I am going to dive into the topic of how letting fear flow can be useful while acting, using the book “The Actor and the Target,” by Declan Donnellan.
Donnellan discusses how “fear severs us from our only source of energy; that is how fear starves us.”
He then talks about how “a healthy working atmosphere, where we can risk and fail, is indispensable... Fear corrodes this trust, undermines our confidence and clots our work.”
But as we know not every working atmosphere feels safe possibly because of outside forces and sometimes inner forces as well.
Confidence broken into its word parts means trust in yourself and sometimes we also need courage to do something despite the fear.
We can also give ourselves a heart high-five by pressing our hand into our heart and repeating the mantra,“I am okay. I am safe. I am loved.”
Stimulating the vagus nerve by singing, humming, meditating, massage in the moment can also be helpful. Reframing your thoughts about performance can also be helpful. We can heal the messaging that we have been given over time, whether in college, or from peers or from family. Overtime these tools can help us build more comfortability around fear and other emotions as well.
“Fear comes wearing a mask: arrogance is a favorite disguise and mannerism is another.”
“Fear can be dealt with. But first of all our fear needs to be acknowledged and seen.”
Donnellan goes on to talk about how fear hides in the shadows and threatens to jump in front of us, but it’s a bluff because if it does it would vanish. “To see him fully is to destroy him fully.”
It’s what we discuss in class when we notice an actor is trying to stop the flow of nervousness and fear. When we start to ignore fear, it only maintains control. When we acknowledge fear and accept it, we can allow it to flow in us, through us and then out of us. If we start trying to block fear, it starts to block out all of our other feelings as well. We can’t spot check fear. If we allow it in, then it can always transform and naturally shift.
“Fear does not exist in the now….Fear governs the future as anxiety, and the past as guilt.” And I would venture to adjust that word guilt into shame. According to Brene’ Brown, "guilt is I did something bad and shame was more about I am bad."
Donnellan also discusses how actors rarely forget their lines if they remain present. If we messed up a line before we feel that shame or guilt, which is in the past. And if we are worried about messing up a line, then we feel that anxiety about the future.
So the next time you are acting stay present with your partner by taking the attention off of yourself and putting it on the other person, your environment or what you are doing. And if fear bubbles up, instead of hiding from it or trying to push that down, let it fill you up and overflow. Fear doesn’t always mean that something is wrong, but we tend to run from it because we think that it’s a signal that something bad is around the corner. I would be more worried if an actor didn’t feel anything at all.
Donnellan says about presence “does the actor have to try to be present? The answer is no. We cannot try to be present, precisely because we are already present.”
He also continues to discuss how trying makes us concentrate, which cuts off the flow of attention. “Being present seems so hard, remaining present seems even harder! These are both delusions of Fear.”
But even though we are actually present, we can fantasize that we are somewhere else. (i.e. the past, the future, a different space altogether)
According to Donnellan “We cannot struggle to be present. We can only discover that we are present.”
I feel like acting training is just reteaching us what we already know how to do, but may have been stifled along the way.
Donnellan also talks about how we think that imagination takes place exclusively inside our heads, but we can imagine things outside of ourselves as well.
If we are imagining another character that we are speaking to or perhaps another environment outside of the one we are currently in we are projecting our imagination outwardly. We do that all the time in auditions or when we are the only one on stage.
We also have this fear of performing poorly, but that fear actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because fear is what actually creates that reality. So we have to stop thinking that performing badly is the end of the world. It really might feel that way sometimes, but those stakes to perform perfectly all the time can cripple our artistry.
We probably will mess up at some point in our art. Can we make peace with that fact? Can we separate our worth and identity from how well we perform? It seems tricky because our artistry is so personal, but I think we can do it. Can we claim that we are worthy because we exist and not because of what we do and how we do it?
We also sometimes blame our partner or our environment for our challenges as artists, but Donnellan talks about how something must be wrong if we are able “to monitor our partner’s quality of performance.” Our focus is on the wrong thing in that moment if we are judging someone or something else. “It is the actor’s challenge to believe, more than his partner’s problem to convince him.”
Fear also creates the “judging” you and the “doing” you and the “watching” you. This gets us to focus on ourselves and how we are doing as opposed to listening and responding to our partners and/or our environments.
My favorite part of the chapter was when Donnellan discussed the difference between freedom and independence. He says that “freedom is everything, but independence is nothing. Independence is born of fear. The desire for independence is common. We don’t want to depend on things that might let us down…[but] we need the outside world.”
We need other people and things to respond to as artists. We actually don’t rely only on ourselves. I think some of the fear may come from the idea that we can’t control other people and things as much as we want to, so those things that we do need might not always be there.
He talks about how freedom is a mystery and how the sense of real freedom can be frightening. He says, “I don’t make my freedom, so I can’t control it. But the thing that I myself make, that thing I can control not to leave me. So I'll invent a synthetic freedom and call it ‘independence,’ and keep it on a lead. And it will do everything I say.”