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Tag Archives: acting
A thing experienced is not a thing perceived.
We so often are in our heads about what we think something looks like (a choice, an idea, a commitment to something) that instead of committing to that thing and having the experience, we second-guess it based on what we think the casting director is looking for.
The casting director doesn’t know what he or she is looking for. Neither does the director or producer or agent.
Yes, they may have a “type” in mind. And if you physically fit what that type is, you can get called in. But that’s at the physical/superficial level. And there are hundreds of actors who may share your type. So what sets you apart is your giving yourself permission to do it your way. Not the way you think it’s supposed to be or what you think they’re looking for. When you do it your way unapologetically you will become what they’re looking for.
I recently assessed an actor who explained to me how he went to an audition and the casting director asked him, “Do you have any questions?” (Which to me is a polite way of simply saying, “Are You Ready?!”) But he took that as an opportunity to second-guess his choice and asked her if the relationship between the two characters was adversarial. The casting director said no. He was screwed. He immediately went into his head (taking the Brain Drain Train) and doubted everything he wanted to do. Scared to go for his original choice and not follow his impulses led to his reading being flat and unmemorable. Surprise? Not really.
He came to me after the audition and told me what happened and I asked him to do the scene for me just as he read it in the room. And yes, it was as flat as a pancake. Womp Womp.
I asked him to do the scene again coming from his original choice of exploring a more adversarial point of view. He did and the dynamic completely changed.
Here’s the insight! In his mind (and in his committing to something) he thought he was being adversarial (and that it would read only that way). But for me watching him – it simply read as someone who was more committed and more interesting; someone taking more chances and was sexier and more mysterious. He played more, had more fun and was consequently more real and human. In other words – not flat. So he didn’t come across as adversarial. He came across as being alive.
The breakthrough is in realizing in making a choice (and no longer asking for permission to do something!) what you experience in your own work and what we might perceive are completely different things.
Stop making everything so black-and-white and reductive. Trust that the magical alchemy of acting and playing and creating in the moment takes care of the details that you don’t have to micro-manage.
If you’re having an experience, I am having an experience. And so will the casting director or producer or director. From there they may give you an adjustment or take you in another direction. But if you don’t first allow yourself to have the experience they won’t either (!) and you’ll be unmemorable. And that’s where the thing about “type” comes in. If you’re unmemorable, there are hundreds of other people out there who can fulfill that which you are reading. And do so in a memorable way. That is to say, their way.
And that’s what’s memorable about it.
So don’t delay any longer. Go for things fully. Committedly. Stop second-guessing. Trust that in strong choices, the person watching will have their own subjective experience witnessing humanity in front of them. They will. Stop trying to control what you think other people should – or want – to see.
That requires trust.
And a healthy sense of giving yourself permission. So the next time someone asks, “Do you have any questions?” – and you don’t – trust the part of yourself inside who has the answers.
Remember just how much you’ve already accomplished in your life.
We forget that. Especially when we face constant rejection and hear endless “no’s” and begin personalizing and believing the negation means there’s something wrong with us or we’re untalented or flawed in some way. We start believing the illusion that this business is harder than any other. That it’s stacked against the actor. That it’s impossible to break through.
But the physics of this business is no different than any other business. There’s going to be nepotism and class-systems and arbitrary rejections and an old boys club favoritism in any career in which you wish to succeed.
Over 50 years ago, Vincent van Gogh said, “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”
You see? It’s never easy for anyone. Period.
If you look at your life, the tremendous amounts of effort you had to exert to overcome obstacles and get to where you are today – speaks of the possibility of your spirit. But it also shows that nothing is a closed system. Nothing. To think otherwise is to limit something that is limitless.
That is – you.
The spirit of who you are is inexhaustible; as powerful as the cosmos. We’re made of the same stuff as the atoms that created the stars that banged this universe into existence some 4.5 billion years ago. We are made up of this infinity. We have infinite potential.
