ENJOY THE KISS, BUT HAVE A PLAN
Crack open an actor when they’re wrapped up in a conversation about acting and you’ll find a great big smile. Oh, they may not be so in love with their profession when competing for a role, trying to meet the rent, or vying for the right agent. But, when acting, they’re smitten. They can even tell you the moment it happened to them. Maybe watching their first Broadway show, getting cast in the school production of, “Annie,” or losing themselves in a dark movie theatre watching the big screen. The moment they fell in love with acting remains imprinted in their memory banks like a first kiss. But, as you know by now, everything comes with a price.
In-between acting jobs actors must contend with moments of joy, disappointment, heartache, self-doubt, and the list goes on and on. It’s an endurance test. And you can be sure that “love” won’t help you ride out those waves when you feel like throwing the towel in. Love is a good start, but it is discipline, not inspiration that will carry you through when your heart is lagging behind. Discipline is more than the act of just showing up. It is a commitment to stick with yourself even when everything falls apart. As actors, you will have to pull it back together over and over again. When you get thrown off course by rejection or disappointment, discipline will be the map you use to find your way back. The great graphic designer, Massimo Vignelli said,
“Discipline is what helps us navigate through the social context in which we operate. Discipline is what makes us responsible toward ourselves, toward our clients, toward the society in which we live. It is through discipline that we are able to improve ourselves, mentally and physically; to offer the best of ourselves to everything around us, including every project on which we work…”
And, speaking of work…even if you are lucky enough to be blessed with talent, you still have to work. Without long hours of preparation, focus, and application, you won’t know how to harness the power of your “love.” Acting demands preparation in order to create. If you don’t have skill, you won’t be able to get your creativity out there in the world to be seen. Artists have to be self-disciplined. There is no special license needed or training requirements to act. In order for me to become a psychotherapist, I had to get a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, accrue 3,000 hours of supervised work experience and 104 weeks of supervision before I qualified to sit for two grueling exams. Not to mention the continuing education requirements to maintain my license each year. It was hell going through the process, but well worth it. I developed skill, discipline, a respect for my profession and great training in the process.
Actors don’t need credentials to work, but skill, study, and impeccable work habits will shine through you during auditions and performances. Self-respect and confidence develops through hard work and dedication. Take yourself seriously if you want to be taken seriously by others. Have the discipline to prioritize your day. Dedication to your art means you know how to leave a party early because you have unfinished work to do. Dedicate yourself to classes, self-improvement, and physical excellence. Investing in your self-improvement tells the world; hey I’m serious about what I do. It makes you more trustworthy and appealing to hire.
Developing skills is a very active process; no one is born with them. They begin to form through routine, study, exercise, learning, and self-reflection. It’s challenging to stay focused and on track when a million distractions are competing for your attention. Don’t look for the easy way out. Whining and complaining doesn’t promote good work ethics. There are sacrifices to be made when you’re in love. In order to be good at what you do, you’ve got to create good creative habits. The dancer and choreographer, Twyla Tharp elegantly describes the importance of this process, “If art is the bridge between what you see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge.” Work on that bridge everyday so you don’t get stuck on an island called self-pity.
First steps are hard, but give these two a try to start building your skills.
Step 1. Begin each day with a healthy ritual. Rituals create habits and teach you how to put one step in front of the other even when your mood is not on board. It creates a foundation for you to handle things in life that need to get done. Rituals will build strength, confidence, and self-reliance. They can help replace fear and self-doubt with comfort and routine. I like to wake up each morning get my cup of coffee, sit in a peaceful spot in the house and do a twenty minute meditation. It helps me calm my mind when it’s racing with worry or to do lists. Checking in with my internal state rather than ignoring it gives me the opportunity for self-understanding and self-control. If you think you’d like to give this routine a try, you may listen to a 10-minute meditation here. Practicing mindfulness helps calm the mind and body and clears out all the clutter in your mind. Your thoughts can create a stress response, which impacts your behavior. What you’re telling yourself affects your view and your view affects how you feel. Mental chatter gets in the way of your ability to have perspective and focus. Mindfulness will help you to perform better because it trains the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that creates a calm and alert state of mind. One major study found that people who practiced mindfulness were more likely to experience a higher state of flow—which enhances performance. These individuals were also better able to focus, goal set, and create positive self-talk. All these great benefits, no side effects and it’s free!!!!
Step 2. Creative people need creative physical habits to connect their minds to their bodies. Good exercise habits will give you more balance and keep you in the here and now. Physical exercise routines help you to feel better in your own skin, thereby creating more confidence. You also need to feel your body and be more aware of it so that you can control your physical and mental states. Everything is about awareness. When you bring your attention inward, you activate the insular cortex of the brain. As a result, you experience a heightened sense of awareness of your body and improve the communication between the body and mind. That’s important because it helps you sense physiological changes, like tension or shallow breathing, and enables you to make quick adjustments even before you’re consciously aware of what’s going on (and before those factors have a chance to hurt your performance).
Actress and playwright, Anna Deavere Smith, in her book, “Letters to a young artist,” states: “We who work in the arts are at the risk of being in a popularity contest rather than a profession. If that fact causes you despair, you should probably pick another profession. Your desire to communicate must be bigger than your relationship to these chaotic and unfair realities. Ideally, we must be even more “professional” than lawyers, doctors, accountants, and hairdressers. We have to create our own standards of discipline. All of the successful artists I know are very disciplined and very organized. Even if they don’t look organized, they have their own order.”
View hard work and discipline as an important part of your path towards doing what you love rather than an obstacle or burden to it.
“What we become — what we are — ultimately consists of what we have been doing — what we eat, what we drink, how we have been moving.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website. Like The Conscious Actor on Facebook
I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop
Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.