Have you ever been in acting class, and the teacher starts yelling: “Stop being so perfect! Stop “doing it right.” JUST BE THERE. Be real!”
Most of my clients still talk about the trauma of trying to just be real. Why is it such an effort?
During awards season – especially around the Oscars – how often we hear about the ‘vulnerability’ of the nominated actors, or the ‘humanity’ and ‘deeply flawed’ nature of the character. They truth of the performance makes the biggest impact.
The little cracks of just being a regular person really do get people awards. Charlize Theron playing ‘Monster’ is one of my favourite examples of huge flaws being married to cracks of vulnerable humanity, and awards followed accordingly.
All of this came flooding in as I was in the real presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, exiled leader of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama celebrated his 80th birthday. It turned out that His Holiness had plenty to say that is directly applicable to actors building their careers and businesses.
Now, don’t worry!
For our purposes here, your chosen religion or spiritual beliefs don’t disqualify you from the wisdom of this deeply holy man. He’s just a man after all, with a wicked awesome, killer sense of humor.
The man delivered his speech while eating his birthday cake, surrounded by many tickled celebrities.
Do Everything With Compassion
The theme of the birthday party was “With Compassion”. No Game of Thrones outfits or piñatas for the Dalai Lama…
What does compassion mean to most actors? Aside from good listening when working on a scene, it seems to have little context in terms of building their businesses.
This is a huge missed opportunity.
Compassion is an opportunity to be completely present with anyone whom you might partner with in your acting business: other actors, casting pros, producers, assistants, agents (yes, even agents deserve compassion…).
There’s no need to be a certain way, achieve a certain stance, or leave a certain impression. All of your attention can be truly on the other person, and focus on their needs. And you only need to be yourself.
Think about when you go into a casting workshop…
Not counting the scene/monologue you’re going to perform, what is your ‘character’ during the conversation before and after your Work?
Are you, like many actors, doing your best to be liked?
Understandably, actors try to be so agreeable! And what happens? You’ve taken yourself out of the equation and put forth a character who is ‘pleasant and easy-going’.
In effect, you’ve allowed yourself to come across like 95% of the other actors that casting director is meeting. Not ideal.
It’s downright scary sometimes to hear the words actors use to describe the intense pressure they put themselves under.
One of the key platforms of my work with actors is to strip away this unnecessary layer of protection, and replace it with the solid gold of your essence. It tends to be the same thing as branding.
When you feel you’re doing your most important work in this world, you get empowered. The compassion you create for yourself even allows you to be way more creative. You stop all the clamoring noise of the shoulds. Then can hear yourself think.
Then you can act on the brilliant thoughts and inclinations that your pressure is no longer stifling. Compassion rules with self-kindness.
What does compassion mean to you? How can you bring more compassion into your relationship with yourself, and from there with everyone else you meet along the way?
Vulnerability Is Sharing All of You, Good, Bad & Ugly
What exactly is vulnerability? People talk about it all the time, especially in acting.
Vulnerability is really nothing more than the relationship people have with their environment: good, bad and everything in between – and engaging fully with it. This is the key.
Being wholly present and acknowledging everything that is happening is what we love to see on film and stage.
Within our brain, we have internal mechanisms that literally block out a huge percent of the information that is around us at all times.
We’re usually thankful for this, because we might go mad from the massive amount of stimulus in our world. But on film, with the focus of that magical camera on you, we want to see you experience everything – all of it: beautiful, impossible, even miserable!
It’s our catharsis so that we might sympathize, and imagine the experience, but not endure it ourselves. This is vulnerability.
The Dalai Lama’s birthday event itself began with another Buddhist monk who came onstage to introduce and thank His Holiness. He was so overcome with emotion for the man who was such a great role model and supporter of him, that he burst into tears. At the microphone.
For at least two minutes, he stood there in a room with thousands of people staring at him and he cried. He stopped speaking, and he cried for joy and connection. Two minutes is actually a pretty long time!
Being in a space so full of well-wishing and compassion, he received a beautiful ovation. Then he received a big hug from the Dalai Lama.
That is vulnerability. In an instant, we all understood on a much deeper level just how much the Dalai Lama impacts the people around him. That is power.
As an actor, you have undivided attention on you. It’s not only a privilege, but also a responsibility to make the most of that power. Practice vulnerability anytime you are in communion with any industry pro and in every scene. Let yourself be seen, and see what happens.
Everyone Wants to Be Happy, So What’s Special About You?
The Dalai Lama talks incessantly what we all have in common: the Desire to be Happy.
How often we need to be reminded that all of us just want happiness. Our methods of achieving it may be different, but ultimately we all do what we believe will make us happy.
The sticking point here is that many of us have needs that confuse the process of finding true, lasting happiness.
You may have three prominent needs: for giving, connecting and making your mark in the world (or the Industry). Your need to make that mark might lead you to make decisions that don’t actually make you very happy.
Basically, one of your needs might knock you out of balance.
In this case, we want to rediscover what all of your primary needs are in order to start balancing them out. Spending more time connecting and giving can increase your feelings of happiness. And certainly you will not abandon your need to make a big mark on the world, but it might come into a different context.
For actors this is very exciting.
Finding all of the ways that you are happy gets you out of the rut that can make running your acting business feel trivial, dull, boring or overwhelming. And don’t forget to Be Compassionate, and connect yourself to everyone actively.
Compassion, vulnerability and happiness – these are vital to a stellar foundation which you can run your acting business on.
You’re building it to last the test of time. You want to create a fan base that will support you.
Many people call these three keys Intangibles, because they are not “solid” activities like marketing, branding and networking.
Rubbish, I say.
You can find your way to make them tangible and real, just like scheduling a meeting or sending a postcard.
You strengthen relationships. You nurture trust. You welcome the most important work to flow your way. Believe me, plenty of actors don’t bother doing any of this, and expect to get amazing results. When they don’t and get stuck, we come back to these basics.
I trust that the fun and wisdom of His Holiness will always remind you how powerful, important and happy you can be.
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