You can’t let people preach limitation on you to the point that you give up hope. You also can’t allow the people “out there” be the arbiters of what’s hot or popular or fashionable or talented. You might say, “Well they are anyway Tony.” Well, actually, they’re not – until something or someone breaks through and then “the experts” ride the bandwagon saying, “This is the next big thing!” Everyone in our culture seems to be waiting for someone to tell them, “These jeans are so hot!” or “This song is a hit” or “That person’s going to be a star.”
Decide for yourself. You’ve been doing it all along without your even knowing it. Just do it now a little more consciously.
So when you feel this business is stacked against you and there’s no point going on, just remember where you are now and what you overcame to get here. My dear friend, Nick, just got dropped by his management company and was really feeling like he was back at square one. I asked him to recall how much he’d accomplished just to get here.
His dad died when he was 14. He moved from Serbia – a war torn country in the 90’s – to a small town in Minnesota as part of a foreign exchange program, even though he spoke little English. He graduated from an American high school there with honors, got accepted into Harvard and graduated near the top of his class. He started his own successful tech company (and many other ventures) and decided a couple years ago to finally pursue acting, which he’d always wanted to do.
Now don’t tell me you’re going to be defeated by an agent telling you, “We’re just not that into you!”
Remember just how far you’ve climbed and how much you have to be proud of the next time a door slams in your face. Don’t let someone’s “not getting you” define your years on this planet.
You are bigger than the rejection. You’re bigger than a door slamming shut. And in the world of infinitude, there are simply more doors to knock on that will magically open for you. You just have to walk up to them. But that can’t happen if you give up. So don’t.
Whenever I’m in NY teaching at our school there, I’m reminded of how much humanity is about . . . well . . . just being human.
Maybe because LA is shaped by a car culture, it’s so easy to remove ourselves from life (from connection, from vulnerability, from having to confront life head-on as we’re walking down the street). Instead, we escape into the confines of our cars, roll up our windows, tune out the world and what we’re feeling. When we do, we sometimes forget that really being human is the hardest thing to be.
We try to look a certain way and keep up appearances. We cut feeling off at the pass. We avoid being perceived as “not having it together.” We pressure ourselves into thinking we have to be perfect . . . like all the time! We’re hyper-aware of how we look and negotiate with ourselves around the discomfort of aging, rejection, self-worth, relevance, comparing-and-despairing, self-judgment, failure and not believing we should share this discomfort with anyone. (Which further exacerbates our feeling alone.)
It’s ironic, then, that the art of auditioning (and acting itself) is really about being comfortable being uncomfortable.
In other words it’s about allowing oneself to be seen.
It’s an interesting contradiction because we’re in a business that’s all about “being seen” by putting ourselves out there. Yet the work often asks us to “be seen” in ways that are scary and vulnerable, raw and exposed, embarrassing and human. In short, we don’t, then, want to be seen.
I often tell my students that acting is really about having to be more honest in our work (in class, in a play, on set, in an audition) than we typically allow ourselves in life.
It’s about sharing our private selves publicly.
In the privacy of our homes we’re weird and sexual and complex and messy and obnoxious and loud and freaky. (And in NY you might even see all that on the subway!)
But when it comes to auditioning, we pull it all together and put on a perfect face.
Stop doing that. It results in zero possibility. No life force. No access to anything you want.
Let it all hang out. All. Of. It.
When you do, a casting director or director or producer sees a spark of your unique humanity (i.e., you) and gains insight into how to further open the actor up.
But if you remain a closed system, you’ve lost access to anything that’s remotely interesting. And you give the casting director no other choice but to utter, “Next!”
It sounds so easy. And in many ways it is. But if you haven’t developed a muscle of commitment and going for things consistently it’s actually the hardest thing in the world.
But practice does make perfect. (Or perfectly imperfect!) The more you do it, the more you start giving yourself the permission. And that’s all you can ever do.
No one can ever do that for you. Ever. No agent or manager or casting director or writer or producer or director or boyfriend or girlfriend or parent or teacher or friend.
As Tennessee Williams says, “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
But you have to try.
