You’ve Got All The Goods Inside You. (Why are you looking for them somewhere else?)

Why are we obsessed with doing things perfectly or “right?”

Why do we believe there’s some magic formula to creating or acting or life itself?

As maverick filmmaker, John Cassavetes said, “It is all surprise and discovery and deep feeling. It is all vulnerability and creativity and mutability. It is all heart and hammering and purpose. It is a constant forge.”

Amen. That’s not perfection, that’s figuring it all out while doing it.

Maybe we’ve grown up with the need to have perfect answers for everything. We’ve been taught that if we can wrestle something to the ground and apply left-brain logic to the most perplexing of questions, we’ll feel safe or be in control. Even if the answers ultimately don’t provide long-term proof to that which we seek, or even maybe go deep enough, it’s as if, when we reduce things to their most basic, we feel satisfied.

And maybe that’s also our species’ propensity to not dig deeper. If someone says the world is flat, it must be so.

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes (pretty much everyday) when I think I “understand” life, I’m thrown a curveball that makes everything I thought I believed put into question.

And maybe that’s good. Maybe without those riddles and enigmas, mysteries and contradictions, life and its philosophies would become dogmatic. And that’s dangerous—to adhere to principles so rigidly that we have no flexibility for other interpretations, leads to a non-evolving life.

The thing about acting is that it follows these same vicissitudes of life because…well…acting is life.

So we have to allow it to live and breathe in these margins where the answers you’re looking for can’t be satisfied by pat, rote, one-plus-one-equals-two explanations.

I know this can be maddening because human beings like the answers for things now. We don’t understand process—or rather, we’d rather avoid process and just cut straight to the finish line and get the victory prize. We forget that the real victory is the process! 

I was teaching in London recently and someone asked, “If I don’t use ‘sense memory’ in my work, where does that allow for catharsis in the actor’s process?”

Huh?

At first I thought it was 1980 and I was being interviewed by James Lipton. I literally did a double take, partly because I didn’t understand the question and partly because the question itself started with a false premise. It’s all sense memory. Science has proven that we carry within us atomic bits of everything that have come before us in the universe. At a personal level we emotionally carry everything we need within us. It’s all autobiography. Our bodies have been imprinted with everything (pain, trauma, sadness, joy, love) and all these things are swirling about constantly—for every human being, not just actors. I don’t call it sense memory. I just call it who we are. It’s called being human.

Where is catharsis in the actor’s process?

Being alive is catharsis—waking up every day, facing your fears, having to go to work when you’d rather chuck it all and go on vacation, giving a homeless man a dollar, getting a divorce, taking a shower, going to the grocery store, saying hello to a stranger being rejected, planting a flower, taking a piss, moving to a new city, letting someone go, crying, laughing, smiling, shouting, breathing.

It’s all catharsis. We need to stop separating acting into some alien subset that adheres to different rules than life. It doesn’t.

And maybe with that realization right there we’ll breathe a little more easily into being OK without having perfect answers for things that are weirdly imperfect. And trusting that engaging in a process will reveal things to us in more profound ways we could have ever imagined (or reduced to one way of experiencing). Maybe then we’ll realize it’s all “surprise and discovery and deep feeling.” Indeed it is a constant forge.

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Why Actors Must Keep Their Hearts Open

Just stay open to receive.

I can’t take someone else’s hand in my own if I continue to clench my fists.

It all sounds so easy. And at one level, it is. But we become so conditioned by the conversations of the mind that eventually, we become more shut down to life (and it’s possibilities) than we realize.

The challenge of staying open is that life is going to inherently throw us curveballs. It’s going to rain on our parade, piss on our party, and poop in our pants. The work isn’t about pretending that obstacles don’t exist or denying when something shitty (no pun intended) happens. What staying open means is that in the moment, you find a way to reinterpret the information in a way that doesn’t shut you down. You see that often, events are actually neutral, but we just label them as “bad” or unwanted because they go against our own personal agendas.

When our agenda isn’t fulfilled we get mad, and we blame everything and everyone.

That’s well on our way to experiencing system shut down.

Staying open simply asks us to do just that: stay open.

Don’t get down on yourself. Don’t get negative. Don’t let your knee-jerk reaction to things ruin an entire day.

A breath can keep you open. A smile, perspective, a new way of thinking about something that seems impenetrable.

The Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “We must continue to open in the face of tremendous opposition. No one is encouraging us to open and still we must peel away the layers of the heart.”

Look, if a Tibetan monk (whose country has been held hostage by the Chinese government for more than 60 years and is unable to be its own Sovereign State) can talk about the art of staying open in the face of tremendous violence and human rights violations and oppression, then you certainly can stay open when getting a parking ticket.

