Thursday, April 19, 2012

Stop "IT"

Let me tell you about something I used to do.  It may interest you because you might still do it.  You may not even know you're doing it.  If you do... STOP.  Stop right now.  If you still do this, you're getting in your own way.  Instead of being your own biggest fan, you're being your own biggest obstacle.  I see it everywhere... in class, in auditions, at workshops.  I watch other actors doing it to themselves over and over and over again.  Seriously, it's an epidemic. 

What is "it", you may ask?  Since I'm in the business of story telling...

The story always begins with getting the beautiful little message that is a request for an audition.  I love those messages because they present the possibility of magic.  Especially once I started auditioning for bigger projects, an invitation to read for this TV show or that film and it was like... Holy shit.  Getting this gig could change my life.  It could mean the first recognizable credit on my resume.  It could mean shooting in Columbia for two months.  It could mean sparking some interest from a bigger agent.  It could mean doors opening to welcoming faces that used to look right past me because I've yet to list "guest star" or "series regular" next to my name.  It could mean easing the worry in my friends and family's eyes because they'll see me on TV during prime time.  It could mean a paycheck that will ensure that class and headshots are taken care of for the rest of the year.  Yeah, those big projects can mean a lot of things.

You may be starting to think that was "it".  That it's a mistake to start imagining all the possibilities a booked job can bring.  But it's not.  It's human nature, and frankly, part of our job to have a very active and vivid imagination.  I love imagining what it would be like to work on the project because it gets me excited for the audition.  If I find myself starting to feel pressure because of the potential... then it's time to cool it a little and remind myself that an audition does not equal a booking and that I must remain unattached from the outcome.
So if that's not "it", then what is "it"?  Hang tight.  We're getting there.

I'd get the appointment, I'd get the sides and do a quick read-through.  Oooh, this one is a goodie!  Then I'd start to worry... is this out of my league?  Are they ever going to cast an unknown like me?  Do I look good enough?  Dammit, I knew I should have run more last week because my jeans are feeling a bit tight.  And crap, I have a stupid blemish
popping up on my forehead.  They don't want to see that.  Have I had the highlights in my hair retouched recently enough??  Am I too old?  I mean, I know I'm in the right age range, but do I come across too mature?  Am I too sexy, am I not sexy enough??  Am I even talented enough to land this part??

Lots of head noise there.  Still... that's really not even "it".  Yes, we have to learn to let go of all those doubts, but that's not the biggest mistake.  Because guess what?  THERE WILL ALWAYS BE DOUBTS AND FEARS.  Again, it's human nature.  Those little insecurities will always be there.  If you're waiting for that little voice in your head to stop asking questions, you'll never get your career off the ground.  That voice will always be there.  The questions may change, but the voice will remain.  The trick is to use it in a positive way.  If you're feeling insecure about your fitness, you can probably eat a little better and work out a little harder to drop a few pounds. (I'll address this in another post, but I'm NOT talking about having an unhealthy body image or an eating disorder.)  If you're feeling insecure about your skin, do what you have to do to take care of it... make an appointment with a dermatologist, a nutritionist, an esthetician... do what it takes to have clear, healthy, glowing skin you can feel proud of.  If you're feeling insecure about your talent... get your booty in class and do what you need to do to feel confident in your little brand of acting style.  Then, at the end of the day (and I'll admit, this is still a tough one for me) stop trying to be perfect.  Be the best YOU you can possibly be... that's more than enough. 

Okay, so if none of that is "IT"... what ARE we talking about here?  What exactly are actors doing to themselves that cripples their potential for success?  Are you ready to find out what I used to do, you probably did and are perhaps still doing??  Here it is.  Here's the biggie...

Stop giving yourself an excuse to not book.

Here's how it played out for me:  It would start in class when I would show up week after week without totally preparing, complaining that I just didn't have the time to really work on the scenes.  I'd follow the same pattern for the audition.  I'd get everything I needed to give a great performance... then I'd do nothing with it.  I'd often get to the casting office barely on time or even late, stressed from the hurried drive.  I would have found a way to rapidly memorize my lines at the last minute, trying to fool myself into believing that's what it was about... but deep down knowing I was walking in unprepared.  I'd be totally unclear on what I was actually going to do in that room... mostly relying on my ability to "wing it".  In part, I blame this on what my mother calls my "natural ability to bullshit my way out of anything."  I also felt justified in this behavior by that ol' actor crutch being thrown around in every coffee shop from Ocean Avenue to Burbank Boulevard... "It's the ones you don't care about that you end up booking!!"

It wasn't because I was lazy, nor was I ignorant or untrained.  It came from fear.  What if I work really hard, put everything I have into it, bear my heart and soul for strangers in a stuffy office, put on what I know to be the best audition I can possibly do, believe down into the marrow of my bones that I can be right for this part and I AM good enough to book it... and then what happens if I DON'T book??  What happens if I put my heart out there on the butcher block and they take one look at it and say, "Meh.  Nah, not feeling it.  Let's go with something a little edgier." 

I picture myself reaching out awkwardly, collecting my rejected heart and fumbling my way out of the office.  I didn't even know it, but I was terrified of putting everything on the line and it still not being good enough.  I was scared that I wouldn't be able to recover from something like that.  So instead, I would not completely prepare, so that if I didn't book, I could blame it on that.  I needed something to serve as a reason WHY I wasn't good enough... in case I wasn't good enough.

THAT'S the mistake.  Don't shoot yourself in the foot before you try to run a marathon, just so you can blame the bullet in case you can't find the finish line.  What we do is tough, we have to put everything we have out there and come home empty-handed MOST of the time... if you let yourself believe that every time you don't book it's because you weren't good enough, you won't make it.  You may not book because the name actor attached is two inches shorter than you.  You may not book because there was another actress who could work as a local hire, which allowed the film to save thousands in production costs.  You may not book because you just look too damn wholesome, and they need someone with a little more rock 'n roll. 

Just because you didn't book, doesn't mean you weren't brilliant.  And if you strive for brilliance, someone will see it.  Maybe they'll call you in for another one, maybe they won't.  At least you'll be showing up with what you can really do, instead of giving them an excuse to not book you because you're too scared to actually put your ass on the line.

I told you I had an audition this Monday.  I poured myself into it.  I worked on it for hours and hours, sinking my teeth into it all weekend.  I engulfed myself so deeply in my work, I noticed I started to skip songs on my iPod while on a run because my character wouldn't like them.  I didn't hesitate to spend the money on the script or for the private session with my coach.  I walked in there and gave it absolutely everything I had.  And when the final heavy scene was over, we all had to take a deep breath because the energy in the room had changed.  I walked out feeling satisfied that I gave it my absolute best shot.  Whether I book or not is irrelevant.  If I make sure I do that every time I go in, I've no doubt I can be successful enough to make a career out of this.

So take a moment to search your soul.  If you're making this mistake, promise yourself to STOP IT right now.  Your career depends on it.

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