In your acting. In auditioning. In your life. In romance. In relationships. In learning. In self-expression. In doing things that scare you. In everything.
Simply, in Being Human.
Go all in. That’s what filmmaker Steve McQueen says actors should be doing all the time. Always.
But we don’t.
Mostly, because we have a number of defaults to keep us from really committing fully, 100%. In our lives. In our work. In our auditioning.
This is partly due to our self-worth being tied up and identified with our product: how we look, whether we get the job, what agency we’re with, how we’re being perceived, or how well someone likes us.
The problem with this kind of identification is that it leaves very little room for error. Or rather, it leaves very little room to simply be human. Being human is messy. It’s uncontrollable. It errs. It’s full of chaos and potential and failures and breakthroughs. Where, on our paths, did we learn that it wasn’t okay to simply not have all the answers and not be perfect and not have it all figured out?
Once you stop allowing yourself to be human, you’re in trouble.
Not just in acting. But in life.
When our own self-worth is identified with a finished product (our work, our successes, our bookings or jobs) two things happen.
1). You start to go into auditions becoming risk-averse. Because your worthiness is attached to “How do I look?” or “I have to get this job!” or “How am I looking?” or “I can’t make a mistake,” you end up neutralizing yourself to such a degree that you basically turn off all the things that make you interesting and weird and vulnerable and cast-able. That is, your humanness.
You don’t give yourself the permisson to fail couragesouly. You play it safe. And you become unmemorable. Bland. Boring. Cookie-cutter. Blah.
That’s bad enough, but when our self-worth is attached to our work, there’s another whammy.
2). Your moods and happiness and productivity become instrinsincly tied to whether or not you book a job. When you get jobs it’s like the best day ever. You channel Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, “I’m the king of the world!” When you don’t, you spend the entire day watching reruns of Duck Dynasty and picking fights with your girlfriend.
It ain’t pretty. It takes manic-depressiveness to a whole new level.
Your inherent self is not tied up in the physical. You’re not just this actor. You’re not just your bookings or how well people like you. You’re not your call-back ratio or how many lines you get to say on a show.
Of course it’s important to care about our work. Of course, we want to do things powerfully and creatively and have a career and do things that excite us and we’re passionate about.
Just don’t be defined by it.
Lean toward the risk. Toward the unknown. In the room. In the work. In relationships. Out there in the world. That’s really why you signed up for acting anyway. It wasn’t to do things perfectly, and be safe and do it like everyone else. It was to inherently take risks in ways that life sometimes doesn’t give us the permission to. Or rather, we don’t give ourselves the green light to do it.
And what ends up happening when we do? Well pretty much all the things you ever wanted. And that’s going all in.
I had a sort-of meltdown at the Vancouver Airport’s Air Canada check-in counter this week.
I missed my flight.
No big deal. I’ve missed flights before. But for some reason – no not some reason – a specific reason – I was triggered.
The trigger: We can’t control anything in life. We may delude ourselves into thinking we can by manipulating or controlling or micromanaging or exercising our agendas, but the physics of the universe tell a different story.
Life itself is a let go and it forces us to feel.
If I want to be happy. If I want to remain sane. If I want to be functional and healthy. If I want to have a relatively stress-free life, it’s about letting go of things that are inherently uncontrollable. Which is all of life – because nothing is controllable.
At times we may think we’ve got life by the balls. It’s seductive to think this way.
I’m on a TV show.
I’m with a powerful agency.
Guess what? All those things will change.
The only constant in life is change. And change is ultimately uncontrollable.
That acknowledgment can be scary because it places us squarely in our vulnerability of what it truly means to be human. And that’s why we control. Because we aren’t comfortable with feeling.
In my years of working with artists, I’ve discovered that human beings have a lot of shame around our doing things “incorrectly” or “failing” or taking action and making mistakes and then blaming ourselves for it and making ourselves feel awful. The Shame And Blame Bus is over-crowded in our culture because having to take responsibility for – and having to actually feel our feelings of vulnerability instead – is a lot harder.
