CONSCIOUS ACTOR COLUMN
For several years now, I have written on the Casting Networks International website about what it means to work consciously as an actor. My monthly article addresses many of the issues actors deal with on a daily basis. You can find the column here.
In addition to several of the meditations I have created on my Meditation page, here is one I created specifically for actors before auditioning.
BREEZE THROUGH AUDITIONS WITH FIVE QUESTIONS
1. What is going on right now?
Sometimes being rejected can send you into a downward spiral of panic and stress. During those times, it’s hard to hold on to what you know. When you are distressed, the brain goes into survival mode, making you want to attack, withdraw, or go numb. Sometimes hearing a rejection can hit the shame button inside you and make you feel very small. When all of those uncomfortable feelings get triggered, it’s useful to stay grounded in reality and not get lost in the stories you tell yourself. For instance, when you don’t get a callback after a great audition, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear that you are not good enough and will never get cast in anything. But, what is actually happening in the moment? Are you being hijacked by your mind? Maybe you start to visualize yourself struggling on unemployment the rest of your life, or picture fellow actors having great careers while you lag behind? STOP. BREATHE. WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW? The reality is you didn’t get a callback and everything else you are visualizing and saying to yourself are just fictional stories. No matter how strongly you feel about your stories, they are not facts, they are just feelings. Your mind has been hijacked by your impending thoughts of doom rather than just experiencing the momentary rejection. See your thoughts clearly. Differentiate between reality and scary thoughts. Stop trying to escape the rejection by blaming, analyzing, and beating yourself up. Your distress is rooted in the stories you are telling yourself. Asking the question – “What is going on right now?” – helps you get out of the negative storytelling loop and back into reality—which is a lot better than where your mind will take you.
4. What is this?
This question cannot be answered by the thinking mind. The answer comes from your direct physical experience in the moment. When you hear a rejection, immediately pay attention to what is happening physically in your body. (visit body-scan for more hands on guidance with this). Become aware of your posture, feel the overall quality of physical sensations in the body. Feel if there is any tension in the face, chest, and stomach. Include awareness of the environment, the surrounding sounds, quality of light, temperature. Feel the body breathing in and out as you take in the felt sense of the moment. Stick with the “whatness” of your experience rather than the “whyness.” Habitually, you may go straight to your defenses, trying to protect yourself from the pain of hearing a rejection. In order to break this old habit, you need to do something different. Staying focused on your physical experience is a good way to stop your mind from going off into any negative thinking. Instead of getting busy trying to defend yourself from the pain or going into old, untrue stories, you are going to be open and curious about the physical sensations presently occurring in your body. Remember, you’re not asking what this is about, which is analyzing. You’re simply asking what is this? Awareness in the body will always anchor you into the present moment. Unlike your thoughts, the body never lies. When you hear rejection, take a breath, go inward, feel the physical sensations in and around you and ask, what is this?
2. Can I see this as my path?
This question, helps you to be a “Conscious Actor,” who chooses to take an experience and use it as part of your path of growth. You have no control over the no’s you will hear in life, but you certainly have control over turning them into yes’: yes, I will find something positive in this; yes, I will use this to become a more skilled actor; yes, this is good practice at something I need to work on and get through; yes, I can handle this with dignity and graciousness. Yes, yes, yes! The choice is yours. Are you going to let rejection shut you down or are you going to use it to grow stronger and more confident? Can you see this as your path to becoming a better actor?
3. What is my most believed thought about myself?
This question will require some soul searching and honesty, but is well worth the effort. Every investment of time, energy, and money will be tossed to the wind if, underneath it all, you feel worthless. Negative self-belief is like a magnet that attracts rejection and confirms your inadequate feelings. You become susceptible to creating—the classic self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, when you don’t believe in your talent, you might use rejection to confirm an old belief from the past. You’re most likely to turn not getting a callback into, “This only proves that my Aunt Harriet was right when she told me at 8-years-old that I would never amount to anything.” These sneaky messages from the past will sabotage your dreams quicker than any rejection from a casting director will! To protect yourself from self-sabotage, know what your most believed thought about yourself is, then you have the power to change it.
5. Can I let this experience just happen?
This is not an easy task because our instinct is to want to fix, soothe, or escape. Doing any of the aforementioned won’t work. It’s only temporary relief. Wouldn’t you rather do something that will actually build inner strength and help you handle the inevitable ups and downs of being an actor? Pushing away negative feelings tied to rejection makes them last longer. Remember, you can’t heal what you can’t feel. When you let your experience be as it is, you are putting more space around it and making it less claustrophobic. This allows your anxiety and stress to dissolve quicker. When you connect to your body and feel what is happening around you, you are saying there is more to life than just this rejection. When you let the experience just happen, you are being kind to yourself because you’re letting go of self-criticism. Start engaging the limitlessness of the heart rather than the self-limiting judgment of the mind.
By asking these five questions – “What is going on right now? Can I welcome this as my path? What is my most believed thought about myself? What is this? and Can I let this experience just happen?” – you are building an active strategy to meet rejection. Each question will help you break out of your self-imposed, storyline prison and bring you closer to building up inner strength, confidence, and endurance. Enjoy a free meditation to help keep you on a path toward fulfilling your dreams. Happy sailing!
EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW IN LIFE I LEARNED ON MY WAY TO A HUMILIATING AUDITION by Bradley Whitford
Number One: Fall in love with the process and the results will follow. You’ve got to want to act more than you want to be an actor. You’ve got to want to do whatever you want to do more than you want to be whatever you want to be, want to write more than you want to be a writer, want to heal more than you want to be a doctor, want to teach more than you want to be a teacher, want to serve more than you want to be a politician. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.
Number Three: Once you’re prepared, throw your preparation in the trash. The most interesting acting and the most interesting living in this world have the element of surprise and of genuine, honest discovery. Be open to that.
Number Five: Listen. It is the most difficult thing an actor can do, and it is the most riveting. You can’t afford to spend your life like a bad actor stumbling through a predetermined performance that is oblivious to the world around you. We can’t afford it either. Listening isn’t passive. It is an act of liberation that will connect you to the world with compassion and be your best guide as you navigate the choppy waters of love, work, and citizenship.
Number Two: Very obvious: do your work. When faced with the terror of an opening night on Broadway, you can either dissolve in a puddle of fear or you can get yourself ready. Drown out your inevitable self-doubt with the work that needs to be done. Find joy in the process of preparation.
Number Four: You are capable of more than you think. If you’ve ever smashed a mosquito on your arm, there is a murderous Richard III inside you. If you’ve ever caught your breath at the sight of someone dipping their toes into Lake Mendota in the late afternoon sun over at the Union, you, too, have Romeo’s fluttering heart.
Number Six: Take action. Every story you’ve ever connected with, every leader you’ve ever admired, every puny little thing that you’ve ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble.