness industry.
“We’re not here to do one off promotions that are unsustainable. We’re trying to get more people in the door and fill the gaps when gyms have downtime,” he told me. It’s this kind of creativity and open-mindedness that makes me really excited for entrepreneurs and fellow health and fitness enthusiasts like myself. Because the more options and flexibility we have, the easier it is to stay motivated and inspired.
I had so much going on in Movember that I didn’t end up spending much time asking for donations or promoting the cause. I did make a point of smiling at everyone with mo’s though, and I did get a couple of donations and words for my annual Mo Poem (in bold below). I think what I’ve learned this year is that it’s not about how much you raise, but how much you care. I hope that shines through here.
It was a slow progression
But day-by-day his life changed
From happiness to depression
As complacence rearranged
His outlook towards sums:
Figures in the bank
Pushed meaning into the doldrums
And his life’s meaning sank
Down to money and ticked boxes.
Now he just sits and watches
The screens in front of him
Trying not to think of doctors
Or the help he needs within.
See he’s lost all his power
Like a defamed plenipotentiary
Braking promises by the hour
He’s forgotten there’s such a thing as being free.
The spiral pulls in everything
And he’s numb to the world
Blocking out what he can
So feelings can’t be unfurled.
He’d rather be the sheep at the back
Than the bellwether in front
Better to hide the cracks
And run away from the hunt.
He lost his love of life
Everything turned grey
And he realised too late the strife
That came from turning away.
Until the day came when something novel
Snapped him out of the grey,
He was lifted from his fearful hovel
By moustaches gone astray
For a month of the year
Meant to get men to talk and cheer,
Supporting one another
Through the challenges and pain.
Backing the cause snapped his daze
Reminding him that he had dreams
And finally the dam broke
The sheltered, dreary life ripped at the seams
As he gathered his friends and spoke
About what he felt had true meaning.
It was a gesture that started
As a thirty day thing
But instead of ending it’s lasted
Because everyday brings meaning.
All it took was a spark
Of interest, and persistent curiosity
Scratched away the damp ashes
To relight the fire in his heart.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about any books, but two of the most recent non-fiction works I’ve read have inspired me to explore the relevance and importance of context in literature.
When a family friend and former bookshop owner recommended Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, it came with a comment that it might provide insights into life in Iran and the cultural differences we could face when relating to Iranians now.
Since moving to Melbourne I’ve become friends with quite a few people from Iran and it’s been interesting to see how different people react when they hear that. Particularly – and I kind of hate saying this – people from small towns or regions where there is not a lot of cultural diversity. But you can’t know what you don’t know, which is one of the reasons I love reading non-fiction works.
Anyway, when I was reading Nafisi’s memoir, I found myself not only engaged by the difference in experiences she had living and working in Tehran, but also questioning what it is like their now.
Reading Lolita in Tehran primarily deals with Nafisi’s time teaching Western literature and living in Tehran, between 1979 and 1997. There are insights into the political context, particularly during and after the revolution (1978-81), university regulation, religious beliefs, small rebellions and society in general.
It definitely opened my eyes to how different life can be when you are born in a different part of the world. While it’s easy for us to pick up a copy of Lolita or The Great Gatsby or any other novel considered a classic, at the time that Nafisi reflects on in this memoir it was often a struggle to find these books and even illegal to read some of them.
Still, Nafisi saw value in considering these classic texts of the Western world, and her passion for them saw her fight to teach them and highlight similarities and differences between the cultures of these works and the ones she was experiencing. It’s a fascinating insight into life in Tehran at the time and how our social context can affect the way we read literature.
But I would argue that it’s not an insight into life in Tehran now. It’s from a time in the past and, while there were events that have undoubtedly affected Iran since Nafisi wrote her work, unless we experience life in Tehran firsthand it’s hard to say what it would be like there now.
Change and Cultural Perspectives
What similarities are there between the Tehran Nafisi lived in and the Tehran people know now? What differences are there? How has history affected this city and country in the years between?
These questions have always fascinated me when it comes to context and history. But our perspectives on these questions are also shaped by our own contexts. I have no experience of Tehran, but I do have an opinion on it based on what I’ve read and the Iranian people I’ve spoken to. That opinion is (and should be) constantly evolving the more I learn.
I’m still aware, however, that someone who has lived in Tehran would read Nafisi’s book with a different set of eyes and thoughts on it. Maybe they would agree, maybe they wouldn’t and maybe they would see more of what has changed and what has stayed the same within that culture.
These things are what I experienced when I picked up another memoir, Tracks by Robyn Davidson. It’s the story of Davidson’s nine-month journey from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia (ending up at Hamelin Pool, some 750 kilometres from Perth).
In Tracks, we hear about Davidson’s two-year preparation for the journey, which started with a move to The Alice in 1975. She writes about her experience as a city girl moving to the outback, her journey to learn more about camels and finding the four that would travel with her and her faithful dog Diggity.