You can adjust when you don’t book the job and not let it define you.

You can smile when you’re stuck in traffic and not moving. 

You can willfully keep your heart open when it’s easier to bitch or complain. 

These aren’t hard concepts to grasp. But as Rinpoche says, there is tremendous opposition—not only from external sources, but from our inner self. Our own mind wants to shut us down. Our own thoughts want to close our heart. Our own habits want to tell us something is impossible. So we become imprisoned.

So stay open as if your life depended on it. Because in truth, it does. 

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3 Goddamn Great Realizations (!) About Love

Love.

It’s our natural state. It’s all around us. It permeates everything we do. It’s the greatest force driving our actions and creative lives. (Although fear can be a very powerful distraction!)

Think of love as a metaphor for our acting. Why we do it is very important to remember.

I think one of the goals in life is to become more aware of that great act and to create with it more consciously.

Love is service. It’s self-expression. It’s creation itself.

And it’s absolutely essential to let our work and our lives flow from this inexhaustible, rechargeable resource.

So here are 3 principals (about life and love and acting) that we want to apply on a daily basis.

Let go of control. You’ve heard it said many times before. It sounds so easy. That’s not just in life, but in our work. Let go. Controlling isn’t empowerment. It’s very scary to trust that the moment supports you. But without implicit trust into that moment, the magic can’t appear. It’s like a strange Buddhist Koan. What you want is right there in the moment of letting go but in order to experience it you have to trust that it’s all going to work out. But we don’t, so we hold on, thereby missing what it is that letting go would provide us.

In our work, no one wants to see controlled, premeditated performance – we are all in it to experience the free-fall of the spontaneity of the moment. I know it’s scary because it requires us to stop working out our agendas through all things, but try it. The results are so much more powerful when you let someone else take the wheel.

Get in the crazy. Love madly, truly, deeply. Create with abandon. Stop apologizing for yourself and the choices you make. Stop editing yourself before you’ve even had a chance to experience what can come out of going for things fully and committedly.

We respond to people who are alive. Not some dead representation of living. Not mimicry. Not trying to be someone else. Get in the crazy that is your own life. (And incidentally, you’ll never have to do a “substitution” again, because you’ll discover you have very, very rich raw material to choose from if you just follow the 1st point and let go of control to allow yourself to share it.)

Don’t get stuck on any one form of love. It comes in all forms. The capacity to have an open heart is all that’s needed to find love. To stay open when it’d be easier to shut down. When you’re rejected or fired or you can’t seem to book a job. It’s all part of the same process. A process isn’t just picking and choosing the stuff that is always great. The stuff that’s challenging and maddening is also part of the process – and I would say more important than the good stuff – as it forces us to either open up or give up.

Life is constantly trying to open us. Just let it do what it wants to do.

Remember all these qualities are inherent to being human. If it’s part of being human – it’s going to be part of your work. We don’t think about qualities like this because we’re so often taught to do things perfectly or according to someone’s reductive, textbook answer to an acting question. But in reality – exciting, dynamic work comes from a person letting loose and being brave enough to do it his or her way.

And that’s ultimately the greatest expression of Love right there.

Actors in the video (in order of appearance): Justin Loyal, Angelina Assereto, Jack Turner, Nina Rausch, Adan Rocha

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How Listening Can Win You A Million Dollars

Listening is an act of discovery. It completely has the power to transform our lives. In our acting, it is the principle that can take us to unexpected places of feeling and experience that can shock us, surprise us, make us fall in love, and express things we never thought were inside us.

Listening’s power in the moment is what makes our experiences as actors so exhilarating and also, at times, scary.

And obviously the rest of the world is catching on to this inherent gift possessed by each of us (actors have just been aware of it for a long, long time). Our ability to listen and tell stories from that place is part of our DNA as human beings.

This year, the TED Prize, a $1 million award given to the TED Talk that most inspires people to bring about positive change, was awarded to a talk that celebrates the art of listening.

Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, which has evolved into the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded, has used the money to create an app to make it possible for people anywhere to digitally archive their interviews with another person contributing to the “collective wisdom of humanity.”

This is what the art of acting—and listening to story—throughout the ages was utilized for. The role of theater was to pass on stories to new generations to keep the knowledge and traditions of cultures alive in a community.

Storytelling was—and still is—living theater.

The simple act of listening to what someone is telling us is the most profound tool to carry on a memory of that person. Before technology, that is the only way people would honor the stories of those who came before them.

We don’t think of listening as a gift, but we all have the capacity to listen in a way to take someone in, being with them in an intimate and empowering capacity.

