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The Selflessness of Taking Center Stage

Posted by Bethanny Lawson on September 29, 2015 at 7:25 PM

Two years ago, I was the girl too shy to even think about auditioning for a play. In The Sound of Music I, as Liesl, had to sing, dance, and cry onstage as if it was natural to me. And I loved it.

What has changed? Why did I, in the course of two years, evolve from being unwilling to audition to actually loving to perform? It's not because I have any special knack, talent, or skill. It doesn't come naturally, at least not to me. It's hard work. But it is progressively getting easier. How?

Inside the performing arts, there are many more branches of art. Some on the larger branches include things like theater, dance, music, etc. But these branches have smaller branches of their own that, when mastered, will add up collectively as an accomplishment in the overarching branch, as well. The two smaller branches of art I have found to be the most helpful are the art of imitation and the art of overcoming yourself.

One of the best ways to learn something new is to imitate someone who has more experience than you do in the area and who has already mastered it, or at least has made major accomplishments in certain skill sets. Every actor should have a role model.

By role model, I do not mean your best friend who enjoys performing in a play every now and then for fun or someone you think looks cute. If you want to grow your skills, your role model should be someone who takes their job seriously, has had quite a bit more experience than you, and either often plays the same type of roles as you wish to play or stretches themselves to many completely different types of roles.

My role model, who you will see a lot of quotes from today, is Tom Hiddleston. Everyone who watches Marvel movies appreciates the skill he brings to playing Loki. It's amazing to me that he can play a character so opposite of himself with such skill. Then he plays other roles, like Captain Nicholls in War Horse and his upcoming role as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light. I admire that he is determined to stretch himself to grow and not become type casted. Everyone should aspire to attain that kind of growth in some area of their lives. As for me and choosing him as my role model, with almost any role I play, I'll be able to pull some inspiration from one of Hiddleston's characters because of the variety of characters he has portrayed.

Overcoming self is something all of humanity struggles with. For some it means fighting shyness and for others it mean toning down arrogance, but both ends of the spectrum have the same root—too much focus on self.

Humans are selfish. Acting is selfless. Or maybe I should say, the best acting is selfless. Our job when we are onstage is to entertain the audience. If we're too self conscious to truly perform or too haughty to share the limelight and work with other people, the audience is going to know it. Don't be self absorbed, because when you are on the stage it's never about you.

Something that has especially helped me as an introvert, but also is key to any actor's performance, is understanding the fact that when you're onstage, it isn't really you. I've been Liesl Von Trapp, the Big Bad Wolf, and Helena from A Midsummer Night's dream, but never Bethanny Lawson. I can let go and do things I'd never do in real life because of the character I'm playing. The goal is to make the character authentic, which means “our job is to represent the truth of human nature, whether you're playing a tender love story that's set in a coffee shop or whether you're in 'The Avengers,' which is set in a Manhattan which is exploding.” (Tom Hiddleston)

People love characters they can relate to. When you as a performer can spark emotions in the audience, you're doing your job. To truly capture the hearts of an audience, though, they have to be caught up in your character, what they are thinking, feeling, dreaming—which means you have to be completely wrapped up in the character you are playing as well. When you are onstage, you are living another person's life, which is pretty exhilarating hard work.

In order to live another person's life, Tom Hiddleston tells us what he does. “The one thing that I do every time is immersion. I completely immerse myself in the world of the play, the film, the story, the character and plaster the walls of my own imagination with extra knowledge and images and music and trivia.”

Practice is the work we do to make performance more fun and believable. Practice may be hard and time consuming, but it's worth it in the end. It's more fun to do something perfect than to do it flawed, right?

There was one thing Hiddleston has said that has been my goal ever since I found it throughout the hectic tech week. “For me, acting is about recreating the circumstances that would make me feel how my character is feeling. In the dressing room, I practice recreating those circumstances in my head and try not to get in the way of myself.”

The only thing that can hold us back as performers is self-absorption. It was my problem two years ago. Today, when my younger sisters dance around the kitchen teasing, “you're in love with Rolf! Rolf made you cry!” instead of getting self conscious because I hate crying onstage, I respond with “No, Liesl adores Rolf, so of course his betrayal made her cry.”

Offstage, I'm comfortable with who I am. Onstage, I'm comfortable with who my character is. I'm by no means finished growing, but two years has changed so much for me.

Categories: Redeeming the Arts

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