I missed my flight. It brought up my stuff and I immediately saw that it was no one’s fault but my own. (Except for Peter the rude Air Canada customer service agent.) No, no. It was me. (Except for my friend Alison who drove me to the airport like a grandma, making me late.) No, no. It was me. (Except for these stupid TSA rules that say a flight is closed an hour before departure.) No, no it was me.
But having to actually forgive myself for making a mistake and not blaming someone else means having to let go of control, take responsibility and feel.
It’s hard at first but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it. And you’ll discover that there’s always a solution.
But often the solution isn’t what we think.
There’s a coda to the story. I got on another flight and it all worked out. But sitting on the plane I realized that we like to look for the answers in the external. We say to ourselves, “There’s got to be a reason for this.” And then we go searching for it. Out there. “Maybe I’m going to sit next to a really hot single guy who will become my boyfriend.” Nope. More like a crying baby and her stressed out mom. “I’m going to meet an agent who’s going to turn my life around.” Nope. The plane looked more like it was filled with a bunch of Sarah Palin enthusiasts who were heading to Disneyland. “Maybe I’ll sit next to Rihanna!” Nope. Kind of hard when you’re at the back of the plane next to the toilets.
Flying at 30,000 feet I realized that the answers aren’t out there. The answers we seek for the deep, perplexing, human questions we want answers for are inside of us. Waiting for the lesson to occur – if we are but present enough to receive it – and awaken the true meaning of our own lives inside each of us.
That let go was worth a missed flight any day.
Because it seems to be all the rage these days (thank you Miley Cyrus!) we’re going to do our own version of “Twerking” it.
But we’re going to learn how to “twerk” something emotionally and physiologically to increase our chances of getting what we want in life.
It’s called Amplifying your frequency.
If you think of yourself as a dial on a speaker, you want to increase your energetic volume to align with what you want in life – because the things you desire in life are themselves resonating at a higher frequency: love, full self-expression, creativity, commitment. So in this case, volume shows up in the form of energy. And science tells us that emotion is just energy in motion. For actors, the currency through which we tell story energetically is by expressing ourselves through feeling.
So change the feeling and watch what changes in your life.
Part of amplifying that energetic part of us is to get in touch with the higher frequency feelings of which we are made up: joy, appreciation, gratitude, compassion, love, passion.
Science shows us that everything exists in a state of possibility. Simultaneity states that atoms remain in a state of being both a particle and a wave until they are observed. So the implications are that we have a lot more dexterity in crafting what we want to see in our world, if we would but pay attention to one of the elements that shapes it: our feelings.
We often observe our experiences in life from a limited perspective and then give energy to these things in a negative way. What is the commensurate amount of energy we could use to see the same circumstances in a more positive light?
It’s always a choice. We can choose to interpret our world and the events that occur within it: getting another rejection, bombing an audition, trying to find an agent, hearing a “no”, watching someone else get the role – as negatives – or simply as an opportunity to “twerk”.
Stop complaining. Try complimenting.
Instead of gossiping . . . Give people the benefit of the doubt.
Before you go to the negative . . . What if you just took a deep breath first?
Instead of taking things for granted, what if you looked at your life through the prism of what it might feel to not have these things?
Instead of being cynical, ask yourself, “How would my 8 year-old self respond to this same situation?”
Your reality behaves at the expectations you have of your own life.
Change your expectation and watch what will change.
If you expect good things to come to you they will.
If you expect to find love, you will find it.
If you expect to be happy, you’ll be happier.
If you expect to have victories in your career, the victories will come.
The energetic frequency each human being possesses is a tremendous amount of life force. We just don’t tap into using it in a way that is mindful, helpful and empowering because we’re conditioned toward the negative.
Why is that? Habit. Our personal histories. Not wanting to feel vulnerable. Being scared of uncertainty and the unknown. Not wanting to let go of control. Self preservation.
All energy magnifies. So it’s up to you if want it to magnify in a negative or positive way.
