Acting: A Powerful Art form

Acting came into my life unexpectedly five years ago. Now, it seems so obvious but if you had asked me anytime before 2013, I would never have imagined that acting would become such an important part of my life. I have found it to be unbelievably transformational and incredibly healing. I have thought long and hard about why that might be and settled on two ideas: it asks great things of me and returns great things to me. 

Let me step back a moment to talk about what I consider to be acting. As I  have heard quoted to me many times by many coaches, acting is the ability to live truthfully in imaginary circumstances. I think there is also a thing called acting that is very presentational and planned. It can be quippy and clever but that is not what I am drawn to. 

What I am drawn to and have always been drawn to are those memorable performances that stick with the viewer long after the moment is over. It is that resonant performance where I am feeling along with the actor. We are sharing an emotional space. In a moment in time, we are connected. This is the type of work that fascinates me and it is what I seek in my own work.

What acting asks of me is to be non-judgmental and open. I have to accept humanity in all its forms from the most base to the most exalted. As one acting coach said, I have to accept that within me is both Mother Teresa and Hitler. That is a sobering thought but it connects us—every single one of us. When I read a new scene, my first task is to seek understanding of that character’s point of view. It is never to judge or give some quick thumbs up/thumbs down likability test. 

This kind of artistic approach has great returns in my everyday life that are simple and profound. I find myself taking that approach everywhere—giving people the benefit of the doubt and believing that they are doing the best they can. I like people better when I view them through this lens and I like myself better when I think with compassion and understanding.

Acting asks me to take risks. In order to perform, I have to be willing to reveal my character choices and take the risk that it may or may not work. When I am in the zone I really go all the way. I go the extreme edge of the choice I have made. This can mean giving my character an impediment that makes me really uncomfortable but is right for her. As much as I might rehearse, I have no guarantees that my choices will work. I simply have to take the risk.

What this gives back to me is an artistic mechanism for practicing resilience. Grit has become a vaulted concept and I find myself grateful for a repetitive opportunity to practice it. I have had weeks in acting where I feel very in tune with a character and easily find a way to play them. More often than not, however, I struggle to build that character and play them with authenticity. Sometimes I find that the best I can do is show up. Either way, I have a sense of accomplishment.

Acting asks me to draw on my own experiences and also to imagine the experiences of others. It is somewhere in that mixture that I find the voice of the character I am portraying. It is when I can find that common space with the character that they become grounded and the portrayal becomes resonant and allows the audience to connect.

What acting gives back to me is a sense of myself. I am confronted in every scene or exercise I participate in with myself—my strengths, my weaknesses, my embarrassments, my flaws, etc. When I get that immediate feedback I also gain the power of what to do with it. Do I want to work on whatever that is? Do I want to celebrate it? Do I want to work on sitting in the discomfort of the unchangeable? Is it unchangeable? It is incredibly empowering to receive this self-knowledge.