In last night’s PBS premiere of “Sherlock Holmes: The Abominable Bride”, the brilliant and eccentric consulting detective speaks a truth for every actor, new or experienced, to consider carefully. He says to his assistant Watson, “nobody made me; I made me.” It resonated with me in such a way that when I first heard it, I had to rewind so I could hear it again, and it inspired today’s message.
I’m sure you have thought at times you were the sum of your experiences. The things that happened to you shaped you specifically and it’s not to be undone easily, in your mind. Perhaps it’s a blend of credit to and blame of others that created your special recipe. Let’s say that’s your reality at this moment.
The unfortunate thing about removing responsibility for your success or failure from yourself is you miss the opportunity to see every choice you make as the real fuel for where you’re headed. Those of us who grew up “poor” feel like a lack of money kept us from having all the advantages of financially secure families. If you grew up without one or both parents, you may feel you struggle excessively as a parent now yourself.
When I’m teaching acting classes and workshops, one of the first things I notice about students is how they think. Their body language, facial expressions, and questions reveal massive amounts of information about how they mentally approach the subject matter and life itself. Before a behavior occurs, a thought sets it in motion. If we can understand how that thought forms, we can reset the pattern of our thinking about ourselves, the scene we’re doing, and the world around us.
Let me give you an example. I had a mother and daughter in improvisation class last year and they improvised a scene where the daughter comes home from school with good news but gets a chilly greeting from her mother. Her mother yells at her and she immediately cowers. Then, I have them repeat the scene. After the second version of the scene ends, I explain to her the reaction to cower no longer looks like a choice. It felt automatic as if she was responding as the actor and not as the character. I guided her to play the “opposite” and remain cheery regardless of what her mother did. The results were both comedic and sad, and she helped them create a much more interesting scene that way.
The thinking you’re doing right now about your past, your relationships, and your (low) amount of auditions and bookings will no doubt influence your career success. As 2016 gets underway, I challenge you to actively seek to maintain a sense of responsibility over yourself, your choices in life, and your choices as an actor. Leave behind the old way of thinking someone else created you and someone else is to blame for your struggles. Only you make you.