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September 15, 2013 / Amy Bradney-George

Embracing different parts of yourself

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?


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