Acting can be the most wonderful job in the world.
It can be artistic, uplifting and inspiring. It can also be economically crushing, physically demanding and emotionally draining. And that’s when you’re in work, not to mention out of it.
One of the most important issues any actor needs to address first and foremost is fear, or THE FEAR. It strikes at different times but it is the quiet and oh-so-clear voice that crushes your confidence, steals away your self-esteem and leaves you feeling bereft of any ability to do, well, anything.
It reaches into your throat at an audition. Stealing your oxygen, your professional anecdotes, and insightful thoughts on the piece they’d asked you to prepare. Instead it offers you a dictum that has already been decided for you – you’re not getting this job, or that one, or any.
It attacks when you explain to your immediate family that yes times are tough, however you’re really looking forward to a promising meeting next week. The lead weighted patter insists “Why bother? They don’t believe you, and neither do you.”
The fear is the inner critic. It is a part of every mind. Not just yours. These thoughts occur to everyone in various forms, at different levels. It is part of our human experience. However, working in a creative field that demands we be observant, agreeable and malleable as performers, all well as emotionally honest creatures – our inner critic can take over. This stops being helpful when instead of observing a conversation and scanning to see how it’s going, you stop engaging completely, feeling as though there’s nothing to offer.
The inner critic is linked to our self-worth, our confidence, and our-self-esteem. As such it’s incredibly important to ensure that we have a healthy relationship with it; both to maintain our physical and emotional well-being, and also to make sure that we’re ready and capable to work as the artists we strive to be.
HOW I OVERCAME THE FEAR
Days before the tech I found myself hiding.
In a stairwell.
The room I had just run from contained the full creative company that had given me this opportunity fresh out of training. The bathroom was occupied. The kitchen had been taken over by a community group. There was nowhere to run. So I hid in the stairwell, and tried to cry as quietly as possible. I’d arrived late. Unprepared. Dropped lines, blurred choreography. My body was overcome with anxiety, my breath refused to drop into my lungs. I felt each all-consuming child-cry take over one shaken inhalation after the other.
I felt I’d be dismissed immediately. Why even bother waiting? I’d left my bag. I had to wait till they’d left the damn room. A cast member found me. They couldn’t understand this damp wreck in front of them. Previously, in rehearsals, I’d be described as peppy. Positive. Excited to be there and learning. Overly keen. Green. Meanwhile, feeling the entire time that someone would find me out. Discover that actually I was no good. That this was all an elaborate mistake. They would send me, with polite apologies, home.
These talented, professional, award-winning people had seen me, and known that I shouldn’t be there. The sudden and overwhelming claw of exposed failure grabbed at me.
I had been floating. Coasting along. Not working as hard as I needed to. Not knowing my lines as well as I should have. In short – I was giving them reason to doubt me professionally, as I felt they should. In effect: complete self-sabotage. I followed the belief that as I truly wasn’t good enough to be there, I’d prove it to be true.
This is incredibly dangerous territory to be in. As an actor, you have to be on time, prepared, willing and able to do what is demanded of you. Be confidant, charming and likeable. Take direction well and absorb the world in which your character is living. Explore through rehearsals, play with wonderment; enjoy the delight of the work.
Instead I sobbed.
I’m eternally thankful for the patience, and gentle kindness of that cast and the stage manager for that day. We left, had some air, tea, a walk. Then I went back and to face the director. I knew what was coming, or thought I did.
Their upset and disappointment were completely clear and adamant. This was not OK. This was selfish, unacceptable behaviour.
What followed was truly remarkable.
I genuinely believed that this was it. I was done. They knew. They knew it was self-doubt and self-sabotage prevailing and undermining my actions and choices. The director calmly demanded that I have enough self-belief to trust in my work. My work was good. I was talented. I deserved to be there. IF I STOPPED THIS. And until I stopped this – my work, talent, and chances of future work would diminish.
They had called me on it.
They nailed it.
From that day I have had to keep the voice in check. I’ve had to learn to keep the inner-critic alert but quiet. I try to use it as positively as possible, in an effort to embrace fear. I’ll aim to use control in healthier aspects of this life; eating healthily, exercising well, sleeping habitual hours. All of which sounds painfully obvious, but these patterns of routine can be the first things to drop away when self-doubt attacks. You start to listen to that voice and believe it until it takes over the ability to distinguish between your inner-critic and your actual self-worth.
WAYS TO ACKNOWLEDGE, BUT NOT ACT ON, THE FEAR
1. BE PREPARED
Most fear comes out of the unknown, the unexperienced; things we can’t control. You have no control over whether anyone will like you or like your work. This is a universal fact. However, you can control what you take into that room. You can prepare the sides, monologue, songs, dance. Know what you can prepare backwards. Make clear, well-thought out, well informed choices about the work. Be warm. Be physically and vocally ready to work.
Remember they’ve asked to see you. They want you there. And they honestly want you to do well. They wouldn’t waste their time if they didn’t.
2. WHEN THE INNER CRITIC RANTS – WRITE IT DOWN
Get a pen and some paper. Oh yes. Old school. Write it down. The thought of affirmations still freak me out, but I have to force myself to do this; for every negative thing, write three positives e.g.
- I completely messed up that audition
Did you really? What did they say? What did they look like? How long did it last? Chances are it was fine. It may not have been perfect, you may not have got the part this time, but you still worked, you performed honestly and openly for them, if only for a moment.
- I met a room full of talented industry professionals
- I’ll write to them saying how lovely it was to meet them, to keep me in mind for more suitable projects in the future
- I’ll go see the show, be open to it and write to them again after that
One complete positive, and two positive active steps to take in the future.
3. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
If you know you’re slacking, allowing things to slide, check in with yourself and assess why. If you’re not working hard enough, getting seen enough or writing to people enough; assess and accept why you’re behaving in this way. Keep an eye out for these self-sabotaging behaviours, keep a dairy of them, try to assess a pattern and plan to combat them.
4. SEE GOOD PEOPLE AND DO GOOD THINGS
Simple to read, hard to do. Actors get painted, or rather tarred and feathered, with the self-obsessed brush, and as such it can be really hard to talk to people when these fears strike. You can do as much as possible to stay positive yourself but this is what friends and family are for. Other actor friends will no doubt regularly go through similar stages. Collectively expressing them and understanding that these feelings are normal can help enormously.
Thoughts don’t automatically lead to actions, in both positive and negative thought patterns. Be careful, pause before a thought becomes action and ask is this a choice you want to make? It is in your control how you choose to behave, the decisions you choose to make and actions you wish to act on.
Believe these thoughts are universal. They are part of us as people and, as artists, we choose to explore that territory; live in, embrace, and not ignore these less than desirable emotions. It is a commendable, worthwhile and brave action to accept all parts of ourselves, a little bit more each time.