They are not only heard, but listening also makes them seen.

So the benefits of listening are infinite. To the person who feels they have no voice, being taken in and received through listening creates a space for them to feel and share. For the person who’s doing the listening, that act of reciprocity awakens us to new ideas, aha moments, inspiration, and connection.

So this listening thing is a win-win for everyone who participates.

So finally and completely, let listening open you—let it bust you open. Let it expand your heart to places you didn’t think were possible. Stop protecting yourself. Life isn’t about self-preservation. It’s about sharing and learning how to love, especially while we’re here and still can. Listening will do that for you, but you have to be willing to open not just the auditory segment, but the heart and mind as well.

As Isay says, “Listening creates grace and respect and beauty and appreciation. It is poetry.”

Listening makes each of us a poet, lover, artist, creator, avatar. Which is who we are anyway—but listening sure helps us to remember.

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#SorryNotSorry: The Art of Learning How to Stop Apologizing for Your Existence

Stop apologizing.

When you’re at a restaurant and ask the waiter for more water, “Sorry, can I have some more please?” Or you lean in at the Starbucks condiment counter grabbing a packet of sugar, “So sorry, just want to grab this!” Or passing someone on the street and you accidentally bump them, “So sorry!”

We excuse ourselves for simply being.

We apologize for our existence.

We feel badly for asking for that which we deserve.

Stop apologizing when you go into an audition and you make a “mistake.” Stop saying sorry for showing up and doing your best and then apologizing when your best doesn’t seem to measure up with the idea you have of that in your mind. Stop excusing yourself for kicking ass (!) but then feeling it was “incorrect” or “not what they wanted” or “too much” or you feel shame for simply being vulnerable.

The hilarious comedienne Amy Schumer has a sketch (watch here) on her show that demonstrates the cultural tendency for women (especially) to excuse themselves and apologize for their brilliance, intelligence and power. It speaks to our conditioned “politeness” and tendency to shrink ourselves when other people feel uncomfortable in the presence of our greatness. (And even though women may do it more often than men, guys do it as well, in more subtle, self-effacing ways.)

Listen. If you step on someone’s foot, say you’re sorry. If you hurt someone and need to apologize do so.

What we’re discussing here is how we use the word “sorry” as an implicit statement to the universe that diminishes our power. It cancels out our presence and suggests that there is a mistake in you simply being here.

You are not a mistake.

Watch how often you do this in life. Start using the words, “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me,” instead of sorry.

You have nothing to be sorry about. For being human. For being you. For being powerful and funny and weird. For allowing yourself to be vulnerable. For sharing yourself in a way that might make other people feel uncomfortable. That’s their problem. It’s not yours. And certainly something you shouldn’t ever feel sorry for.

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Stop Being Afraid to Take Action

It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.

That goes for life and for acting.

Why is this? Because the more we sit around thinking about something, the less likely we are to take action as the thinking process red flags us to all the reasons why (we believe) something won’t work.

Or maybe Yoda said it better: “Try not! Do or do not. There is no try.”

Just. Take. Action. So simple, isn’t it?

That’s the basic premise of acting that’s been taught for years. The art of doing. (It’s actually the art of being first before we do, because we must first be in something before we can experience it.)

But once those physics are taken care of, we simply must do.

We get in our own way because we have expectations of how we think something should look first before we attempt it. And that hesitation is what keeps us from committing. It’s never going to look how we think it’s going to look, and if we could just allow ourselves to surrender to that premise, we would be more likely to act.

Things often don’t work out. You have to get over that fact. Things don’t work out! (Or rather, the truth is: Things always work out, but not the way we plan, control, or prepare. So for most of us, that means things don’t work out.)

But as soon as you understand that those are the real tangible principles of creating, then you stop letting that worry you and keep you from getting started.

Things come together and things fall apart—sometimes simultaneously, but the only way things ever have a chance of coming together (ever!) is by taking the step.

Stop sitting on the sidelines. I had a student (in the attached video) say, “It’s scary.”

Of course it’s scary. It’s designed to be that way. We don’t realize our potential staying in stasis. Security, comfort, and the illusion of control aren’t our friends. In fact, these qualities human beings seek out actually run counter to the true essence of who we are. We want to lean into the challenge of it all until our heads tell us not to.

So risk. It’s designed to work out just by taking the risk. But that means it works out in ways that are too complex and multi-faceted for us to understand from our limited left-brain’s mechanics.

So go for something in life. You ask the girl out. You take an acting class. You audition for a job. Maybe none of what you wanted happens. Or maybe some of it does. But by committing to the thing, there are all these other ancillary victories and discoveries and blessings that simply wouldn’t have come had you tried to think your way (out of) doing them.

