Q: I love acting. I’ve always wanted to be an actor. Every time I’ve tried to move on and create a life without acting I’ve been very unhappy. But I’ve tried to quit at times because I feel like the qualities that make me a good actor are the ones that make me bad at “the business of acting.” I often hear that I’m too sensitive. How can I be hard and impervious to pain in the business and still maintain access to my feelings and vulnerability as an actor?
A: This is an eternal question. As my husband expresses it, “How do you have a thick enough hide to protect you but still let your light shine through?” To do your work as an actor you can’t be hard and impervious to pain. So I can’t exactly answer your question. I think you have to be yourself and feel your feelings. And sometimes it’s going to be painful. Such is life. So many of us actors get sucked into believing our sensitivity is a problem and then become vulnerable to self-destructive “remedies.”
This idea that a real pro doesn’t feel anything but confidence, happiness and fabulousness at all times is not only ridiculous but dangerous. I think people are dying left and right trying to live up to this ideal. We must reject this unattainable ideal.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. We’ve come to accept that every year there will be at least one or two untimely deaths of artists due to some ill-combined smorgasbord of substances. Oh, they partied too hard, right?
I say they were self-medicating. Have you noticed that in addition to the “party drugs,” the antianxiety drug Xanax is frequently in the final toxicology report as well? Their lives weren’t as glamorous as they seemed. They were often completely stressed out. From what? My guess is from the pressure to be fabulous, superhuman, “impervious to pain” creatures 24/7. And when they start to get into trouble, nobody wants to hear their struggles. “What are you complaining about—you’re rich!” the public yells at them. But even before an actor becomes rich and famous, if he or she starts to have difficulty with the stress of the business, it’s, “If you can’t handle it, go get a real job!” or “Don’t be so sensitive!” And let the self-medicating begin!
To avoid this dangerous route, it helps to:
Clarify your goals and values.
Know, respect and protect your boundaries.
When you know your goals, values and boundaries, if you find yourself in a situation that is in conflict with them you won’t be under pressure to figure out what to do on the fly. You will be able to calmly protect your boundaries and know that having them doesn’t make you “too sensitive” but just a normal person with character. And you’ll be less likely to reach for chemical help to deal with the situation.
And there’s always room for PIE.
Purpose: When you frame your work within a larger purpose it’s easier to take the ups and downs of the business less personally because what you are doing is not just about you.
Information: When you have more information about how the business works, industry standards, how and why certain decisions are made, you feel less vulnerable.
As a new actor, I too remember constantly questioning whether or not I had the temperament to be in the business. In retrospect, it wasn’t that I didn’t have the temperament for the business. I just didn’t have the temperament for wandering around in the dark with no clue. I thought I was feeling anxious because I was “too sensitive.” Nope. Any actor worth their salt is sensitive. I just needed to know what the heck was going on.
Experience: Once you get some experience under your belt (or can draw upon the experience of trusted sources), the bigger picture and where you fit into it starts to come into focus. You learn that you’re not going to please everyone, so you stop trying. Whew! A big pain reliever. You decide to be you, be great and let the chips fall where they may.
Besides, your feelings are your internal guidance system. Just like you need your physical sensors to let you know when your hand is too close to a flame, you need your feelings to keep you oriented. They let you know what to move toward or what to stay away from.
Though you won’t be completely impervious to pain, self-knowledge, information about the biz and increasing experience will become the hide that protects you, while your feelings, instincts and vulnerability will be your light that will continue to shine though.
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Actor Velina Brown
The Business of Show Biz -