Monday, July 18, 2011

10 Things That Acting Has Taught Me About Life. (Pt. II - The List)

I received a complaint about not having posted this list on Friday, when I wrote Part I.  I didn't intend to be misleading in any way, in fact, I hadn't intended for this to be a 2-part post.  But here we are.  Thank you for flowing with it.  And now, without any further ado (drumroll, please):

10 THINGS THAT ACTING HAS TAUGHT ME ABOUT LIFE

  1. You have to be willing to take the hit.  Acting is about open and honest reaction to what is happening NOW.  Open and honest.  Now.  {shivers} I remember learning this lesson in class in 2004 - I was onstage with a fellow actor, and he was saying something really hurtful to me (within the context of our exercise), and I wouldn't absorb it emotionally.  My teacher kept saying "You're not hearing him.  Take that in."  A little voice in my head said: "But that's gonna hurt me."  And it all make sense.  I stopped in the middle of the exercise, turned to my teacher, and stated "you want me to take the hit."  He smiled and replied "Acting is all about taking the hit."  So is life.  Open and honest.  Now.  Everything else is BS.

  2. In order to build, you have to strip.  Soooo many new actors are attracted to playing different characters, and changing costumes like children do when they dress up in their mom's shoes or dad's overcoat.  It's fun, it's wacky!  See how many faces I can make & how I can make my voice do tricks?  Well, as you get more deeply into the craft, you realize that the tricks are just the frosting, and if your cake is made of crap, it's not going to be appealing.  So you strip the frosting, and take an honest look at the raw materials underneath.  In terms of acting, you examine everything you go through life trying to hide: every insecurity, every wound, every ulterior motive.  It's an excavation.  A debridement.  And, so it is with life.  You can accumulate wealth, titles, designer shoes and luxury cars all you want, but what's under that?  If I ask you who you are, with the caveat that you aren't allowed to tell me what you do, what you've done, or what you own, WHO ARE YOU?  Naked.  That's the truth.  Any actor worth the title can do this.  Anybody who values the breath in his or her body would do well to learn it also.

  3. Unless you call things by their names, you can never be free.  OH THE GAMES that the ego plays as it tries to protect itself.  Once you learn to recognize them for what they are, you really have to applaud.  Semantic gymnastics and psychological smokescreens are the specialty of the ego.  "How do you feel?" asks the teacher.  "Well... sort of apprehensive, but not really scared, I just... I don't know."  We ALL tried that mess in class, thinking we were being truthful, when, in reality, our egos were using us like human shields.  The instructor would go right to the heart of the matter: "You're scared shitless."  We would deflect.  "I'm not scared, I just don't know how I feel, okay?  Why would I lie?"  "I don't know, why are you lying??  Now tell me how you feel, and don't use terms like "sort of" or "kind of."  COMMIT!"  This would go on like a cat & mouse game until we were finally batted into the area where we had afraid to go:  into the darkest hole where we stuff anything that we don't want to deal with (we all have it).  The ego would be slayed (for awhile), and we would stand there, baring our souls in front of the class.  Facing our deepest fears, and realizing that we were alive.  "Sort of," "kind of," living doesn't equal freedom.  COMMIT!

  4. The Truth is not cerebral.  Formal and informal education are very important to me.  I encourage people to learn anything and everything that interests them, and I do the same.  This "knowledge gathering" should never be confused with "The Truth."  The Truth hits you right in the gut and exacts a visceral reaction.  You realize that you are in love for the first time. WHAM!  You get the news that your mother just died. WHAM!  Gut check. Now, the ego may try to regain control and egghead it's way out of feeling the enormity of the situation, but, when The Truth hits you?  You have truly been hit.  Those who are able to open themselves up to the hit, accept the truth, and allow an unfiltered, raw reaction to pour forth are called actors.  Or ALIVE.  Take your pick.

  5. Sometimes The Truth makes you feel wonderful, and other times it makes you feel like something in a gutter, but if it's true, it's true, and everything else is BS.  It is what it is.  Now deal with it.  The end.

  6. It takes more energy to sustain a lie than to tell the friggin' truth in the first place (or "a coward dies a thousand deaths, a soldier dies but one." -- Tupac Shakur, adding his own twist to a similar quote from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar)  We were all created to live and tell the truth.  Unless you are a sociopath, the truth comes easier to you than a lie.  But still, we lie in action and with words - usually at the ego's bidding (to save 'face').  When you lie, your whole being knows it, and now has to do the work of keeping the truth in a cage.  That keeps you from being able to live openly and honestly in the now.  I learned this in when my teacher called one of the actress in my class up to in front of the stage, and told her to stand still & not to let him push her over.  She planted her feet and focused her mind on staying in one spot.  Again and again, she fell over with the lightest of pushes.  Then he told her to just relax and stand there, paying no mind to whether she fell over or not.  He pushed her.  She moved a bit, but recovered easily.  It takes a lot of work to lock down something that is in your basic nature.  Tell the truth.  Accept the truth.  THEN deal with the aftermath, openly, honestly, and in the (then) now.  You'll be much more resilient and able to recover than if you try to resist it.  Even if you resist it, it's still true, so why bother?