You can do it. Miley and friends show us how. Just start “twerking” your way to amplifying your frequency. Up the volume in a way that serves you through energy and feeling. When you do, you’ll see that everything just seems to get a little bit better.
Because, just like her VMA performance – in the big scheme of the history of the cosmos – was it really that bad?
Now you can train your mind to do the impossible.
That’s a catchy title I saw recently in the Huffington Post.
But was I surprised by what this mind-training tool is? Not really.
It seems neuroscientists have proven that meditation actively rewires our brains over long periods of time and creates neuroplasticity to make us more compassionate, joyful, empathetic and breaks down walls that prevent us from connection. It releases good feeling oxytocin to enable us to feel “one-ness”.
By changing the brain’s structure and functioning, we can make new neural connections, adapting positively in new ways.
Happiness is one example. Decreasing our brain’s propensity toward negativity and increasing our propensity toward positivity and hopefulness is another.
The interviewer asked the researcher, “Is meditation the only way to get to these points?” And the reporter replied the research has shown that it’s “only through meditation that we get these results.”
Stop the presses!
That’s not the only way. You don’t have to sit in a cave in the Himalayas for 10 years. You don’t have to move to Tibet and become a sheepherder. You don’t have to trade in your Zac Posen ready-to-wear for some ochre robes, smelling like patchouli. You don’t have to keep beating yourself up thinking you’ll never get there!
We can take a practice of meditation out into our very active and busy worlds on a daily basis. And when we do, not only will our lives improve but we’ll begin to have awareness of where we get stuck in life.
Our self-talk. Womp. Womp.
When we become conscious of what we say to ourselves and wake up to our destructive, conditioned thoughts and reboot them with new neural programming that not only becomes a practice of mindfulness meditation – but we’re also rewiring our brain!
So even when we don’t have everything we want; the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, the TV show, the best agent in the world – through neural training we can still be happy.
All it takes is imprinting on our mind a new way of assessing our lives and the challenges that lie within it.
We say to ourselves, “The business sucks.” No it doesn’t. Why do we keep saying that? We say that because we’re often faced with rejections and eventually that becomes a habituated response to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. But the truth of the business is that it is, in actuality, full of opportunity to create and change people’s lives.
“I can’t get a break.” Yes you can. All it takes is one moment, one person, one agent, one director, one audition, one casting director to see your talent and respond to you and your life can change. That’s inspiring to know.
We just say these things because we have more access to negative patterns of thought because they’re on the neural groove we most often plug into.
Mindfulness meditation means imprinting our subconscious with new programming. Creating new beliefs that contradict the old beliefs we now hold. This will take some time. It has to be a practice. Like going to the gym. Or acting class. By practicing you get better.
Isn’t that exciting to know? Every audition, every job, every experience, every set-back, every victory is an opportunity to become more mindful, more aware, more compassionate, more self-loving, more equanimous.
So it seems we all have a Dalai Lama within us. All we have to do is train our mind to do the impossible: believe that we do.
In the HBO documentary, Casting By, the late casting director Marion Dougherty, talks about how it didn’t really matter to her if actors bombed auditions. Or sucked. Or weren’t great all the time.
What mattered is that she saw something in them and knew that eventually there would be a role that would come along to match the essence of that particular person.
She should know as she discovered all kinds of talent from Al Pacino and Jon Voight to Glenn Close and Diane Lane.
All of these varied and different human beings whose careers she helped start certainly are originals. That’s the common denominator. (And also that she always trusted her gut about people.)
And it sort of raises the question . . . What is talent? Does everyone have it? What is “it”?
From a scientific standpoint; yes, we all possess innate, inner talent. We all have vast resources of potential and possibility within us waiting to be uncovered and utilized.
The process for actors (and for all people, really) is about discovering, cultivating, nurturing, harnessing, and finally expressing that talent. And that takes work.
Technique is simply a vehicle for letting your talent be expressed. Emotionally, instinctually, physically.
And talent is simply how you do what you do.
Ultimately, it’s you.
