Acting is one of the oldest professions known to man. People have been acting for almost as long as man has told stories. Aristotle believed that tragic plays were cathartic, purging one of feelings of pity and fear, leading to renewal and restoration. The idea of the cathartic benefits of tragedy has been extended to art in general and yet, in our time, acting is associated with glamour and though still part of the core of our culture, few imagine that acting could have any actual emotional benefits for the actor. Nevertheless, acting has huge benefits for the actor, benefits which you, in taking up acting, can benefit from.
The great acting teacher, Constatin Stanislasvky once said, “When an actor is completely absorbed by some profoundly moving objective so that he throws his whole being passionately into its execution, he reaches a state we call inspiration.” Paying attention is central to the ability of an actor to give an inspired performance. This practice of paying attention, of living in the moment improves our ability to interact with other people. It lifts the quality of our encounters through the practice of paying attention. An actor who does not throw his whole being into his work, who is half in and half out, cannot give an inspired performance and his work seems dead. It is this lesson that, when carried over into your normal life, will make you more aware of your surroundings and more present. This is the essence of charisma.
Actors often undertake improvisation classes to help make scenes more natural, or, to help them build their characters by acting out scenes that may not necessarily be seen by others. Improvisation works when you give yourself over to your imagination, throwing away pre-planned responses and reacting in the moment. The ability to improvise frees you from anxiety and worry about what you will say or do and frees your imagination to fly. Improvisation helps us achieve a kind of peak performance where we are out of our heads, in the moment, flexible and attuned to our surroundings, operating entirely on instinct. It is about getting out of our own way and just being. The benefits of improvisation are many, but the most important, I think, are that improvisation teaches us to focus on processes not outcomes; it allows stress and butterflies to fuel performance rather than inhibit it; it teaches us to live in the moment; it helps us pay attention; and it gives us a space where we can fail without fear.
Another benefit of improvisation, which is a benefit of acting in general but really shines through in improv, is that it builds open-mindedness. In the acting space, blocking off ideas is bad, no matter how bad an idea may seem from the outside. To foster creativity, you must be open to all ideas, not judging any but welcoming it as a positive and reacting to it. If you were to constantly judge and shoot down ideas, that safe space for creativity would vanish and everyone would recede into themselves, unable to act freely and spontaneously.
Many of us struggle with public speaking, even in small family settings where we should feel confident enough to turn into Winston Churchill. Yet, the pressures of public speaking, of playing a part before a group of people, make us fearful, anxious and unnatural. Acting helps relieve that fear of public speaking and allow us to be free and natural in public spaces, with anxiety or fear.
Rejection is part and parcel of acting. Everybody gets rejected. Even great actors find that they are competing for a role with other great actors, so even they get rejected. Sometimes, as when Gal Gadot won the role of Wonder Woman, a complete unknown can win a role over established actors. Acting teaches you to accept rejection and to adapt and move on. As an actor, you may have to audition for many roles, roles which many other actors are auditioning for and for you to continue in the work, you have to learn to deal with rejection. Your worth is not tied to how often you are rejected if even the very best cannot always get the roles they want. This is a powerful life lesson.
Finally, acting is a great way to meet new people in a dynamic, fun and positive environment. It can be hard to meet new people, especially if you live in a big city and are either holed up at home and shuttling between work and home. Acting provides an avenue to meet new people, people of different backgrounds, ages and worldviews. Actors are trained to feel, to soak up emotions, to be empathetic, creative and present and this makes them particularly interesting people to be around. So, go and sign up for acting classes at Heather Wayne Performing Arts and change your life.