I have been observing myself quite a lot (which is one of the mental features I will discuss) and I have discovered some typical and perhaps interesting habits and feelings. I thought it might be fun to let you know what goes around the mind of an actor in training, and perhaps of a working actor. I would be even happier if you are a performing artist and you find helpful information in this post. So here goes nothing:
- Health. Being healthy is incredibly important. Cancelling a performance costs a lot of money, so you don’t want to have to ask for that just because you have something as “silly as a temperature”. Yes, that’s how harshly some of us think. Many of my mentors and fellow actors have told me about incidents where they have performed during critical physical pains- high temperature as I mentioned, broken arm, bleeding head from bad props, and I suppose those are magnificent examples of how the “show must go on”. Because canceling is extremely unprofessional, actors know how to cure anything quickly, and as a student of drama I am no exception. Although I have been training for a year alone, I have noticed certain ways I can control or avoid health issues. The first moment I feel a slight hint of a sore throat or a cough I take medications for it right away, after consulting with my doctor first (taking random medications is irresponsible), and I try to warm up my body through hot showers, tea and maybe rubbing down my skin to get the blood flowing. For that reason, I have a small bag in my backpack full of basic medicine, disinfectants, and a bar of chocolate just in case, because I have a very low blood pressure. I do not drink cold water, ever, no matter how hot it is, and I always bring a sweater with me. I used to drink vitamins every morning but I found out that it’s useless unless you have deficit, so I rather eat fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits to get natural source of energy. Warming up to avoid injuries is also a must, or if such arise I try to stop what I’m doing and give the injury time to recover, despite how pouty would make me. It’s a responsibility that we learn and as narcissistic or phobic as it may sound it is part of our job- to maintain the instrument which is our body. I personally get really upset when I am sick, I feel like I have failed at something so I prefer having my strange ways but feeling good and being able to cope with the amount of work without canceling.
- Empathy. Hopefully, empathy is something present in you, whoever you are, but for us it’s quite different. The sense of understanding and justifying people is heightened in a way that we can truly believe in their story and circumstance. My sister always tells me I should have been a lawyer because I can justify anything, part of the reason she always comes to me when she feels guilty or unsure of her actions. Funnily enough, I am a lawyer, I have been the advocate of every part I’ve plaid so far. If I am in a rehearsal mode and you come to ask me about my character I will be responsible of protecting their decision and their personality, even if I as a person don’t approve of them. The most recent example of that is Gloria form “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” It’s a character who wants to die badly but doesn’t have the courage to take her own life. It was quite an interesting journey for me while I was exploring the personality of a suicider, and at first it felt foreign but after a while I understood the comfort Gloria felt in the story. When people asked me why I chose her the answer was simply because I understood her, it had nothing to do with me, and my perceptions of life, or a similar experience I’ve had. It was about empathy. Some people judge…we justify.
- Curiosity. I have not seen an actor who’s not curious, maybe there are some out there…but I have never encountered them. Actors are curious about life- nature, human behavior, science, different countries, politics, economics, medicine, space, history, literature, music, dance, sports, food, bad habits, a little spot on the floor, animals, everything! It’s also part of the job- to research and to explore, which can be quite fun. I am currently preparing for Shakespearean season and it’s an era I know nothing about. With contemporary drama I found I could relate to nowadays experiences and behaviors but I have no idea what was considered normal behavior during the Renaissance. I can’t simply read Shakespearean plays and be done with it, I must research the time, the culture, fashion, food, music, religion, politics, the Queen! It’s exciting and it’s embedded in actors, or that’s how I feel at least. You might often see actors doing games such as asking strangers about their lives or simply staring at someone for hours, which is not always appropriate, but it’s because they have found something interesting and they want to fully consume it. There are so many unique gestures and face features and it’s quite amazing to observe them.
- Vanity. This section will be longer than the rest because it’s also quite important. It’s no secret that performers are very particular about their looks. There are standards that actors must conform to unfortunately, and I say unfortunately because not every actress must be blonde, with long hair, flawless skin, thin figure and luscious breasts in order to be a part of the industry, I mean theater and cinema are about authentic life with its imperfections, not about some fantasy of flawless figures. That’s something typical for fashion but it shouldn’t be for the performing arts. It will be tough for you in this field, if you are sensitive or too conscious about how you look. I have thought about all of those things although I have never been discriminated for a role because of how I looked. I don’t think I look as perfect as the “rules” imply so I try to better myself on daily basis but that strive for development in my body and image I do for the good of art, at least that’s how I see it. I have said this before but I have a very strong graphic sense for the stage and for life in general- I have a vision of how I want things to look and I implement that vision on myself. I won’t get into details of what I consider beautiful because it is the principle that’s important. We, as performers have a duty to art but that art should go through our spectacles and we have to interpret it the way we understand it. I don’t think all actors should be “beautiful” or athletic, among actors everything should be colorful and different- each face, each personality, each individual. I have had people tell me all the typical things: “You are too fat”, “You are too Slavic”, “You are too fair”, “Your eyes are too blue”, “Your lips are too small”, “Your boobs are small” and if I didn’t have a thick skin I would have quit long ago. You must understand it’s normal and it will happen often. For the play of Don Quixote all the girls were picked based on their height and we were all literally standing in a line next to each other waiting to get picked, like dead meat ready to be sold, but that’s just how it is- the idea requires tall women, and you can’t really scream that that’s discriminating because it is someone’s artistic choice and it is exactly that respect I was referring to. Still, all of those things make us observe ourselves constantly. Might as well make good use of that by channeling your insecurities into artistic development if you are part of the industry. I have never let it get to me I rather try to look at it professionally because as an actor I should be able to change and flow in accordance to the director’s choices in a healthy responsible way of course, it’s part of the job and it’s nothing personal.