Your approach, your style, your intuition, your physiology, your tendencies, your physicality, your hopes and fears, your blood and guts, your passion and pain. What you bring to a role is unlike anyone else. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better – but it is uniquely yours, because of the unique life that you are living. And that’s all you’ve got. Ever. This one life.
Talent, then, becomes about unapologetically bringing yourself to the work (and being shown how to do that). And the only way you’re going to do that and get there (besides having great casting directors ultimately see that quality) is by giving yourself permission.
You simply have to stop doing it for other people. For acceptance. For someone to love you. Or get you. Or acknowledge you. Or validate you.
It’s tough because we live in a world where we’re constantly seeking validation through the external: Facebook acknowledgments, twitter mentions, casting callbacks and agency acceptance.
Michael Fassbinder had a watershed moment in his career when he finally decided that he was “good enough”.
He most certainly is.
And so are you.
You’re good enough to get the job and have an agent and be on a show and get paid for your work and have an amazing career.
You’re good enough to lead by example and inspire others and tell your own unique story and trust that people will want to listen.
You’re good enough to stop second-guessing everything or stop doubting yourself continuously or listen to the advice of hundreds of other people or take thousands of different classes feeling like you’re always in search of “something missing”.
You’re good enough to be loved and be happy and have your dreams come true and not always feel like you have to have it all figured out and still be okay with being a continuous work-in-progress.
That’s talent. That’s good enough.
In fact . . . it’s outstanding.
We’re all 7’s Looking for 11’s.
Get over it.
In fact, the sooner you make the realization that the “perfect” fill-in-the-blank doesn’t exist, not only will you be much happier, but ironically, you’ll find perfection in what is.
An 11 is a false perception of what we think perfection looks like. We’ve all seen magazine covers, or read stories, or watched programs, or viewed commercials, or been brainwashed by advertising that portrays “perfection” a certain way. In bodies, physical appearance, hair color, weight, age, and fashion. In careers, marriages, lovers, vacations, homes, cities, and on and on. Because of this false ideal of what we think our lives (or perfection) look like – we keep blaming ourselves (or others) when our experiences seem to fall short of the myth. We think, “Once I have this 11 (and not these 7’s) my life will be perfect.
But everything and everyone in our lives is simply a reflection of our own stuff we’re working through – our fears, our loves, our hates, our desires, our fantasies, our judgments, our beliefs – so our journeys are always about our meeting our stuff on this playground of life.
Wherever you are there you are.
When I was in my 20’s I said “No!” to a lot of things (including a possible date with Anderson Cooper!) because I kept waiting for my 11 to arrive in the way I thought it should look. It never did. Not in the form of a person or lover or teacher or agent or job or career or achievement. So I wasted a lot of time waiting (and simultaneously complaining, bitching, and comparing-and-despairing) when I could have been experiencing instead.
In hindsight, not only were the 7’s just fine – they were actually all 11’s dressed as 7’s – and had I embraced what they had to offer, I would have experienced perfection. Meaning, I would’ve stopped living in ideas, expectations and agendas. But I kept waiting for the 11 and when that happens, we end up missing everything right in front of us. The potential. The “Aha!”, the experience, the adventure, the realization that everything is here to get us to our next level of understanding. Everything.
For sure, life is about choices and we learn from making them. Or not making them. So we really can’t ever make a “wrong” choice. But what I’m talking about is not delaying our lives or being too scared to live because we have fixed concepts of what we think life is supposed to look like.
Our lives aren’t these concrete, impenetrable, black-and-white, inflexible entities we sometimes make them out to be. They are a vast tapestry of possibilities. Like a spider’s web, there are so many connective threads all leading to the center. They are like tributaries all leading to you.
Ultimately, it’s all potential. But it requires you to pull one thread. Just pull it. Pull the one right in front of you! And start there.
Stop expecting the things you desire to come in a different package. It’s been delivered already. Open it. Experience it. See what it has to teach you.
When you do, you’ll realize that a real 7 is far better than a non-existent 11 any day.