Think less. Turn off the phone. Play more. Do more. Create.

It’s simple, though not always easy. But Yoda would be proud.

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It’s Not “Happn”-ing On Your Cell Phone App

Happn.

Heard of it?

It’s the latest app that tracks where you are in real time. (Do we need yet another app tracking my every move?)  When another user passes your current location, their profile shows up in your feed and you can then talk to each other if you mutually “Like” each other. Which is . . . ummm . . . supposed to make something “Happn!”

Get it?

I don’t.

Whatever happened to just walking down the street and simply saying, “Hello”?

Whatever happened to the mystery of being amongst strangers without having to hide behind our phones?

Whatever happened to the excitement of being surprised by the sudden unexpectedness of the moment and all the weird things that can come out of it? Like real connection. Which might mean real rejection.

Apps are making us risk averse. Risk is exactly what we need in order to be curious, creative, alive artists and human beings.

Somewhat ironically Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”

Saying hello.

Smiling at someone.

Putting your life-line down (your phone).

Walking up to someone and introducing yourself.

You’re going to have to risk time and time again when you audition, when you have to connect with your co-star, when you’re working on material that far exceeds your comfort zone.

Lose the app and get into the moment.  That’s where things are really “happening.”

Step into the mystery of life that goes beyond digits and data and search engine optimization analytics that can’t predict the wonderful weirdness called human variability.  Thank Gawd there’s that. Last I looked we’re still not robots, so we’ve got some time before that “happn’s.”

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A LIFE CHANGING LESSON IN SIX SECONDS

Science has recently discovered that a human being’s attention span is that of a goldfish – 6 seconds.

That’s scary. Especially if you think that lots of the things we ruminate on within those 6 seconds are based in our neuroses, fears, anxieties, flaws and failings.

Pretty much left brain stuff.

Well if we’re really becoming a species ruled by technology and “dumb” phones, turning us into robots and creatures that have collective ADHD and are devolving back to our gill-bearing cousins, let’s make the most of those 6 seconds, shall we?

Let’s work with the assumption that you are Divinity, or Love, or Source. Or energy. (Actually science proves that we are just energy – and mass which is converted energy – is ultimately neutral.) If you assume that you are this – or at least possess a quality of this – you would be perfection. If you’re perfect, then thinking anything about yourself that is less than perfection is imperfect, which you aren’t.

So simply stop thinking those thoughts that align you with the false assumption that you’re fucked up, too weird, unlovable or untalented. You can’t be perfect and be all those other things too. So which are you?

Staying true to my promise of keeping this short, I’m going to end with a Buddhist Koan – or riddle.  For AMAWers, if you solve it – tweet me the answer and if you correctly answer you’ll be put in a drawing for two free casting director workshops.

The Buddhist riddle:

Even when we’re thinking thoughts that are out of alignment with who we are – the victory is that those thoughts are also ________.

Keep trying to use our 6 seconds for good. If that’s what we’re working with these days, make them count. Positively, powerfully, perfectly.

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To Swipe or Not to Swipe: What Tinder Can Teach Us About Acting

Robert Duvall says acting is simply “talking and listening.” If that’s true, then connection is an essential part of the equation. You can’t actually listen to someone with your head buried in an iPhone or while staring at the text of your scene during class. Connection requires something deeper. It requires presence, eye contact (ideally), and active listening. But we constantly seek connection through the wrong channels in our acting and in our life. Enter…Tinder.

I just joined Tinder. 

I’m always late to the party. But maybe that’s a good thing, because with the exception of those people who’ve found their “match” on such dating apps, I’m using it more as a social experiment to figure out human nature. (And I’m feeling a bit like Mary Shelley’s monster through the process. Fire. Is. Bad.)

Everything that technology (and thereby our phones) claims to be creating is some sort of innovation to enhance greater “connection.”

It makes sense. We’re hardwired to connect. It’s in our DNA. It’s part of our tribal consciousness that’s been carried down through the millennia. Get kicked out of the tribe, you don’t survive.

And at a personal level we all want to have more meaningful interactions with people who inspire us and challenge us and make us think (and feel) in ways that are new and exciting and sometimes scary.

That, right there, as Duvall says, is the art of acting (and of all great art) as well. Whether it’s going into an audition or being on stage acting opposite someone, what we’re really trying to do is connect. That’s the experience we’re after, whether we’re aware of it or not. And when we do, we leave an impactful impression on the other person who’s experiencing us. Everyone’s in it to feel something.

