by Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix
The four traps to watch out for if you want to go the distance
Like many things, pride is fine—even healthy—in moderation. After all, a reasonable base line of self-worth results in choices that keep you fit, strong, and clear of relationships—work or personal—that are toxic and/or crazy-making.
Hubris (or excessive pride) on the other hand, is deadly. It’s the flavor of pride that goeth before the famous fall—the arrogance that blinds you, or, at the very least, makes you perilously short sighted. It’s what makes you talk when you should be listening, plunge in when you should be pausing. Hubris will, sooner or later, take you down, and it will take you down hard, brother.
The difficulty of recognizing hubris is tricky even for civilians; for actors, it’s doubly difficult. Part of why we’re performers is because we’re down with being in the spotlight, all eyes on us. It’s really, really difficult to stay grounded and humble under the circumstances most actors are working towards, and yet it’s imperative—if not for getting there, then definitely for staying there.
So here are a few of the traps lying out there, some of which I’ve fallen into myself, some of which I’ve seen other people fall into. Read on, see what you recognize and save your self a lot of grief.
The “I Hate this Job But I’m Do It Anyway” Trap
In the real world, you’re as likely to lose a job for being overqualified as you are for being under-qualified. Why? Because while you may think you want that job from the vantage point of need, you’re likely to become dissatisfied with it quickly once you’re in the position, turning you into a cranky, disgruntled employee whose bad attitude can create nasty ripples through a large organization.
In the world of acting, this can take the form of anything from going to an audition you don’t want to be at to taking a part you don’t really want just to say you’re working. It happens at all levels of the income scale, from none (a too-small-for-you role in 99-seat theater) to stratospheric (disgruntled TV stars are infamous for poisoning sets).
To avoid this trap, you must constantly, ruthlessly evaluate where your head and heart are at. When I haven’t, I’ve found myself four weeks into rehearsal on a play I wouldn’t want to see, much less be acting in or poisoning the callback room with my nasty, nasty attitude.
The “Willful Denial of Visual Truth” Trap
Most of us have done it: from an overly heavy hand with the retouching to wildly inappropriate dress, makeup or positioning, we’ve created fictional versions of ourselves (usually younger, prettier, hotter) in our headshots. You know how stupid this is, and all of the reasons why; hopefully, you only do it once.
On a more serious level, many performers, especially those of the female, attractive variety, do personal, physical retouching in a vain (pun intended) attempt to deny the passage of time. Putting aside the folly of elective surgery from a health standpoint, cosmetic surgery is only mildly effective as a stop-gap measure, with steep costs down the road. Who do you see playing real-life old women in 20 years: Loni Anderson or Meryl Streep?
The “I Can Play Anything” Trap
You cannot. Even Meryl Streep cannot, and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts she knows it. That’s one of the reasons she’s Meryl Streep.
Know who you are, what you can be cast as (both from the perspective of looks and experience) and reevalute with some frequency. Anything else is like teaching a pig to whistle: wastes your time and annoys the pig.
The “Ass-Out-of-You-and-Me” Trap
My first TV job was a one-line nothing on a major sitcom, but I was beyond excited. My only experience was on stage at Groundlings, where improvising—both actions and words—was heartily encouraged. Unfortunately, I learned on the job that improvising—sometimes actions but always words—was verboten. It was only through the intervention of a kind extra that I kept that job at all; even with that, they were two of the more painful days I’ve spent on a set.
Don’t be That A**hole. If you don’t know, ask. If you think you know, but you’re not quite sure, definitely ask.
Asking means never having to say, “I’m That A**hole.”
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As you can see, the good news is it’s difficult to be overly prideful in the first place if you traffic in the truth. And the more you’re willing to look at yourself honestly, the better your chance of avoiding the pitfalls of excessive pride.
And the bonus extra? The more fluent you are in the truth, the better your acting will be, too.
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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!
Colleen Wainwright is a writer–speaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.