When I wrote a list of creative endeavours I wanted to try, acting was probably the one I was least excited about. Sure, I did a few musicals in high school, but because I was a vocalist my focus was more on the singing. The other creative pursuits seemed harder. You had to really practice your vocals day in and out if you wanted to be an accomplished singer. Gruelling hours at the studio were a huge part of the deal if you wanted to be a dancer. You had to write all the time to become a better wordsmith, and if you wanted to be a skilled visual artist, well, say hello to long bouts of painting/drawing in insert-your-medium-of-choice-here.
Acting as a Creative Pursuit
Acting wasn’t something I thought came naturally to me. If I’m (ignorantly) honest, it seemed like the easiest of all the endeavours (if you’re an actor reading this, you’ll know that is completely false). Plus, the thought of working in such a competitive industry that wasn’t aligned with my core values put me off. I had to look a certain way; a thin body, dyeing (my) hair lighter to appear more white since that’s what the industry seemed to want, and dressing a certain way. It seemed exhausting. Life is hard enough working on your inner self, and putting more effort working on your outer self felt too much.
But during this time I was in a new city, having just moved to Toronto. That meant trying new things. Acting was next on my list; I approached it with dreaded curiosity.
I called an old acquaintance who seemed to have done well in the industry. He wasn’t an A-list actor but definitely saw success. We had a brief chat, maybe ten minutes since he was so busy, but I got some tips from him to get thinking about where to even start.
A few notable takeaways:
“You have a ‘look’. Might be able to capitalize on that.” Now that BIPOC people were getting more representation, that’s a fair assessment, I thought.
“I recommend taking a scene study class to see if you really like acting.”
“If and when you choose to pursue this, you’re going to start off with commercials.”
“There are many avenues you can take with acting: film and TV are the biggest ones.”
Finding An Acting Class
I knew nothing and no one in my new city so of course: Google.
I had no idea what a scene study was so I started there. You, well, study a scene for weeks–even months–with an acting partner, and then perform it in front of an audience.
Finding a local acting class or coach was the next step. Many seemed gimmicky and sales-like, and the other links from the top of search pages yielded schools. I wasn’t interested in doing a degree or enrolling in a program longer than six months, so I dismissed those. A short class was all I needed.
After visiting a few uninspiring websites I found an acting coach whose ethos seemed to resonate with mine. She described acting in a way I hadn’t considered before–addressing creative blocks (a key buzz phrase for me!) and approaching the art from a holistic perspective. There were no promises to help ace an audition or clickbait tips and tricks on how to succeed. She wanted to get to the root of an actor’s core; how to become a good actor from within.
I scheduled a call with her and from the beginning, I sensed a good working relationship. She recommended her actors instrument course first–preliminary tools you’d need to tap into characters you can bring out from personal experiences; a good starting point to getting to know yourself as an actor. Once that’s completed, a scene study is the next step. I signed up.
There were twelve people in my class. Everyone came from all walks of life. And let me tell you, after the first class, I knew this wasn’t exactly going to be a light ride. Learning-filled, yes. Fun, umm, not exactly. Engaging definitely.
There was a guy who got really defensive after just a few questions. He got angry after the acting coach asked the most simple questions. Another couldn’t stop talking, signalling she was disconnected from her body and in her head too much. I myself, had repressed anger and slammed a stack of pillows with a baseball bat, and was bawling and exhausted after I was done. It was scary, yet fascinating.
The openness to the vulnerability you need to become good at this craft takes a lot out of you. It’s not for people who are afraid. What’s ironic is you need courage to show people you’re afraid. “What you want is on the other side of fear” (thank you cheesy Instagram quotes).
There was a series of exercises in the six-week period: holding your acting partner while in vulnerable state. Really connecting with your body to feel where the blocks were. For me, a lot was in my throat, because I felt I’d lost my voice (figuratively) at an early age. There were some movement exercises too, to ground yourself. Sometimes it felt like yoga class.
After the actors’ instrument, I felt inspired enough to continue, so I enrolled in a scene study. This allowed me to work with one partner through the six-week period, and we focused on a scene from The Dreamer Examines His Pillow by John Patrick Shanley. It was a tough scene between a couple in the midst of breaking up, and I had to tap into the memories and experiences of my previous toxic relationships with men. Luckily my acting partner and I were compatible and able to sync fairly well.
It was hard. Externally, the character I was playing–Donna– was the opposite of me. She was explosive, had a tough time managing her temper, and was abrasive. But mine and her deep, core feelings were ultimately the same: the fear of not being loved. Her character channeled all the emotions I’d repressed in many similar relationships I had. Playing her became a safe space for me to let out all the issues, words and emotions I’d internalized with my previous partners.
It was therapeutic. Tough, but definitely an outlet. I sensed pressure on my chest, which was where I held many emotions. They were slowly becoming unstuck, like peeling away gum from a wall or under a table. Sticky and icky, but generating satisfaction once done.
I did another scene study after that. This time it was with a different partner who I was lucky again to have been compatible with. It was a scene from the play Problem Child, which was part of the Suburban Motel series by George F. Walker. I played a character named Denise who needed to get her daughter back after she was taken away by social services. My acting partner played RJ, her husband.
It was tougher for me to play this character because I had never been in her situation before, so I had to look for other feelings within myself that would evoke a similar response. I thought about any time in my past when I wanted something so much and was so fearful I wouldn’t get it, that I resorted to doing things I didn’t ever think I’d do.
While these experiences didn’t resemble anything as serious as losing a child, the reaction was real and the stakes felt very high. The panic I felt–blindness to rational and logical thinking– allowed me to tap into the character. I won’t lie–this was harder and my acting coach called me on the initial preliminary failure to connect, but after a few sessions of deep work, I think I got there.
Acting as a Career Prospect
If I really wanted to pursue acting, I think I was in the right city, and I probably had enough within me to have found fulfilment and maybe some success. But deep down, I knew it wasn’t quite the creative outlet for me.
I also thought about a previous stint on a film set as an extra a few years back and had to admit that even though there was the initial excitement at being there, I didn’t like the environment. I met a fellow extra who was clearly jealous of another and kept bashing her behind her back. The assistant director seemed verbally abusive and I could see an obvious division between those who were seen as attractive by the industry and those who weren’t. A thick skin was crucial for this industry.
I don’t want to say all film sets are like this. I’m sure there are many that have a better work environment, but I wasn’t willing to find out.
In addition, being an actor meant you were required to drop your life and leave it behind at a moment’s notice if you got a part. You could spend sixteen hours on a set, mostly waiting around (what a friend in the industry called ‘movie or tv jail’) and have to wait years before gaining any traction. While I’m a believer in hard work and persevering to attain success, the grinding part of this particular road wasn’t appealing to me at all.
Learnings from Acting
I liked the craft of acting, but I didn’t love it.
I enjoyed meeting diverse people–it wasn’t just the pretty shiny Hollywood types that wanted success in the field (and I felt bad for being ignorant about making such assumptions). Many thespians I met were true artists who did so much inner work that ordinary people would find too intimidating. It healed emotional parts of me that were suppressed for so long, and it happened in a safe space in my acting coach’s studio.
Granted, the three classes didn’t cover anywhere near the ocean of what acting was about. We didn’t really delve into different acting techniques and I didn’t try other forms of acting like comedy, but I got a glimpse, because it was all I needed at that point. It was an extensive artist date to learn more about myself.
Have you tried acting? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!