This week: Actors who get too comfortable
What am I doing wrong? I ask myself this question. Often. It’s not that I’m a pessimist (O.K. I know some readers will be thinking to themselves, Uh, Paul… hello rain cloud to sour opening line of a novel; you’re dark and stormy.) No. I’m not. I’m a realist who likes to look at life with honesty rather than peppermint pink Pollyanna confection. (Although I do love Disney theme parks and snow on Christmas.)
So what am I doing wrong? I have some challenges. But I’m also doing many things right. Yet I refuse passive comfortableness with whatever success(es) I attain. I view my achievements — and failures — with a critical eye so as to learn how to repeat or improve my fortunes and deter deficits. An actor, as an ever evolving artist, must continually do the same. There will always be potential within yourself for improvement. No one remains perpetually flawless like the Hope Diamond. If all lives were perfection then why the hell do many in the cell-phone addiction collective find themselves bitching occasionally about dropped calls (Hello AT&T? What are you doing wrong?).
There are some actors among us who will blame others for the lack of progress within their own career and whine, “People just don’t recognize what I have to offer,” to anyone who will begrudgingly listen. When I’m the audibly assaulted my reply slapped back is, “Why?” Lesser life-engaged actors often snap back with a curt, “Because people are ignorant morons.” Uh-huh… Ignorant is as ignorant denies.
If you’re not getting the response craved to the efforts of your desires then wouldn’t it be prudent to turn inward and ask, What am I doing wrong? Now, granted you may not be in complete error for underachieving towards your goals. We can’t control every aspect of how others respond to us. But if fruitless patterns persist; marketing materials get crickets in response, your acting or singing rarely register a call-back, meetings and interviews often don’t bring invites to return; then something within what you’re doing may well be wrong. Patterns exist for a reason; repetitive behavior. So what’s so wrong with tossing the ego aside for some self-reflection and delve into your psyche to question, What am I doing wrong?
And for those who look upon that question as a harsh negative no more delightful than a greasy spoon dinner plate laden with soggy spinach then here’s the Café Du Monde sugar powdered beignet; “What could I be doing better?” How you ask yourself the question for improvement (either listless vegetable or deep-fried delight) is just semantics. The end result – change for the better – is the goal.
So looking beyond the factors that you can not control (rude auditors, attention deficit disordered agents, persnickety producers, anemic economies) what can you commandeer in your career and improve upon to better yourself? Nearly every week as you look at your business that is acting (you are the CEO of your company are you not?) you should be asking yourself; “What can I do better?” “What am I doing wrong?”
There’s nothing wrong with asking, “What am I doing wrong?” The answer returned may be, Nothing, I’m doing my best at the moment. Great! A week later though you may query the same question and while the mind was distracted with other matters the mass of gray cells may have developed a new answer to, “What am I doing wrong?” You could hear your inner voice coming back to tout, You’re doing a lot of things right but… have you tried this idea… ?
The answers to the questions we ask ourselves don’t always come to us when we would like them to. That’s why I suggest a routine of perpetually examining what can be improved upon. If Apple never did such for itself, actors, possibly you, palming a nifty iPhone while reading this, would have to eye the same on a cumbersome home PC with a television set-like monitor. (So last century.)
Asking yourself “What am I doing wrong?” is not a negative. It’s a positive step for expanding your abilities and skills. And if you’re terribly shy or discordant towards the ‘wrong’ ending phrase then why not ask yourself each week, “What am I doing or not doing that could be explored and improved upon?” If you don’t get an answer, don’t believe yourself a god in abstention or cognoscente challenged; your mind is just taking a breather to formulate a response. Go easy on yourself. Ask a week or two later and the synapses could shoot back, You’re doing fine, almost too comfortable, with getting the level of work you’ve had. Have you thought about shooting higher in your ambitions? Then the next question to yourself would be, “How do I achieve that?” “Where do I begin?”
The mind and spirit are then off to a positive journey because you asked a simple, self-evaluating query, “What am I doing wrong?” And that’s not such a negative thing.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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