When I was on my first Tinder date the other night, it actually was going well. He was much funnier than I could’ve imagined through our Emoji exchanges, and Chemistry.com would have said we had just that. Chemistry. Connection. And yet, when I went to the bathroom, the Pavlovian dog in me turned back on my Tinder app to see just who else responded to me (don’t judge!), and lo and behold, I noticed that my date was “active” on there at the same time! “Brian. Active 1 minute ago.” Busted. (It took me three minutes to pee.)

This brings us right back to the conundrum of those phones. So we go to them to “connect” (and thereby to feel), but what they (and their apps) end up making us do, is feel the opposite of what we’re intending. We end up feeling disenfranchised, alone, insatiable. We become addicted—looking for more “hits” or “likes” or “matches” or affirmations in some way, and none of the algorithms or computer-generated optimization “facts” that are accumulated about me or my “likes” or you and our “common interests” can in any way replace what we’re going there for in the first place: goddamn real connection.

And that’s created through something I would call the human variability factor—presence, one’s essence, how emotionally available and engaged we are with our own feelings in a very conscious way.

Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, when asked what was the easiest form of communication for him said, “Do I feel like I’m an expert in having a normal conversation face to face. Absolutely not. That’s just not my natural state.”

Is it becoming not our natural state because technology is replacing it with a form of communication that is not human? (Maybe Mary Shelley was on to something 200 years ago.)

I don’t know. I just got on Instagram. Hit me up there and we’ll see.

 

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Actors Ask: How Do I Get Out of My Own Way More in the Work?

I get asked hundreds of questions by actors and I thought this week I’d tackle one of the most common ones posed to me – and also seems to be the one that most actors struggle with everywhere.

“When I’m in my head and trying to get present, is there something I can do physically to help drop me in my body, get out of my own way and get present?

Part of what we have available to us at all times is awareness of what is keeping us from being released. These are not hard principles to grasp. The correlations are those to life. When I get stressed out, when I get anxious, when I’m in my head in life, the most practical way to become present (and in our body) is to breathe. Mindfully breathe. We don’t do this. We reach for our phones, we breathe from our shoulders and neck, we continue to think thoughts that make us anxious and exacerbate the problem rather than simply slowing down and truly taking a deep breath from our diaphragm. Try it. Right now while you’re reading this just take a deep breath consciously. Notice how you immediately drop into your own body and relax into you (for some people this might take a few deep breaths and that’s okay too). Just this simple, beautiful act immediately changes us. That’s how efficient our own bodies are in correcting the problems we create for ourselves in our heads.

Another way is to find (and use) the emotional equivalent to what we’re thinking that is distracting us. So we pull out of the moment (and the scene), by hearing ourselves say, “Well that was stupid,” or “I sound like an idiot,” or “I can’t do this,” or “I suck.” Immediately when we engage in this kind of left-brain dialogue, we’re in our heads and out of the moment. The key is to again understand that the body has a way of solving the problem for us we’ve created in our minds.

Saying these things to ourselves also simultaneously makes us feel something. This will be different for each of us. One person might get angry, someone else sad. One person might feel frustrated, while another person may want to scream. Whatever the feeling is, use it. The expression of that feeling into the moment is what gets you back into the moment. You will immediately get out of your head and into your body by feeling what you’re really feeling and that energy will be used to fuel telling the story.

Now sometimes the actor might say, “Well, what if that isn’t what the ‘character’ is supposed to be feeling?”

Light bulb. If you are feeling it in the moment, that’s what the character is supposed to be feeling. What you are feeling is always the scene. Always. It doesn’t matter where it comes from.

Kevin Spacey talks about this truth during his experiences playing Richard III.

“I don’t start off a performance going into a corner and trying to become Richard III. I’ve trusted that if I just go out and however I am that day, whatever mood I’m in… if I’m frustrated, if I’m angry, if I’m lonely or incredibly happy, doesn’t matter what… I start there. There is a remarkable thing that happens which is just that… I let the play take me there. And it always does.”

We have ideas of what something is supposed to look like and then the true science of acting (and the moment) asks us instead to feel and act off of what we’re actually experiencing in the moment. When we start to acknowledge the moment more and feel what we’re feeling in it, we’ll get out of our heads and be gloriously expressed in our body through the feelings we each individually experience. That’s what we’re all after anyway. We’re all after these fleeting moments of emotional expression in our lives that transcend our self-dialogues and self-judgments that keep us stuck in our heads.

Now that you’ve been given a primer in how to do it more, trust it. It’s exhilarating and inspiring and reminds us of what it truly means to be alive. We each have enormous amounts of energetic potential. Start putting it somewhere that is useful. Not in our heads. Instead, in the moment that becomes an expression of you.

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