- The ability to fail …. Many…many times. Being an actor means you will get rejected at least a million times. At first it hurts and many quit after several times but those who remain are usually the hard-core part of the performing arts. We are designed to think about failure as something normal. For instance, my education at the drama school this year included displays of my work in front of my mentors every week. Between those displays, my colleagues and I would stay up until midnight working, getting together at our homes to rehearse or staying overnight locked at the college building itself…with no bathroom available. We would do whatever it takes to come up with new ideas and show the best we’ve got and every single week until the very last showcase for the season our ideas would get rejected. Exactly when you think you have nailed the part or have a brilliant idea the chance of getting kicked in the butt is huge. It’s the same with auditions and university exams at drama departments – you work hard, you think you’re the one, you show up with high hopes and you end up crying. I have applied to 3 universities for a master’s degree in USA and I have applied at the Academy in Bulgaria for two years in a row and I got rejected from all of those establishments. For random people this might be a signal that someone like me is not talented enough, but for us it’s just a normal part-of-the-game thing and it doesn’t mean one is inapt. The truth is we have to deal with a lot of competition for very few slots and it can be rough but it’s why we train so much not just physically but also mentally- to withstand rejection and failure. It’s a bit funny to me how we are all basically striving for the opportunity to sit in front of hundreds of paying people who want to observe our metamorphosis into something spectacular and we have to have the courage and the strength to hold it together for two hours of a non-stop show and carry all of the burden on our shoulders. We are fighting for the chance to get scrutinized to have no privacy and to have no time for our loved ones, to devote our whole being to something that might not pan out or give back. Correction! It’s not funny, it’s mentally unsound! But, here we are, fighting for the few slots available at the clinic called theater. I guess it is that craziness that helps us overlook rejections and concentrate on the love for theater and what it entices. I can sum this up with one sentence actually: when it comes to rejections and failure, we simply don’t give a damn.
- Emotional hygiene. I do not want to sound arrogant because I am aware all beings feel and we all have our emotions to deal with so actors are not exceptional in that sense. When it comes to the job however the flow of unknown emotions can be overbearing. Many times after I would rehearse Gloria I would feel very exhausted and sad, extremely depressed- I would see and notice things on my way home like faces and destinies that to me were doomed. Everything seemed completely empty. At first I did not recognize this and I thought I was the one feeling this, it was coming from my life and my personality, but it really wasn’t. I was dealing with the desire to die (which was the key task of my character) at least 4 hours every day. My partner and I are both very sensitive so the scene where Gloria asks Robert to shoot her was very difficult for us and we would always schedule those rehearsals last because we couldn’t do much after. Later on, during the process, I understood those were not my feelings, those were things my character was experiencing and I was a bit happy that I got so close to her, but it was not very hygienic for me, and that’s a term we often use: “emotional hygiene”. That’s when we decided to always end the rehearsals on a positive note, playing fun music and dancing together in a silly fashion so we could get out of those thoughts and feelings. A good technique is always needed in order to deal with these moments and to remain professional. It’s just very difficult to shake off a character sometimes, especially when you like them or when they have great depths and complexities, which are qualities always charming to play. You will often hear actors repeat lines of the play randomly at any point. When I was 16 and I was playing at my home town theatre one of the actors, who was also my neighbor, would sit in his garden every morning, sip his coffee and I would hear him repeat the same line from the play we were doing at that time. I find myself do the same sometimes, especially when the situation is similar to that of the character. It’s a unique feeling. Still, I’d like to stress on the importance of technique and emotional hygiene , taking away the character’s emotions is not what you want, what you want is to portray them as correctly as possible, respect them and leave them where you’ve found them. I don’t appreciate actors who start drinking because of those states or do other reckless things- it’s not what to me qualifies as acting. Again, this job is very hard and it has its specifications so one must be very respectful and sober during the whole process of training and in my opinion throughout their whole career. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
I guess those are some of the basic things I could think of that describe features typical for young actors, based on my personal experience. I think this profession is extremely beautiful and dignified and I am honored to be given the chance to train as an actor. I hope you enjoyed i