  7. Using qualifiers keeps you from committing.  Since this was drummed into me for two years, I can't help but take note of how often people say "sort of," "kind of," "a little" in order to hedge their bets.  Call it what it is.  "I'm sort of in a relationship."  What the hell is that?  You either are are you aren't (and you KNOW whether you are or aren't).  Stop putting sugar on it & tell the truth.  "I was a little offended."  Um, Girl, you were mad as #$@%.  Tell the truth.  Straight, no chaser.  Own your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.  You are entitled to them, and if something proves you wrong or makes you change your mind, then own that too.  If you don't, you are going to be a god-awful actor, and a boring human being.

  8. Whenever someone says "I don't know." it's usually BS.  I'm not speaking in terms of external facts, I'm talking about emotions here.  "How do you feel?"  "I don't know."  "Why did you do that?"  "I don't know."  "What were you thinking?"  "I don't know." GTFOHWTS.  How do you not know what's going on with YOU?  Who can we call for the answer to that question?  I can't stand it.  Oh YOU know, alright (and I probably know too if I'm reading your behavior)- you just don't want to admit it.  "Why didn't you do your homework?"  "Because I'd rather fail because I didn't try than give my all and still fail.  I'm scared."  Okay, NOW we're getting somewhere.  But most of us don't talk like that.  We let ourselves and people we (say we) love off the hook.  "Why aren't you reaching for your dreams?"  "I don't know.  I guess, with the mortgage, and the kids... you know, it's sorta tough."  "Oh, yeah, I understand.  Well, I'll pray for you."  Right.  Pray and ask God for the power you've had all along.  The truth is under the layers of frosting.  Find it.  Tell it.  Live it.

  9. "FUCK FEAR!" (yes, i used the "f" word, but it's a quotation from my Meisner teacher, so...) Fear is a PRE-action to something that hasn't happened, and probably won't.  Fear is an emotion that you HAVE to acknowledge and walk through - not a doorway to huddle under.  In acting, sometimes fear comes up, but if you shrink from it, you are dead.  In life, chronic fear is not useful, nor healthy.  Some might argue that "fear" is needed if you are in a jungle and there are lions (or whatever) around.  Or if you are in a bad neighborhood at 2AM, and thugs are circling you.  Fear is not useful then either - what you need is discernment so that you know whether fight or flight is necessary.  Unchecked fear keeps us stuck in an endless loop of "what if?"  FUCK THAT! (okay, that "f" word was all mine)  You were created for a purpose, and if fear is keeping you from that purpose, it has to go.  Ask yourself "What's the worst that could happen?"  And answer HONESTLY.  THEN ask yourself "Could I be okay if that happened?"  And answer HONESTLY.  Babies are not born with fear, they are born with reflexes that keep them alive.  And then they are trained to fear.  We teach them to fear fire so that they don't put their little hands on the stove.  We teach them to fear water so that they don't drown.  And then they gather more fears on their own: They stop wearing polka dots with stripes (even though it makes them happy) because the kids at school laugh at them.  They stop asking questions because, well, because the kids at school laugh at them for being "uncool."  So they shrink.  And, in time, they become like most of us:  Waking up in their square little beds in their beige rooms, eating beige oatmeal out a box with a beige dude with beige hair on it, cocooning in their cars, until they are delivered to their cubicles, where they stare at a screen, then eat lunch out of boxes, and go home to their matchbox on a hill and stare at a screen until bedtime. And rinse and repeat.  This is what fear does to us.  And we are too precious for that.  All of us.

  10. Truth-Tellers are the keepers of the light.  "Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." --Dylan Thomas (from his poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night")  Sometimes the emperor is butt-naked, and we know it.  But because we think it's easier to go along to get along, we don't tell the truth.  We hedge & put sugar on it.  We "kinda" and "sorta" our way into mediocrity.  Great TV & film scenes are not written about characters who "kinda" sorta."  Nobody remembers "kinda" "sorta" or "I don't know."  We say "well, it doesn't really matter what I think" while pretending to not notice that we are are trying to keep truth locked in a cage.  Screaming.  It matters.  When you tell the truth (completely outside of ego), other people recognize it as such.  It is powerful.  It hits them right in the gut and demands a response.  Sometimes they will vehemently reject what you have to say, and that's okay.  Sometimes, though - the most extraordinary thing happens:  Your words of truth blow on an ember that they have been keeping, just barely alive.  It glows.  Someone else tells the truth.  Blow.  It glows.  The light is kept.  We're not dead yet.

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