On Tuesday this past week, I submitted for a small role in a feature film. I have been submitting like crazy for any and all background roles I find, but I usually get too nervous to submit for featured roles. I received the casting call […]
Pre-divorce Melissa and post-divorce Melissa are two very different people. Before my divorce, I was pretty co-dependent. It was very difficult for me to do anything by myself: eat in restaurants, drive anywhere outside of the towns I lived in, talk to people I didn’t […]
Each character I play has its own set of challenges, and my role as Honey in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is no exception. In fact, it may have been my most challenging role to date, as Honey is, at first glance, a very different person than I am.
When the director first asked me to play this role, I did not know anything about the play. But I was excited that he even asked and I know any role I can get is great practice, so I immediately said yes. Then I went to Google to learn more.
Here is the first description I found about my character: “Honey is the mousy, slim-hipped wife of Nick. She’s definitely not the brightest bulb in the bunch.”
My first thought? “Of course she isn’t.”
I have found over the years that when I actively avoid playing a certain type of character (because I feel I won’t be able to play them very well), my very next character has the exact characteristics I was trying to avoid. That happened with “Pitmen Painters” (I always felt I could not do a British accent, and my character in that was British) and “Rocky Horror” (I have always felt anything but sexy, and our biggest note for that show was to “be sexy”). The last two productions that I auditioned for at Blue Moon Productions had ditzy characters, and I made sure to write on the audition sheet that I would take any role except those. Not to be a braggart, but I am generally not a ditzy person. I did not think I would be able to play that type of role very well.
But now I had to.
My character also grows more and more drunk as the play progresses. I have never been drunk. I wasn’t sure I could convincingly pull that off either.
The very first thing I had to do was find things I had in common with Honey. Our biggest similarity is the fact that we are both timid and shy. I wouldn’t even have to act for that part. Each rehearsal I found a new thing I had in common with my character: we both were prone to bouts of naivete, we had religious upbringings, we are both childless, we feel incredibly awkward in certain social situations, and so on and so forth. I was surprised by how much I was actually able to connect with this character.
I also read several different character analyses about Honey, to see how others interpreted her. I kept the ideas that I agreed with (she’s naive, she’s not very bright, she has a very child-like nature) and discarded the rest.
And thus, my version of Honey began to take shape and come to life. It felt weird at first, letting go and acting in a way that is so different from how I act around other people. But eventually, I found myself having a lot of fun playing this type of character.
So, takeaway number one: Do the things that scare you the most, because that is how you grow. These roles have challenged me, but I came out on the other side a better, more confident actor (who is surprisingly good at British accents 🙂 ).
Takeaway number two: I learned one of the reasons why I love acting so much. It’s been bothering me because I didn’t really have a clear reason why I want to be an actor. I just know I enjoy it and I feel it’s something I need to do. But I realized acting is really therapeutic for me. I get to yell and scream and ugly cry and show how angry I am. I get to be giggly and act a fool. I don’t do that in real life. At work I have to be professional, no matter how irritated I get with people there. In public, I always try to put my best foot forward. On stage, I get to release all of that. I don’t have to hold back or put my guard up. It’s incredibly freeing.
I keep learning the same lesson over and over: do the things that scare you. Try the things that you’re afraid to try because you feel you won’t be good at them. The only way to improve is to do them. And besides, you might surprise yourself and find you’re better at them than you thought you would be.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
I don’t remember exactly when it was that I decided I wanted to try acting. I think it was just kind of mixed in with all of my other creative dreams when I was growing up. But like singing, I put off trying it until I was in college. Before that, I believed it was so far beyond my reach that I didn’t even give any thoughts to doing anything about it.
Once I finally got brave enough to audition for a musical, I was hooked. I thought about how much I would like to take an acting class, but fear kept me from actually enrolling in one. So I put it off. And put it off. And before I knew it, ten years had passed. Ten years.
Guys. That is ridiculous.
Early last month, I had decided enough was enough. If I was ever going to be a decent actor, I needed training. I had to suck up my fears of looking bad and making dumb mistakes in front of people I barely knew. I had to also get over my fear of the big city driving I would have to endure and my fear of doing things by myself (as you can see, I have a ton of irrational fears that paralyze me). So I enrolled in “Acting for Camera,” a class that is an hour and a half from where I live.
Last night was my first class. Honestly, I was more nervous about the drive there and back, but I did worry about what the teacher was going to make us do that night during our two and a half hour course. I don’t like going in unprepared, especially with something like acting.
Turns out all of my fears were for not (as they usually are). The drive was uneventful (fun even, as I sang and car danced the entire trip) and all we did during class was listen to the teacher’s uplifting and encouraging intro and then answer a few questions while he recorded us (to get us used to being on camera). Before I knew it, two and a half hours had passed and I was on my merry way back home. I had even made a couple of friends before the class started.
Every time I ignore my fear and do the things I want, they turn out so great. So why do I still insist on letting fear hold me back? It’s just so dumb. Like, even as I type this, I’m feeling nervous about the next class (where we will actually be performing a monologue he gave us) and am thinking about not going. Even though I paid money for this course! Even though the first class was amazing! Even though it’s what I want to pursue!
So my message to you (and also myself) is if you are afraid to do that thing you really want to do, just hecking do it already. And do it now. Stop focusing on your fear and start focusing on all the good that will come from doing the thing. (Don’t be like 22-31 year old me.)
Fear has been running my life lately. More specifically, fear has run my life ever since my divorce. I feel like I’m afraid of everything now. I’m afraid to go places by myself. I’m afraid to let my dog outside by herself because I worry my neighbors might mess with her. I’m afraid to leave my job (even though it’s not where I really want to be and most days I am miserable there) because I may not find something as “good.” I’m afraid to start my own writing business because I may not be good enough or make enough money to survive. I’m afraid to take acting courses because I think I’ll make a fool of myself. The list is all-encompassing and never-ending.
These fears keep me from moving forward, because I’m afraid any decision I make might be the wrong one. So I stay stuck, miserable but comfortable/safe. Now, I’ve never considered myself courageous, but I certainly used to be less fearful than I am now.
Not surprisingly, my message from God lately has been “do not be afraid.” It’s everywhere: my daily email devotionals, my friends and coworkers, even my wall calendar told me to “be brave” this month.
What does that mean for me? It means enrolling either in acting lessons or as a theatre major/minor at my local university. It means applying for local-ish musical theatre programs and doing what it takes to pay for them. It means asking people for private dance/singing/acting lessons. It means continuing to audition for local plays and musicals. (I’m even afraid to do those last two things, even though I’ve done them before.) It means trusting God more and forgetting silly what-ifs. Trying and failing would be much better than what I’m doing now.
Update: Discovered the following quote after writing this post.
“Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.” – Robert Greene