She also writes about her experience a woman in the Australian outback in the late 70s, and her observations of how Aboriginals were viewed and treated. While the majority of the book, to me, was about Davidson finding a relationship with the land (and this country), there were some very fascinating and poignant insights into Australian life.
Some of what she wrote about different Indigenous communities (and they ways they were viewed), for example, sounds like they could have been pulled from discussions today.
“It also became apparent to me that the majority of whites now involved with the Aborigines are fighting alongside them to protect what is left of their lands and their rights, and eventually to reach the point where the blacks are autonomous,” she observes at one point.
“Whether this is possible, given the rural white backlash, the racist attitudes of Australians generally and the genocidal policies of the present government, and given that the rest of the world seems neither to know nor care what is happening to the oldest culture in the world, is a doubtful thing.”
I’ve heard many people say similar things over the past few years, though perhaps using slightly different language (people appear to be more cautious about using terms like “blacks” and “whites” in my experience).
I think just as many people would agree and disagree with her statements now as they would have done then. The big difference, as far as I can tell, is that there does now seem to be much more open conversation about Aboriginal culture and the socio-political issues they face.
The government has apologised for many of the wrongs done to Aboriginals since colonisation (for what that has been worth). There are ongoing discussions and concerns. People actually do care about what is happening to and for Aboriginal people, and I got the impression that the concern I’m aware of now was incredibly rare at the time Davidson was writing about her experiences crossing Australia.
My point is that some of Davidson’s observations still ring true today, while others are not as relevant now. And I have a stronger opinion about it than I did with Reading Lolita in Tehran because I do live in Australia. I wasn’t alive when Davidson started her journey, but my opinion is informed by the Australia I’ve grown up with.
As a result, I know firsthand what I see as different and what I see as the same in our culture. But someone who has never been to Australia, who read this book, would get a very different picture of this country if they took Davidson’s observations as true for today. I think the same can be said for me or anyone else reading a memoir like Reading Lolita in Tehran and assuming that is what life in Iran is like.
There are many reasons that I love reading, but one of them is to learn more about people and the world, both now and in the past. Memoirs can provide unique insights into a particular time and place (then and now), but above all they provide insights into the life of one person. Through that person (the author), I learn more about myself and the world around me.
As children we all play these different games; cops and robbers, doctors and nurses, superheroes and villains and many others too. While a lot of people would say we stop doing this at some stage and “grow up” I think we still do it as adults, just in a different way and to a different extent. We behave in certain ways based on the people around us. How you behave at work, for example, could be very different to how you are at a party.
I think of it as showing different sides of ourselves, and it’s something most actors are very familiar with because we have to do it more consciously and (often) to greater extremes. In order to be truthful under the imaginary circumstances we often have to do things very different to how we normally would. And say things we wouldn’t normally say (and find a way to believe them in that setting so that the audience believes us). I think Meryl Streep contextualises it best:
“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”
The challenge comes when you’re playing someone really different to who you normally are. Like a generous, nurturing actor playing a serial killer, or someone very shy playing a power hungry narcissist. How do actors find that in themselves?
There’s all kinds of different techniques that you could use, but at the core of it I think is finding something that could or would make you feel that way. I remember one actor I was working with saying that when he had to kill someone he thought about how much he hated mosquitos and how satisfying it was to kill them. That was something in him.
My friend, actor and creative director of Meisner Melbourne, Clare Dea, has taught me that we can find and explore these parts of ourselves by being open to them and not judging them. She says we have all these different parts in ourself that can influence the ways we act on screen/stage and in life. For example, we all have a part of ourselves that is very critical (you know, the one that critiques your work or what your wearing or what you’ve just said to someone?), and a part that is very supportive.
This is just one way to contextualise who we are and what we do in any situation, and it frames what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Once we start growing up, we come across lessons about certain behaviour. It’s “bad” to be rude or aggressive and “good” to be polite and friendly. So the parts of us that are rude and aggressive get pushed aside in favour of the “good” parts. And suddenly we’re judging parts of ourselves.
As an actor that is incredibly detrimental to the craft. One of the most important things for acting, as I see it, is to be emotionally available and open to expressing whatever is required in an honest way.
As many acting coaches, teachers and the developers of techniques practised all around the world have said, it is bad form for actors to “judge” their characters. So how does it affect us as human beings if we judge parts of ourself?
I don’t have an answer, but I do have some observations around this question. Years ago I was incredibly judgmental about being (what I perceived to be) selfish. To the point that I would stay hours late at work to make sure everything was right or give up time I’d set aside for myself to do something for someone else. I was always so worried about everyone else, and it got to a point where I got really, really sick. And suddenly I forced to look after myself. I realised that it wasn’t selfish, it was responsible. A friend said to me at the time “How can you help other people if you can’t help yourself?”, and it really hit home: because I was scared of being selfish I’d gone so far the other way that I never did anything for myself. So I found a balance.
