I Can’t Act!

On August 2nd, 2015, my scene partner and I began our first
rehearsal for a scene we’re putting up in class. We met at a neutral
midway point since we both live far away from each other. And “neutral”
meaning no coffee shops and no restaurants. Somewhere where we could sit
down with minimal to no distraction and start digging into our scene
work.

We settled on a small park that was inhabited by a
handful of people. It was a very quiet park and we both knew this was a
perfect setting for our first rehearsal. We sat on the lawn and became
really excited to start working together on this powerful scene. We
pulled out our scripts and before we even read one line, we talked about
the movie: Our observations; our relationship to each other as these
characters; where in the movie this scene took place so that we
understood the magnitude of the event and evaluation of what was going
on; questions that I had; questions that she had; we talked about how to
effectively rehearse and what today’s rehearsal would encompass.
Everything was going great! We were quickly getting on the same page. We
were bouncing ideas off of each other. We were very “yes, and…”
Meaning that we were building upon our ideas: “Yes, that’s great and how about…”, “Yes, and I can bring
this…”, “Yes, and if I do this, then…”

Again, everything was going GREAT…

…Until we read the scene for the first time.

OH
MY FUCKING GOD! I WAS SO AWFUL. As soon as I started saying my first
line, I was like, “I should quit acting right now. Who the fuck am I
kidding? I’m terrible! I can’t act.” That’s right. I said it. I’m a
terrible actor and I can’t act. I should just move to Hawaii and open up
a surfboard shop by the beach (LOL Does this sound familiar,
DawnMarie?) As I continued saying each of my lines in the scene, I could
hear discordant piano chords gradually getting louder in my head. Each
off-key, jarring chord made my body twitch and jump. My head kept
cringing more and more to the left. I could hear missiles getting closer
to hitting their target (the target, by the way, was me!) I
could hear nails scratching against the chalkboard.

Even
WORSE, I could see all of fellow Vassar grad Meryl Streep’s 18 Oscar nominations flashing
before my eyes. My eyes crossed. My vision got blurry. I may have even
slapped myself to snap out of it and become present again. My scene
partner–thinking I was making an inspired, bold choice in the
moment–slapped herself as well. I looked up at her and saw Meryl Streep sitting across from me, pointing and laughing
hard, while she was surrounded by her 3 Oscars, 8 Golden Globes, 2 SAG
Awards, 2 Primetime Emmys and countless other awards. And just when I
was about to lose my mind, we finished reading the scene.

Depleted, exhausted and shaking, I looked up at my scene partner and said, “That was really cool. Let’s read it again.”

LOL!

What
I just described is an interesting phenomena that occurs 80% of the
time when I first pick up a script for scene study class or sides for an
audition. The first read through is so horrendous and I always question
my abilities as an actor. Does anyone else experience this? If so, I’d
love to know why it happens to you too. And look, I’ll be honest, Meryl Streep has never laughed at me, but I’ve heard and experienced
those discordant piano chords. I think part of it has to do with
starting from scratch. I’m picking up a script again for the first time
and embarking on a brand new, unknown journey. I’m starting with a
clean, blank slate that I now have to start filling in and piecing
together bit by bit. It’s that first step into the unknown that is the
worst.

Bottom line: Can I build another scene from scratch again and
deliver a fully-realized performance? (Even though I have delivered
fully-realized performances countless times before.) Will this finally
be the scene where people discover that I can’t act? That I am a sham
artist? That I am a fake?

However, by the second read through of
the script or the audition sides, I feel better (That’s how I felt when
my scene partner and I read through the scene again.) I got through and
survived the first read. I got it out of my system and no longer felt
this expectation to deliver an Oscar-winning performance. I am now open
to actually receiving what’s on the page. And then I read the script or
audition sides a third time. And then I read it again. And again. And
again. Each time, I gain more understanding of what’s happening. I know
which questions to ask. The picture comes into focus more and more.

I
believe another reason for this phenomena is that I want to know and
have all the answers right away. Instead, I have to remind myself that
part of the journey with rehearsing a scene or preparing for an audition
is the willingness to have patience and not know the answers right
away. To trust that by doing the work, the answers will eventually come.
The “ah ha” moments will hit me along the way.

And
like I mentioned earlier, this phenomena doesn’t always happen. There
is that remaining 20% where I immediately connect with a new scene and I
know exactly what’s going on and how to play it. Interestingly enough,
however, whenever I have to do a cold reading at an audition (where the
casting director gives you the sides on the spot and you have a few
minutes to look them over), I DON’T experience this phenomena. With cold
reads, I put no pressure or expectation on myself because it’s a COLD
read. I know that they know that the performance I’m delivering is based
upon the few minutes I’ve spent with the sides. I have a few minutes tops
to figure out what’s going on in the scene, what’s the relationship
between my character and the other character(s) in the scene and to make
one or two strong choices that supports the story.

My
scene partner and I have had more rehearsals since our initial one and I
am having fun with the process. I am gaining more clarity and certainty with the scene and with my character. I am honoring my genius and instincts. The unknown is no
longer an issue and doesn’t scare me anymore. I am piecing together the
wardrobe of my character and have taken my character public on two
occasions so far. By taking the character public and interacting with
people, I’m enhancing my belief as this character. If the public
believes who I am, then my belief is enhanced as well.

We are
exploring subtext. We are figuring out WHY we are saying each
line. We are looking at the chapters in the scene (a new chapter
occurs
when there’s a dynamic shift in the scene). We are looking at our
relationship. What makes this night different from other nights? What’s
the moment before? What is this moment about over here? Why do I turn
off the music? I bonded with my scene partner’s child this past Monday for
a few hours because in this scene, I’m arguing with my sister about the
way she’s raising her child (my nephew). I need a nephew. I need to
have a real kid that I can connect with and fall in love with and fight
for. My scene partner and I even took a picture with him so that I can
frame it and make it part of our set (Specifics equals belief) We had
another great rehearsal today where we connected to what the scene was
about!

So our rehearsal process is progressing beautifully.

What
allows me to build confidence in my work is a set of solid training
tools which helps me to create and construct things from scratch. To
take words on a page and bring them to life. Tools are vital. Without
them, you’re fucked. You’re kind of hoping and praying that you’ll get
lucky and deliver a great performance. And let’s say you DO deliver a
great, solid performance. Great! But you have no idea how you did that.
How you got there. So, when you’re asked to repeat it either by an
acting teacher, a casting director or a film director on set, you’re
fucked because you don’t know how to repeat that experience or moment.
You were just winging it. I’m glad I have tools to work with to help me
understand how I got there and how to repeat a performance. I have
structure that helps me be free and play within it. I’ve done the
work. Now I can go play.

So whatever your acting
training is or wherever you currently study, use those tools to embark
on the journey of the unknown and into the known.

And yes, I CAN act. See you soon, Meryl Streep.

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