If I Knew Then . . .

IF I KNEW THEN . .  If I Knew Then . . .

7 Ways to Know Yourself Better . . . and Become a Better Actor . . . Faster

Acting forces you to explore the human condition.  And along with that, the human spirit.

Because the backbone of acting is behavior.  And it’s difficult to understand how someone else behaves without first understanding how you do.

Acting was a true life-saver for me.  Growing up in a critical, uncomfortable home for the first 18 years of my life, I had no idea who I was let alone how my behavior and my presence affected other people.  I must have unconsciously channeled all my behaviorial insights into my acting.  Because, for many years, I hadn’t a clue once I stepped off that stage.

There wasn’t a lot of help in those days.  We were just coming out of the denial of the 1950s into the fledgling self-awareness of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then, if you went to a therapist, did meditation, or followed a guru, you were considered at the very least lunatic fringe.   And, at most, a crazy drugged-out hippie.  I relied upon my smarts to cope with acting and life then.  And being funny to get people to like me.  I also secretly relied on my shrink.  Because we didn’t openly talk about those things then either.

Acting is a great platform for self-awareness.  Along with therapy, it enabled me to become intensely self-connected.  And then to consider other forms of consciousness such as yoga and encounter groups.  It’s amusing to note that these once suspect practices are now mainstream.  At least in Los Angeles.

There’s a lot more opportunities and choices for connection these days.  For me, understanding who I am is a driving force in my life.  For you, it might be vital for your success as both an actor and an Actor-Business.  Here are some ideas and resources to be true to thine own self:

  1. Read, watch and act the classics! There’s a reason why they’ve lasted so long and we still confound our modern sensibilities to perform them.  Shakespeare was beyond brilliant at nailing human facts and foibles, as were many other great classic playwrights.  So it’s no fluke that Polonius, who counsels his young daughter, Ophelia, “to thine own self be true”, is the one character in Hamlet that’s true-less and clueless.  What seems on the surface like good advice sparks ultimate irony in light of the multi-layered public and personal deceptions of the play.  Good plays, movies and even TV give us many cerebral and instinctive behavior signposts.  I’ve also personally learned so much about myself by acting them.
  1. Get some guided imagery or somatic therapy! So many actors have said that therapy changed their lives.  But I’m a talk therapy drop-out. The woman who saved my life did guided imagery, a form of meditative suggestion that helps reprogram limiting beliefs and erase deep scars. Because of that, I’m a big advocate of newer therapy forms.  Therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Psychodrama and movement, art and dance therapies help you reconnect with yourself in much deeper ways.  They enable you to release memories stored in your body and to heal trauma much better than just talking about it.   So I’d suggest weekly therapy if you’re working with raw emotions on a daily basis.  And group if individual is cost-prohibitive.  It’ll save your
  1. Study a demanding, physically-based acting technique! I am eternally grateful for having experienced Method acting, improvisation and the oh-so-therapeutic Grotowski work.  Physical techniques make you a better actor hands-down because they help you push through your personal envelope to greater expression.  They also have a side-benefit of connecting you with how and where your body feels emotion and what kind of somatic tension means what.  Skills that . . . trust me . . . come in handy when you’re trying to figure out what the #@$%& is going on with you.
  1. Watch! We actors are obsessed with observing people.  I’ve heard many actors exclaim, “boy can I use that!” when referring to some intense interaction they’ve just experienced.  Observing others may give you a window into your own behavior.
  1. Read! We’ve got so much consciousness-raising literature out there right now that I’m sure you can find something that resonates with you.  Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle and many other awareness gurus are also now steady presences in movies and on TV and the internet.

I’ve mentioned many books that inspire me in my past columns.  Now here’s your chance to find your own.  By the way, for you Richard Bach fans, his first new book in years just came out this month. When you challenge your beliefs through books and other media, you find deeper layers of yourself, just like Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull did.

  1. Journal! I’ve just reacquainted myself with journaling through the work of Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, and begun to do three handwritten stream-of-consciousness Morning Pages the first thing every day.  You can write about anything, but it’s interesting how a steady discipline of scribbling can reveal a lot to you.  You also start freeing up feelings somewhere along the way . . . feelings you can then free up in your work.
  1. Join a self-awareness group! These are as many and varied as the books above.  They could be anything from a drum circle to an Eckhart Tolle discussion group.  You’ll not only find like-minded people, you’ll be doing something positive for your mental and emotional health.  Try meetup.com.  Or start an actor’s meditation group with fellow performers yourself.

Yes, I truly wish that the cultural climate of my early life had supported more awareness. I might have known then what I know now sooner.  I might have known myself better earlier.  I might have also had a more focused, more successful acting career.  But, then, I might have missed out on my own particular journey of self-discovery.  And, as a result, had a less successful life.  I wonder . . .

Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly—Richard Bach

Leave Your Comments About If I Knew Then . . . Below

What do you do on a consistent basis to enhance your acting and your life?  If you’re an acting veteran, what tidbit of advice do you have to share with newbies to the field?