Second guessing…or, can I even mention it, the issue of self-sabotage.
Here’s how it goes. You make choices about your scene. You work on being present. Then you go to the casting agent’s office, and sit with the other actors in chairs, waiting. Some look an awful lot like you. Some are better known than you. Some are, gulp, way better looking than you, funnier than you, dressed more for the part than you. You start to panic. There is no way you are going to get this role. Suddenly the choices you’ve made seem utterly stupid. You try to quickly figure out something better. You are thinking, thinking, thinking, when they call your name, and you have to remind yourself not to stick your sweaty palm out, because they won’t want to shake it anyhow.
As you’re doing the scene, you’re imagining their thoughts, which consist of these words: this actor sucks. You do the scene exactly as you did it at home. You think your way through the scene. You can feel that they hate it. Then you leave, slowly melting into the floor as you do so.
That’s the second guessing insecure audition.
The self-sabotage audition starts earlier. When you get called, you panic. It’s for a network, a big director, something you haven’t done before. You get diarrhea just thinking about going in. You wonder if you should maybe just cancel, because you’re so scared your hands will probably shake if you hold the paper and there’s no way you’re going to remember the lines because you’re so scared you…
Okay, tell me you’ve never felt any of these things.
In the last auditioning class I taught, the actors spoke more about these feelings than about any of the skills we worked on. How can I be confident? they asked. How can I stop forgetting my lines when I’m nervous? How can I stop feeling nervous?
There’s a wonderful book called THE BIG LEAP by Gay Hendricks. In it, he talks about the upper limit we ALL have for tolerating joy, success, intimacy and general happiness. And he talks about moving that limit so we can have more of these things.
I’ve been working on my own upper limit for a lot of years, trying a variety of strategies. How do I learn to tolerate the feelings and change my relationship to them? Because they may or may not be going away, but if I can hold my own experience with a sense of acceptance, I can use it to improve my acting. Any experience. Truly. Even panic, even shame. Every human experience is expressible through acting. I just have to hold it, rather than have it control me.
Then, there’s growing my tolerance for more success…for genuinely believing in myself, for seeing myself through periods of doubt. Here’s the thing…you can’t do this without talking about it, without being aware of it. You want to get to the other side? Put yourself out there and then notice any compulsion to do something stupid…and then don’t do it. Basically, prepare yourself for dealing with your own upper limiting behaviors.
I have to say that writing this feels like such a taboo. In the acting world, and in the acting teacher world, both of which I occupy, we don’t talk openly about the ways we shoot ourselves down. We talk about how hard the business is, about having a bad day. But the built-in limits that are part of us…we might secretly hate them, but we don’t acknowledge them because if we do people look embarrassed.
Acting is so much about confidence, but you can’t just banish your self-doubt, insecurity and self-sabotage by strength of will. Here’s the thing…being with your real emotions as an actor, and acknowledging your insecurities and limits and then lifting them, one step at a time…that builds confidence.
It’s hard. But acting isn’t about easy all the time. It’s fun, but it’s also challenge and grit and meaning. I take this approach: I use acting to become a better human. I figure if that’s not compelling, then there’s something wrong with my audience.
Go forth and act!
And, you know, do something ridiculous just because you want to.