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Doing What Is Difficult

By • Feb 2nd, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice

We put on plays in order to entertain an audience. Make no mistake about it. Some of us may enjoy performing a play in front of nobody, but then again some of us enjoy unusual things, and that’s fine. But for the majority, shows are for people to enjoy.

Yet we mustn’t forget to embrace certain aspects of our performing for their own sake. We need to own certain things about our time on stage that, though invisible to the audience, or even our cast mates, take on great meaning for us.

The best example is conquering a challenge during the course of a performance which many would not assume is a challenge. Sword fighting is an obvious challenge. Intricate dance? Everybody knows what a challenge that can be. But what about the actor who is very uncomfortable appearing without a shirt in public? An actor who was asked to do so by a director who didn’t make it plain that it would be required until late in the rehearsal. When the script never called for it.

That actor could quit the show. It happens. But if they do not quit, and instead are not only able to set aside their extreme discomfort, but in so doing can still concentrate on turning in their best performance every night, they are conquering a great challenge. A great personal battle is being fault, and yet not affecting how the appear in character on stage. That is a triumph to be recognized. To be celebrated, even. But because to an audience of strangers it simply was a guy walking across the stage and removing his shirt, there are not obvious adulations about how difficult it must have been for the actor to go through with it. After all, everybody does it every day.

This is when you need to allow yourself room to celebrate by yourself. Or in the company of those with whom you have chosen to share your personal difficulty. Because a good portion is acting is about self improvement. About putting your work and your art ahead of anxiety. About moving passed your fears and creating, instead of letting your creativity wither in the face of difficulty.

As there is to anything, there is a limit to this ideal. No scene or play or theatre is worth making yourself sick over. If you will end up worse for having faced something in order to be in a play, it’s not brave, it’s foolish. However if by working through your personal pain and conquering your personal fears, no matter how silly they would seem to an audience makes you both a better person and a better actor, you have what it takes for the theatre in my opinion.

So when assessing yourself at the end of a production, don’t just ask yourself what the audience thought. Don’t ignore your struggles simply because they are private ones. Step back, list your difficulties faced during the run of the show, and place a check next to each one that didn’t keep you from giving your best performance each night. If you do, you have impressed me with your stage dedication far more than an expert sword fighter has done.

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is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.

4 Responses »

  1. I see where you’re coming from and, insofar as that, I agree (and commend you for it). My question would be aimed at the director in your hypothetical situation.

    It is incumbent upon an good director to balance what’s good for the show against what’s good for his cast. One of the jobs of the director is to make his cast feel comfortable. Yes, they need to be challenged. But — if they cannot be made to feel comfortable, it will inhibit their creativity.

    The best, most creative flow can only be achieved when everyone feels comfortable.

  2. I don’t consider challenge and comfort to be mutually exclusive. People meet their challenges best when they are in a comfortable environment, and the director is the one that needs to provide it, of course. But we don’t always have control over our directors one way or the other, and my point is to be proud of whatever you have overcome as an actor, great or small, in order to be committed to excellence in the show you find yourself in.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. I would like to see you perform. Please let us know when you’re in a production.

    Mark Lee Adams
    Actor|Director|Reviewer

  4. Thank you for your interest. If you subscribe to my blog at http://www.offbook.blogspot.com you will receive all updates pertaining to when and where I will next be performing, as they happen.