You don’t have to be a mess to be an artist. Let’s talk about why self-care is so important for the actor and how you can practice it in your life everyday.
Acting is a strange and somewhat impalpable art form. Deciding to take up acting as a hobby or career isn’t like deciding to learn how to play the guitar in that you can’t just pick it up and practice whenever you want. As an actor, you don’t really get to practice and play unless you’re in a film, or a class, or a play. However, there are plenty of things you can do when you don’t have access to those things that can help you become a more truthful, connected, emotionally-alive actor.
First of all, when it comes to acting, you are your instrument. When I started to play the guitar, the first thing I learned was everything there was to know about the instrument. I was taught how the instrument worked and what all the different parts were. As actors, if we are our instrument, doesn’t it make sense that we should get to know the instrument well so we know how to use it? This is why my first rule for actors is “Know Thyself”.
Getting to know and understanding your instrument is an infinite process. It’s ongoing and undefinable. It is ongoing because we are constantly evolving and changing as we age and it is indefinable because there isn’t a language adequate enough to explain the things we understand sometimes. That’s why acting is such a beautiful medium for storytelling – we use more than words to communicate. Beyond the text, behavior and emotional life are our tools for conveying what the character is going through.
Here are some things you can do and practice daily to help you become a better actor.
1: LEARN TO MEDITATE
There are so many reasons that actors should meditate and I get into them more in another blogpost called Why Actors Should Meditate.
Meditation has helped me tremendously as an actor and as a human. Not only has it improved my mental and emotional health, but it’s also helped me get to know myself. Learning to observe your thoughts without judging them allows you to be in a position to zoom out and look at human behavior and life. As actors, that is our field! The further I study meditation, the more I am fascinated by the ego. I’m more likely to notice when I’m ego-driven in a situation but it doesn’t mean that I’m so evolved my ego isn’t a problem anymore. Having an ego is part of human consciousness, we can’t make it go away. Not for nothing, stories come from our ego. We need the ego! We don’t need to be a slave to the ego, but we should understand it. It’s a vital part of our instrument.
Journaling always seems to be one of those topics that people either light up when mentioned, or roll their eyes at. For those of you who groan at the thought of journaling, hear me out. Like meditation, there are a lot of different ways you can practice this and it’s important to find a way that works for you. Personally, I’m a big fan of Morning Pages, a tool I learned from Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way. I notice such a difference in my ability to focus, my productivity, my perspective and my overall mood when I’m keeping up with my morning pages. Three pages of handwritten, stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning every day will help you get to know your instrument faster than is comfortable for most people, and that is a good thing. If you want to be an actor, get comfortable outside of your comfort-zone.
3: GET PHYSICAL
Exercise isn’t just about obtaining the perfect physique. People come in all shapes and sizes and therefore so should actors! This is about being comfortable in your body. First of all, exercise will improve physical, emotional and mental health – all good things for any actor (and any human!) The key is to find something that you really enjoy doing so you’ll keep doing it. I have to change it up a lot, because I tend to get bored doing the same thing for a long time. I love a routine, as long as I can change my routine often. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something. It’s important for actors to be connected to their bodies. Also, exercise is another way to practice mindfulness. Sometimes my husband and I will spend an hour playing tennis. Neither of us are very good at it, but it gets our heart rates up for a while and for the duration of our “game” I’m completely in the moment.
Acting is therapeutic, but it’s not therapy. We all have traumas and broken hearts and a lot of people are drawn to acting (whether they know it or not) because they are looking for a place to express their pain and heal their wounds. I think acting can be a wonderful, safe way to work out our pain but I think it’s important that it’s not our only tool for coping and mending. Whether it’s in a group or one-on-one, I think every actor should seek out healthy ways to process emotional pain from trauma, grief or heartbreak. Not only will it help you get to know yourself (your instrument!), it will give you more insight into processing feelings, something every actor needs to know. If we can’t process our own emotions, how can we be expected to do it as a character in imaginary circumstances?
“Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish — an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked…Filling the well involves active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs.”
~Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
5: FILL YOUR WELL
Actors must have something to draw from so we must make sure our wells are never empty. Here’s a short list of things you can do to fill your well —
- GO SEE A PLAY, even if it’s a “bad” play! There is always something to enjoy and there are always opportunities to learn, if you’re paying attention. As an artist, make it a habit to support other artists!
- READ A BOOK! Check out my reading list for suggestions!
- GO TO A MUSEUM. If there isn’t a museum or art gallery where you live, you’ll find a lot of eye candy and many treasures at antique stores!
- TAKE A CLASS about anything but acting. Develop a talent that you can put on the “special skills” section of your resume: dance, voice, foreign language, archery, firearms handling – think about the kinds of roles you want to get to point you in the direction of other fields you can study.
- PEOPLE WATCH! You can do this anywhere, just don’t be creepy about it! Go to a park, mall, even a bus stop and think about where people are going and coming from and what their lives are like. It’s a great exercise for the imagination. A vivid imagination is a great super power for an actor to cultivate.
- TRAVEL, even if it’s just getting out of your hometown for a day. Get yourself into some unfamiliar territory and observe how people in different cities and cultures live and interact with each other. It’s a great way to learn about humanity!
6: LIVE YOUR LIFE
The most valuable tools in an actor’s toolbox are life experiences. Take a trip, meet new people, fall in love, make mistakes, forgive someone, go to a party, spend time with people you love, explore nature – just live. Actors have a tendency to take themselves and their acting so seriously that they miss out on their lives. Don’t forget to live your life and nurture your relationships. Other people are mirrors for us and we can learn a lot about ourselves through deep and meaningful relationships. Heck, we can learn a lot about ourselves from shallow, meaningless relationships. Everything you experience in life will be there for you to draw upon in your acting journey. Be an active participant in your life!