That’s just one example, but I’m pretty sure everyone could think of other events in their lives that have had similar outcomes based on judgments, fear or both. The easiest thing is to ignore these feelings, to just go on in the same way and deny that there is any judgment or fear. But that denial can be really counterproductive.
I recently read a Huffington Post article by Anthony Meindl where he talks about embracing all of life, even the parts that suck. I think the same thing applies to our selves. “By embracing our lives totally (even the stuff that “sucks”),” he writes, “we get through them.”
“The Armed Forces have no other choice. If they’re out in the Iraqi desert or in the mountains of Afghanistan, the only way they’re going to get through those challenging experiences is by embracing them.
But for us with our modern conveniences and propensity for denial, we can distract ourselves, numb ourselves, fool ourselves over and over to avoid, disconnect, ignore, postpone, procrastinate and put our heads in the sand when we don’t want to look at what is. And that’s ironic since the denial of something simply extends its presence.”
The thing is, judgment is judgment whether it’s about yourself or someone else. And denial is denial whether it’s about a situation or something in ourselves.
So maybe the real question I should be asking is this: how does it affect us as human beings if we embrace all of ourself?
In the last two weeks I’ve had several inspiring conversations about life and how to live. Almost all of these discussions have explored the idea of having things other than work and/or passions in everyday life, and I think that is a really important lesson for me to learn.
Both actors and writers draw on experiences for their work. As an actor, knowing how I behave in certain situations when I am my authentic self means I can make choices about what parts of me I use and find out how that affects my behaviour. As a writer, well I think Stephen King put it best when he said you write what you know (to paraphrase). I also think that in both fields you also get to explore imagined circumstances, but what you know is always an influencing factor.
This idea of life experience, of “needing” it for my craft, had a huge impact on me from a very early age.
When I was in my teens I used to do certain things for the sake of getting life experience as an actor. I knew that as a young person (especially as someone younger than the majority of my peers) that I needed to get as much life experience as possible to enrich my acting life.
I was reminded of this fact at the recent Howard Fine Master Class in Melbourne, where Fine himself joked that “sometimes we live so we can act” (I may be paraphrasing). I also realised that sometimes I still do that. Definitely not as much as I did, but it’s like one of those habits you get so used to that you barely even notice it. I’ll stay out all night and do a walk of shame because I feel I “should experience it”, or go on dates with someone I’m not sure about because so many scenes involve an awkward date…these examples are pretty tame but I think it’s clear to see where I’m heading with this (and maybe by extension where I’ve been).
While I could chalk any of these acts up to “living” or “trying something new”, there is usually this small part of me recording each experience and filing it away for future use in my acting or even my writing. It’s really hard to switch that part of me off and just be.
So there is this risk that I will spend too much time focused on my acting life and not on my actual life. But the problem then is that it is really easy to become disconnected from reality, to find that the only time a connection is strong is in acting work or training or writing (to some extent). And that is not a way to live.
What I’ve realised over the last few years is that it is just as important to make time for my actual life as it is for my work/creative life. I remember talking to a friend about this very thing last year. After returning from a lengthy work trip, my friend was feeling adrift and somehow lacking. I knew the feeling well. I suggested finding things outside of work because, like me a few years before, work and work-related activities (including research, reading, meetings, training etc) took up the majority of time. And it makes a difference to “live a full life”, as Howard Fine also said during his most recent time in Melbourne.
Finding perspective and balance
My good friend, acting coach and actor Clare Elizabeth Dea told me earlier this year that if you spend all your time doing acting stuff, that you lose perspective and get so caught up wanting to be given every opportunity that you forget to enjoy the moment, the smaller successes and the process itself. How true that is, not just for actors but for anyone who spends a lot of time on one thing.
It’s like focusing too much on one thing means that you lose focus. You lose perspective. It doesn’t even have to be work.
Several years ago at the Brisbane Writers Festival I went to a talk with three successful photographers. One of them said that he had recently started making a point of leaving his camera behind when he did things with his family, because “when you are taking photos you’re viewing things from the outside, not experiencing them.”
This sentiment seems to be everywhere at the moment. Sophia Ford Coppola expressed it during the release of her latest film, The Bling Ring. Writer and deputy editor at Mamamia, Lucy Ormonde, noted how much smartphones and social media have changed the way we experience things (or don’t).
Research has found over-use of technology to sleep problems, stress and depression and, while the explanations of these links vary, one theory from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, suggested that it is because people are reaching out to their friends and family primarily through technology instead of face-to-face, or IRL.
All of these things suggest that we are getting caught up in doing certain things, for whatever reasons, rather than being and experiencing.
I don’t know that there is a right or a wrong way to live but I think it’s important to have a full life in every way. And yesterday I came across some words from actor Ralph Fiennes that sum it up perfectly:
“The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people successful not because they have money or their business is doing well but because, as human beings, they have a fully developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings — their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born. Success.. is all about being able to extend love to people… not in a big, capital letter sense but in the everyday. Little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word.”
So here’s to success!