There are many stories about who actors are suppose to ‘be’ and how they are suppose to behave – but such stories (myths) can become a burden and a hindrance to really living a creative, flourishing life.
I’ve identified 5 key ‘myths’ that may adversely affect wellbeing as an actor:
1. Myth of the person as ‘suffering artist’
There is a notion that the artists should suffer for their art – and that suffering is excused variously – in the context of the personal anguish and sensitivity that an artists might undergo in order to create something remarkable – or, in the context of the disciplined pain and self-negation an artists is taught in order to be available to either creative innovation, or the following of classical rules and traditions of art-making – or, suffering is justified in the romantic notion that the true artist foregoes the usual expectations and aspirations of establishing a sustainable and rewarding livelihood and lifestyle, because they are passionate about the arts, and therefore accept the uncertainty, the poor pay, the neglect of health, the probable exploitation of those in power, all for the sake of being permitted to ‘express themselves’. However, I believe it is this martyr-like belief that can play into the actor’s downfall.
2. Myth of the person as actor
It can be very seductive and, at times, useful to think of your self as an ‘actor’. But a recent national survey of actors’ health and wellbeing has identified how many actors experience a recurring crisis about their sense of identity when they not able to work in their chosen profession all the time. And given that at anytime you may not be able to secure acting work – either because of casting suitability or age – it may be a healthier path to reshape your thinking about becoming a person who can act, among many other useful and proficient skills.
3. Myth of the actor’s creative process
Actors are taught to think that their skill is about imagining themselves to be someone else OR that the process of acting is about becoming the character. But in order to cultivate mental and physical wholeness it is actually important to recognise that no matter how you may IMAGINE yourself as the character it is YOUR BODY AND MIND that is doing the actual work. And such work can take its toll.
4. Myth of the actor’s training formation
How many times throughout training (or from a coach) have you heard the cry “don’t think about it, just do it!”? It’s well-intentioned but fails to accurately communicate what the teacher’s or coach’s concern actually is. For whatever reason, they are responding to a lack of connectedness or believability or self-discipline in your performance – and they may be right – but they may also be mis-recognising what is really ‘working’ or ‘not working’ in the moment of performance. I believe we need to review the ‘guru/all-knowing’ status of the acting teacher/coach and offer some more healthy and collaborative partnerships with those whose advice you seek to self-monitor and improve your performance.
5. Myth of the entertainment industries’ ‘norms’
There’s no question that those in stakeholder positions in the industry, such as producers, directors and agents, can exercise a lot of power of who ‘get’s in’ and why ‘the show must go on’. But they are also human beings (like you and I) and therefore they can and should acknowledge that care and respect are due to any person who offers his or her vulnerability and expertise to a production. I want to suggest that human life and wellbeing is worth more than any striving for artistic and technical perfection – if such striving may put a person’s life and wellbeing at significant risk of harm.