How to take Risks?

We’ve all heard the quotes “live life to the fullest”, “be daring, take risks”, “no guts no glory”. These are all quotes that at different times resonate and make us step outside our comfort zone in life but it’s rare that we think to apply those sentiments to acting! Or maybe we do (in theory) but more often than not when faced with the opportunity to really “take the bull by the horns” “throw our hat in the ring” and really go there in a scene, we somehow find ourselves sitting safe and sound on the more cushy less daring side of the fence! Anyone?

Becoming a character takes a lot of skill, great training and work; And it stands to reason that if you just applied those three things it should be enough. However to create a memorable character there is something that EVERY Actor will have to overcome. Surprisingly it isn’t spoken about enough in many acting courses or schools. What is it?… The fear of being judged.

I have lost count of the number of times I have thought to myself “casting hate me, they think I am shit, I think I just embarrassed myself big time! I’ll never work”. I was doing a wonderful play in a small theatre (so I could see the audience) and all of a sudden I saw Hugo Weaving sitting in the audience. Suddenly I crashed out of character and thought, “holy shit. That’s Hugo Weaving! Hugo Matrix, Pricilla Queen of the Desert (I could go on) Weaving! I hope he doesn’t think I’m bad in this performance. He’s so good. I must do a better performance to impress him”. This was not good. My performance became about my insecurity of what people (Hugo) thought of me instead of my characters journey. I quickly had to recheck myself, get back in my body and focus on the scene at hand. It took a minute but thankfully I was able to.

Imagine you’re at a club or party and all of a sudden your favourite song comes on and you think “I love this song! Let’s dance”. You rush to the dance floor and begin dancing, enjoying the song and expressing yourself but suddenly you feel that the whole club is looking at you…you have two options, either shrivel up and walk away or step up and perform for them. The problem is you didn’t get up on that floor to do either, to walk away or be the centre of attention, you got up there to express yourself and not be judged. I was in Mexico and my friend and I were at a new years party on the beach in Tulum. No one was on the dance floor and my friend just began riling up all the people, “lets dance”. She had no idea if anyone could dance but soon the idea of everyone getting up and dancing, without any fear of judgment just having fun, expressing themselves turned the party from drab to one of the most awesome New years parties I have ever been to. Everyone, whether they could dance or not was on the dance floor, loving it and no one was judging. Imagine as actors if we could have that sort of freedom every time we stepped up to perform! I would imagine there would be some bold performances!

Acting is about expression. If we are afraid to express ourselves then ultimately we are committing actor suicide. I know that it is super hard to put away our desire to be seen as good, talented, organic etc but it only gets in the way. So how do we deal with the fear? Good question; As many ways as there are to do a scene, the same goes for dealing with fear. Everyone’s process is different but here are some insights that have either worked for me personally or some of my students. A scene can be played many ways, but for it to work must have full commitment. Sometimes we will make safe choices to avoid any embarrassment and failure but the scene will suffer. If we can make bold, daring, risky choices then yes we could fall flat on our face but the scene will not be mediocre. It will be memorable. Secondly if we make a bold decision and it doesn’t work then we can learn from it and become better actors in the process. Instead of retreating to “well I’m never going to make that risky choice again” we can turn that into “why didn’t that work? And how can I learn from that so my next risky choices can be better informed”.

Making risky choices doesn’t mean doing “way out” things. Getting naked, doing your scene with a limp, using props, being overtly physical or funny voice/accent…these are all decorations on the cake but they are NOT the cake itself. A daring bold choice is akin to making a great cake without any consideration of the decoration. Bold choices come by understanding the character, committing to truth, venturing into unchartered territory to help the character achieve, being organic, listening and so on. Good technique aids in bold choices but there is one ingredient that is beyond technique, one that every good “cake maker” has. That is the ability to have fun.

I remember my first TV show and I was super fresh on set. I was acting with one of Australia’s greatest actors (in my humble opinion) Justine Clarke. I walked up to her and started chatting to her about the scene, working it out, discussing moments. She looked at me and asked if I could break dance. I was like “hey?” “Can you do the wave?” she asked me. “Yes I can…but what do you think this means in the scene…?” “Can you show me the wave?”. I looked at her, lost. This is not acting I was thinking t o myself, breakdancing? I think Justine could see the confusion in my eyes and with a confident smile she said “Chum, why don’t we play and see what happens”. And then we began break dancing! This was one of the best pieces of advice I have received. The freedom to play gave me freedom to honor my character and own their choices. I could make bold daring choices (without the fear of being judged) which ultimately made me a better actor. Fundamentally if we are having fun then we are inadvertently trusting our instincts which is fertile ground for bold choices.

 Daring is NOT not being afraid, but not being afraid of being afraid (you might need to read that sentence a few times).

True greatness doesn’t lie in mediocrity. It lies in practitioners daring to step outside their comfort zone. Daring to push themselves. It doesn’t mean they are not afraid, but they are on the precipice and WILL jump into their art, their profession whole heartedly, boldly. They trust their ability and training. It’s what the best in the world have to do and us actors are no different. I don’t know about you but when I have found a place that I stepped out of my comfort zone, took a bold daring risk, committed to my character’s journey, felt confident in my craft and wasn’t afraid of falling on my face I end up having the best time of my life, or to put in more technically…had an actorgasm!

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