Every actor operates differently. I think some actors dislike being in their own skin so much so that they thrive on the opportunity to be somebody different...and maybe that is how they do their best work. For my part, if I'm not likin' myself, I don't have the energy to be somebody else too.
I remember my first year of acting training in college was all about getting comfortable with myself and then my most stripped down self in front of other people--my classmates and I weren't even allowed to work on text we didn't write! It was all about breathing, understanding our voice, loving our voice, breaking down bad habits and blocks, owning up to our best and worst qualities, discipline, strengthening our bodies (physically and emotionally) and supporting our fellow comrades. I guess the thought process was this: how can you be somebody else if you aren't ok with you? I think, in retrospect, it was also about mentally strengthening us for the ugly aspects of the business.
But man, there were a lot of breathing exercises. Always breathing. OMG, I got so bored of breathing! I'd been breathing just fine for 18 years! I think I have a college degree in breathing.
What am I even writing about?
Centering. Breathing. Getting Inspired. Because that combination, when everything is aligned, is how I do my best work. Anybody out there completely uninspired right now? I've been there and I've certainly been known to waver between completely inspired to cripplingly inert from time to time.
A couple of months ago, I was feeling less than gung-ho. I decided to attempt a jump start by finding inspiration in a couple of well-known acting books that are sold to millions of actors with the understanding that you will be inspired AND better prepared to make choices about your acting and self marketing. I may have even attempted a cheesy self-help book. I don't remember. Okay, that was the worst idea ever. As I started to read the books, searching on each page for inspiration and a magic anecdote, I began to panic more and more about my career and all of the things that I hadn't done and needed to do and I felt overwhelmed and even more paralyzed. But it was a good lesson: nobody can truly inspire you to action but you.
When I want to be inspired in my acting pursuits, I don't look to the industry to inspire me. That's not entirely true, because sometimes I find inspiration in a play or a great movie or an acting partner will inspire me to work harder. But most of the time, I begin to love acting and pursue it with greater force when I am madly in love with life. And when I'm not madly in love with life, and we can't always be, I force myself to do something new everyday. I make myself go on adventures. Maybe I walk into a store that intrigues me or I try a new scary food or a delicious wine or I test out a new class at the gym or read a book for fun or try out a new color of lipstick or strike up a conversation with a total stranger or download a new song and play it 100 times. It really doesn't matter what I do, as long as I break up my daily routine in an exciting way that stimulates my senses. I also find that helping other people is inspiring too. Helping other people work toward their dream is a surefire way to inspire myself to follow suit. Anybody else do this?
I remember my improv coach saying once that improv actors are some of the most fun people around because they practice the "Yes! And..." rule of improv in their art and in their life. I love that analogy, and I strive to be a "Yes! And..." kind of actor on stage and in person too.
And you know what? I have to admit that my breathing degree isn't so bogus after all. I mean, I probably would've kept breathing even if I hadn't gotten a degree in it, but oddly enough that foundation is finding its way back to me in powerful and tangible ways. In the last few months, I've finally figured out why practicing yoga is a great tool for an actor--it's all about breathing! It's about centering yourself and not competing with others. It's about finding power in the positions ("Ah! You're looking forward! You're reaching forward! You're not thinking about anything else!" my lovable yogi would say with a smile.)
Funny how the acting foundation that I scoffed at keeps coming back to me in helpful ways. Love yourself. Breath. Be disciplined. Get inspired. Then share! Works for me.