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For staying power, play in the moment.

Whether it’s the weather, or the uncertain state of the economy, or the endless grind of politics, things have been a little grim lately, a little serious. And while the tendency during hard times is to bear down and get serious along with them, I am starting to believe that the answer, while wholly counterintuitive, is to ease up—to play.

People—and I include among “people” everyone from audiences to casting directors to colleagues to fans (present and future)—are starved for levity and passion. Those can be hard to muster in the face of grim times and prospects, but as artists, it’s our job to lead the way. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, to get all Gandhi-fuzzy on you; we have to put aside that life is hard and times are tough, and get back to the spirit that brought us here: play. But how do we, the artists, get ourselves there when the getting is hard? How do we keep ourselves fresh and alive, and, if you want to get down to it, marketable?

At a pair of conferences a few years back, I had the privilege of attending a couple of terrific workshops on creativity, lead by photographer/teacher Sean Kernan. The simple exercises were revelatory, harkening back to my days of starving-artist wonder, when what really excited me about the business of art (in my case, acting and writing) wasn’t how I was going to make money or, perhaps even worse, make a splash, but how I was going to tell stories—how I was going to express the truth and create meaning in people’s lives with the gifts I’d been born with and the skills I’d developed.

All of the exercises in Sean Kernan’s workshop, all of the stuff I’ve been responding to, has one thing in common: play. The most fascinating people are the ones who are fully immersed in the play of their work, not looking ahead to see how much money it will make them or how much fame it will net them, but how they can solve whatever the moment demands of them.

When we stop playing, the work gets stale. It may be professional, but it’s not thrilling, it’s not alive—and thrilling and alive are what people want. Producers, casting directors, audience members, even your mom—maybe especially your mom. I know I love seeing the work born out of total commitment. It’s what kids and animals do naturally; to be able to fuse it to craft makes a performer utterly watchable and eternally relevant.

Almost every time I give talks to other creative business people, I share a small piece of advice I’ve picked up from my years of performance about how to get attention: live in the moment. So make like a kid or a dog: play. Find a new pursuit, a hobby, or interest you can immerse yourself in, that you’re passionately drawn to. Sign up for a class in something you’d love to learn, but that secretly terrifies you. And, of course, if you get the chance to take some workshops on awakening the creative self led by a master like Sean, do it! I can guarantee you won’t regret it. But ultimately, the offshoot-pursuit doesn’t even have to be related to acting, it just needs to be something that will WAKE. YOU. UP.

Of course, we have to be grownups and put food on the table and money in the hands of our rapacious insurance companies (see what I did there?). But we are artists, and we must play. So put aside a little money, time, or both to get out there and do it. Play is the lifeblood of all art, and, most immediately and obviously, of acting.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION OF THE MONTH: It’s rare that I recommend a book I haven’t even read. Actually, it’s never happened before—this is the first time. But the aforementioned Sean Kernan has put together a book that grew out of his years of teaching his amazing creativity workshops for photographers. So, yes, this book is geared for photographers, but I think that might make it even better for our performer purposes. Along with the general creative stimulation, you’ll find exercises that will train you to look through a lens, and as performers, don’t we need to understand the frame to see how we fit in it? If you get a chance to read it before I do, please report back!

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-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.