I audited an acting class recently. Someone once asked me why someone at this point in my career is still taking class, but the truth is – actors need to work out their instrument. They need a gym just like any athlete and we need to work ourselves out to stay in shape. And what I’ve found to be true for most of my career is that whatever I’m working on in life tends to be what I’m cultivating for my work. There’s a strange synchronicity between the inner world and the external world. If I’m not working on new ideas in my life, generally I’m not bringing anything new to my work.
I watched what felt like a very young class to me, meaning, a lot of the actors are just starting out in their career and what I was struck by is how innocent we all are during that time. We want so much to be seen but the moment that happens, we diminish ourselves with doubt, worry, and insecurity. And I saw much of my young self in many of the actors working that night. Except I’m older now and a lot more experienced and when I say I’ve been “working” for the past 25 years, yes 25 years, what I really mean is that I’ve been working on me.
If I knew then what I know now…as they say.
Acting is one of these journeys where you think you’re working on this thing called “acting” but you’re really working on the dynamic of how you exist in the world under the umbrella of imagination and creativity. Some actors can get to the meat of the work faster than others, but if you were like me, as a young actor, you had a lot of challenges. My hang-ups were like white noise getting in the way of what was trying to come through. It’s like when my Dad tried to steal cable when I was a kid, you could see the image of HBO coming in through strained lines on the TV set, and every once in awhile you’d get the picture FOR FREE but then it’d go away again. The clear picture was elusive.
I come from a dysfunctional home. My parents might read this and be like, what are you talking about?! We only beat you on occasion. But seriously, most of us come from dysfunction. And what happens is that we create coping mechanisms that protect us during those times and they become habit forming. Once the habit is formed, they generally protect us but they also keep us in that dynamic, preventing many artists from growing beyond that dynamic, life event, emotional age or trauma. So you can be limited as a performer.
The way we talk to ourselves can be an indication of the dynamic playing itself out and I could hear these young actors talking about it externally in general ways. But it takes an experienced teacher to see the coping mechanism, the habit and the way the actor’s subconscious is working itself out on the actor and that’s where these “hang-ups” get in the way. Some are easier to spot than others but identifying the root origin and addressing it safely truly requires a strong but compassionate teacher.
By the way identifying the dynamic is only the first step, the next step and longer step, is changing the dynamic, belief system or creating a new habit to replace the old. This takes awhile. It requires a gym.
Many acting teachers are great at working on technique and teaching the craft of acting, but few are skilled at working on trauma. And that’s why you have people like therapists who train for that kind of work. If you’re able to find someone who can teach acting and work with trauma – hallelujah! You’ve struck gold. But just remember it’s a sticky place you’re entering, don’t expect to find it so easily. So you have to do the work yourself. You have to find a way to work on the “voices” and the core dynamic of what’s true for you as an adult – outside of the old habit.
And when you’re young, it’s hard to know, “what’s true for me,” because when you’re young, that’s the journey you’re on. That’s what makes you young and me — OLD. ER. OldER. This post is terrible for my brand. I can see the SEO analytics popping up: old actors. Search results yields Michelle Krusiec. But see I’m a stronger person now, my core can handle ageism.
So find a way to work on your core, your belief system. It might be meditation or therapy or not an acting class.
Luckily, the teacher I was watching was a very safe teacher who wasn’t ripping the student apart. But if you were like me when I was young, I wanted the teacher who was going to rip me apart and PUSH ME. MAKE ME WORK. And well, that was what my parents did so I knew that dynamic very well. I can’t say that got me closer to being a better actor. It got me closer to being a harder working actor. And those were the parts I got. Overachieving. Type A. Intense characters. But when you long to play more than that you have to approach the work differently.
So the next time you’re looking for a class, listen to your instincts and ask “does this feel safe for me?” Look for the safe teacher who can diagnose nervous system interference as well as teach technique. They don’t have to give you the fix per se, but they need to have a trained eye in being able to see it and you have to be mature enough to recognize that you need to find a way to work on your inner self. And one day watching HBO and getting on HBO will be a thing of the past.