Another banality of the coaching/teaching industry that needs to be addressed, is the mind-numbing cliché that in order to act, you have to “use yourself.” My question is, “which of your many selves are you using?” We are multiples who have multiple relationships with other multiples. Although few of us can lay claim to (or would even want to lay claim to) being like Sybil, we all have many sides to our “personalities” – it’s our multiplicity that makes us interesting and unique. Using 19th century concepts rooted in Freudian psychology as our main source of relationship analysis is as ridiculous as making stick drawings and calling them Rembrandts.
This idea of “use yourself” is really a primitive notion. Each one of us has many facets to our being. Each one of them will color, impede, refract, or perhaps occasionally aid in the analysis of our current life situation or of a script. The way you think changes the way you feel and what you perceive. The idea that you can experience life objectively or read a set of sides neutrally, is nonsense. You must develop and become more highly in tune with all aspects of yourself and understand how and when your perception of events and other people is refracted and impacted by that perception. One must learn how to recognize these “refractions''. If necessary we must recalibrate our “perceptual sense” when we approach a script so it is in line with the character’s thought process.
Consider: You can be having a really bad day or be going through a rough patch in your relationships and you get an audition for a Hallmark movie. There may be (without realizing it) a tendency to look at it cynically. You're not going to be open to that particular “fantasy” of life. Conversely, you may be in a place where amazing things are happening, and things are going well after coming through a dark tunnel. The thought of going to a dark place in a script may pose some difficulty. A scene, or even one particular line, may be too hot to handle and therefore blind you to what’s really going on in your life and therefore the scene. This may deprive you of bringing the true nature of the scene or character to life.
1/ We must learn how to see our world as it is, not through the filter of our needs.
2/ We must learn how to see our world with courage, not fear.
3/ We must learn how to see the world through the prism of the character’s needs, not our own.
4/ We must learn how to see the world through the prism of the character’s relationship to courage and their fears, hopes and dreams.
Striking an even deeper chord we must also consider the software implanted in our brains from childhood, some good and some bad. Here is a random sample of some of these (Not all of these pertain to all of us). Discover some of your own!
- “Big boys don’t cry.”
- “Good girls don’t get angry.”
- “I never back down.”
- “I don’t like conflict.”
- “Better safe than sorry.”
Then there are the thoughts that sneak into our unconscious without us knowing it:
- “You are a disappointment.”
- “I will never be enough.”
- “I don’t need anyone’s help. I can do this myself”
- And so on...
Like our characters we see our world through the prism of our thoughts.
1/ Change the way you think, and you change who you are.
2/ Everything is true for as long as you think it, and then it isn’t.
The Hindu have a brilliant way of understanding life called “Maya” The veil of illusion. When a pickpocket sees a Holy Man, he sees only his pockets.
We see the world through so many filters. Judgement, fear and even joy changes our perspective. We will be more creative, have purer experiences and be more open to receive new knowledge and insight if we come to accept this truth. The walls will crumble, and the veil of Maya will fall.
It seems everyone has a list of things they swear will “change your life.” I’m not convinced that this is true. We could spend half our lives reading top ten lists and not get anything done. However, there are 3 different perspective tools that I have found useful. Hopefully you will find them useful as well and can apply them to your lives and/or scripts. Each is a tool (not a rule) and can be deployed according to the needs of the task before you. I am offering up a few examples (within each of the views enumerated below) to get you started. Please note - there are dozens more. Discover more for yourself and share them with others.
1/ The Aerial View – The big picture. Stepping outside the situation: Change the way you think. It’s an audition not a final exam. How can you make this fun and interesting for yourself? Be less concerned about how to play it, but understand the issues connected to the narrative of the script. Understand the role and function of the character you are playing within the story, for example, are you the lead, supporting lead, guest star, principle, actor role etc? How does your character advance the plot? Is it a Film or TV show? What genre, network or streaming platform is this on? And so on.
2/ The Telescopic View – Focusing on the particular: How much time do you have to work on this audition? What are you going to wear? What are your wants and needs in each scene? How do the other characters in the script impact your choices? Where or when have you experienced anything like this? Where or when have you known anyone to have gone through anything like this? Where or when have you seen anything like this in a TV show or movie? Allow the associative part of the brain to then kick in and do its thing.
3/ The Microscopic View – Focus on the inside: What’s happening within you as you prepare for work on the script? Are your thoughts blocking you from doing or being the best you can be? Arc the story beat by beat. How deep and personal are you getting? How deeply are you letting it affect you? What are the core thoughts of the character? On what line or reaction does this manifest itself? Breath in the transitions and let lines affect you rather than trying to affect the line. Recognize the character’s choices in the moment, not your ego driven choices to impress.
It's about having more tools at your disposal and developing a wider and more varied perspective. It’s coming to accept that; perception is the greater half of reality. The core question is at what depth are you allowing yourself to experience yourself, your relationships, and the script? These differing “views” may help. Move freely between them as required.
So to review: if we look at our lives or a script from an aerial view, we have a perspective that doesn’t see the “trees for the forest”. If we are telescopic, we can see the trees, but cannot see the “forest for the trees”. However, if we don’t use the microscope, we may not see the seedlings that are growing under our feet. If we are only seeing the seedlings we won't realize we are surrounded by the trees that make up this forest. We are here to evolve, not build monuments to ourselves.
Here is another set of questions that hopefully will help you bridge the space between you, the story, the character and their relationships. Ask these questions and be willing to accept the answers. Practicing this regularly over time will be helpful in helping you know yourself better.
Ask yourself and answer the following very personal questions. Write your answers down and catalogue them. You will have more access and insight into yourself, and therefore have more to bring to the characters you play. It will be more than you believed possible.
1/ How many aspects of me are there and how do I change depending on who I am with or where I am?
2/ What triggers precipitate these changes?
3/ Which aspects of me feel real and natural and which ones feel false or like a role I am playing?
4/ How many different relationships do I have with the same person (regardless if they are family, a friend, acquaintance, co-worker or strangers? How does this impact my thought process, feelings and behaviour?
5/ How many different aspects/sides do the people in my life have and how do they interact with the different aspects/sides of me?
6/ Do I have trauma triggers? What are they? Recognize them and defuse as many as you can. Don’t get traumatised by this. This work can take a lifetime.
We are all so quick to put people (and ourselves) in little boxes. If we do this almost every waking hour, how can we possibly be objective?
To summarize: the moral of the story is that perception is the greater half of reality. We see, understand, feel and experience things through the filter of our own perception. We are often blind to the fact that there are many ways of looking at our lives and therefore the scripts we are responsible for bringing to life.
We must grow to know!
“You have to fight every day to stop censoring yourself, and you never have anyone else to blame when you do. What happens to artists is that it’s not that somebody’s standing in their way. The compromise really isn’t how or what you do, the techniques you use, or even the content, but really the compromise is beginning to feel a lack of confidence in your innermost thoughts. If you don’t put your innermost thoughts on the screen, then you are looking down on not only your audience but the people you work with, and that’s what makes so many people working out there unhappy. These innermost thoughts become less and less a part of you and once you lose them then you don’t have anything else. So many people have so much to say and there are so many really worthwhile things to say that it seems impossible that we cut ourselves off from this whole avenue of enormous excitement.” - John Cassavetes.