They say acting is not therapy, but it can be very therapeutic. Since our bodies are our instruments, we encounter all sorts of issues with it, and that can create the opportunity to address human and personal issues that have plagued us, sometimes for years, or thousands of years.
Let’s take nerves, for example, something to which almost all of us can relate. What are “nerves”? What is nervousness? It’s the body’s response to a threat, known as the “fight or flight” response. When your mind encounters a threat or perceived threat to your physical or emotional wellbeing, it causes stress, experienced in the body as the release of the hormone cortisol, called the “stress hormone” in addition to adrenaline.
Your body starts to take action to protect itself. Your blood rushes to your muscles and they become tense, ready for action, making your body feel shaky. Your heart rate increases, causing your body to burn oxygen more quickly. That’s why you find yourself having to breathe in places you never needed to in rehearsal.
Your eyes dilate and you get tunnel vision, or hyper-focused on what you’re directly looking at. It becomes harder to hear. You get dry mouth and it’s harder to cry and produce tears as your body tries to conserve hydration.
This is the body’s miraculous, evolved response to help save your life from saber-toothed tigers and bears and the warriors of a hostile tribe. It had no way of knowing that, after thousands of years of this response system serving and protecting you, it would get in the way as you fear judgment and failure in an audition for a dog biscuit commercial, or a play about cats, or a one line co-star audition to play a grocery store cashier. “That’ll be $9.95, sir” (as you shake in your boots in a small office in a trailer).
What I’m saying is, the acting industry and experience is entirely foreign for our bodies. We’re constantly asking it to do weird things, like lie, and feel things that aren’t really happening to you, and willingly put yourself in emotional and physical danger. That’s why you have to be really good to your body, like giving a dog a treat for obeying a command.
And that’s another weird thing: We are not our bodies. If you lost an arm, you’re still you. The same goes for your eyes, your face, even your heart. So what are you? I guess your brain, and maybe a soul, depending on your spiritual or religious beliefs.
We constantly find our bodies not doing what we want them to do. So, really, we are like horse riders, and our bodies are our horses. Most of the time your body goes and does what you want it to do, but other times it’ll tire out or freak out, and you’ll find yourself on your ass. (No disrespect to horses or their riders. I don’t know much about either, but I like the analogy.)
Understanding that, learn to work with your body, not resist it. If it feels nervous, don’t make that wrong. Frustration only occurs when you resist what is happening. Learn to be like water, adapting to the circumstances without resistance and focusing on what you can do and can control. Every time I feel nervous, I’ll literally talk to my body out loud, saying things like, “Hey, man. I get it. It would be really nice if you could relax and work with me, but if you don’t, I understand and I’ll still love you.”
I guess what I’m saying is that you need to give yourself a break. What actors do is not easy for our bodies to do. That’s why it takes so much time, hard work, preparation, and training to make it an instrument that we know how to play. And unlike a piano or guitar, each body is a completely different instrument and may not work the same way as any other.
So, each of us is a glorious mystery, a beautiful paradox, living at a time in human history where we’re lucky to piss ourselves in a room full of strangers instead of in flight from a pack of wolves.
There. Doesn’t that make you feel so much better?
- July 2019
- Apr 25, 2018 5 Risks of Acting in Non-Union Commercials Apr 25, 2018
- Aug 17, 2017 How to Take Full Advantage of Your SAG-AFTRA Membership Aug 17, 2017
- May 30, 2017 3 Essentials for Brilliant Work May 30, 2017
- Feb 9, 2017 Stop Apologizing Feb 9, 2017
- Jan 18, 2017 Why Good Slates Matter Jan 18, 2017
- December 2016
- November 2016
- Sep 9, 2016 2 L.A. Session Directors on What Actors Need to Know Sep 9, 2016
- Jun 6, 2016 We’re Not Evolved to Handle Acting Well Jun 6, 2016
- May 31, 2016 3 Ways Stage Training Adversely Affects On-Camera Actors May 31, 2016
- Apr 14, 2016 4 Ways for Working Actors to Deal With Emotional Stress Apr 14, 2016
- Dec 1, 2015 How to Handle Unwanted Romantic Advances From Industry Pros Dec 1, 2015
- Nov 11, 2015 Stop Calling It Rejection Nov 11, 2015
- Oct 7, 2015 5 Universal Mistakes I See Actors Make Oct 7, 2015
- Sep 29, 2015 The Unsung Heroes of Casting: Cori-Anne Greenhouse Sep 29, 2015
- Aug 31, 2015 Why Acting Is and Needs to Be Fun Aug 31, 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 12, 2015 Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough May 12, 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- Nov 28, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 3 Nov 28, 2014
- Nov 26, 2014 7 Steps Toward Better Headshots Nov 26, 2014
- Nov 12, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 2 Nov 12, 2014
- Nov 5, 2014 12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances, Part 1 Nov 5, 2014
- Oct 13, 2014 Why Actors Must Take Care of Their Bodies Oct 13, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 2: Matching Your Essence to Your Marketing Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 12, 2014 Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence Oct 12, 2014
- Oct 6, 2014 We Are Each Other’s Greatest Resource Oct 6, 2014
- Sep 29, 2014 An Ode to Actors Everywhere Sep 29, 2014
- Sep 23, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 2 Sep 23, 2014
- Sep 16, 2014 A 4-Step Guide for Success in L.A., Part 1 Sep 16, 2014
- Sep 9, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 3: 3 More Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 9, 2014
- Sep 2, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 2: 3 Things You Shouldn’t Tolerate in Acting Class Sep 2, 2014
- Aug 25, 2014 The Importance of Training, Part 1: Are You in Class for the Right Reasons? Aug 25, 2014
- Aug 18, 2014 The 6 (Often Thankless) Jobs in Commercial Casting Aug 18, 2014
- Aug 11, 2014 You Are Enough: Why You Need to Just Be Yourself in Commercial Auditions Aug 11, 2014