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Practicing self-belief in these turbulent times: Placing process over product

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

A number of hands coming together to form a heart.

Quotation marks in a speech bubble on an orange background.

"We speak into existence what we are. If you keep saying, ‘I can’t,’ then you won’t. If you say, ‘I can,’ then there’s a transition that happens all around you. Me speaking life into myself ultimately has changed my life."

Billy Porter

You are enough.

Before I begin and start spouting my thoughts all over the shop, I’d really like you to sit with that for a moment.

You are enough.

Why do I invite you to dwell on it for a moment? Because it’s true. In fact, I not only encourage you to sit with it, I recommend you say it aloud. I recommend practicing this self-belief, whatever your walk of life, but especially as an artist.

Say it, and own it:

“I am enough.”

And again…

“I. Am. Enough.”

Three tiny words that carry a huge weight. They are incredibly easy to say, but how easy are they to say when we also have to mean it? What is seemingly simple isn’t always straightforward. As with many aspects of acting (indeed, as with much in life), the simplest of principles requires a lifetime of commitment to master. What is it to be present? To listen, not just hear? To listen with the whole body? To risk failure and to dare, to dare greatly, to dare to imagine?

Maybe they are all interconnected in some way. And maybe they feel back to my initial provocation. Maybe believing in yourself is ultimately all it is about and where this whole jigsaw that is the craft of acting should be rooted and should grow from. Who knows. The only thing I am sure of is that it is unique for every individual, and I am a firm believer that there are as many ways to act as there are actors in the profession – and I certainly wouldn’t dream of speaking for anyone. After all, I change my own mind about how I am doing on any given day more rapidly than I even care to admit.

So why am I encouraging you to sit with, say aloud, and, most importantly, believe that you are enough? Have I commenced a new chapter in my (at times) flippant disposition? Am I getting all ‘self-help’ on the notion of craft? Incidentally, I have no issue with self-help (nor any kind of help for that matter), but it would potentially feel like a far cry from the mantra I repeat over and over again when working with clients and students alike: “I don’t care what you feel”.

The words may seem harsh, even callous; but the truth of the matter is that I don’t care. I am constantly encouraging those I work with not to prioritise the act of feeling, not to fetishise emotions. When we place too much weight and worth in them, when we chase them like the fictional pot of gold at the rainbow’s end, we take our artistic eye off the theatrical ball and lapse into the interminable, deathly trap of self-generating. And nobody wants to see that – whether they have paid money or not. The danger is always present of lapsing into feeling, because it is wonderfully sensual like sliding into the embrace of a decadently hot bath. And that sensuality is enticing – especially because there is a glorification of actors “who can feel”.

Let me be blunt: You will always feel something. You will feel something because you are doing something. And where there is movement, something will happen. Just don’t aim for that feeling. Be alert and alive to that sensation, but do not strive to feel, and certainly do not aim for a given state. Let what happens happen. It’s all interesting; whatever you are undergoing in that given moment will be interesting if it is lived and alert and alive to the moment at hand. Your truthful interaction with the encounter will produce something interesting, I promise you. Let all the baggage of expectation go. Work to be present in the negotiation and trust that you will be enough – whatever the outcome; or it’s all simply wanking into the void.

So, to return to my previous point; no, I don’t care what you are feeling.

But, I do care how you are feeling.

This may seem like a contradiction, but it is really isn’t. I don’t care what emotional byproducts are created for you “as character” per se, nevertheless, I care deeply what you as an artist are going through while you work. I care that you feel safe, that you feel challenged, that you feel heard, that you feel you have artistic, creative and individual worth. Because, like the Maybelline commercial suggests, you are worth it. And only when you feel and fully welcome that worth do I believe that you can operate with the abandon that the work requires of you.

I am a firm believer that acting is not therapy on behalf of the actor (momentarily discounting drama therapy as an entity in its own right) – although I do believe it can be therapeutic in its constant deepening of our understanding of self. I suppose I am always reticent to allow it to become therapy because I, like so many other practitioners engaged to work with actors, am woefully underqualified as a therapist. And my fear then becomes about doing more harm rather than good.

One thing that has struck me during each of the lockdowns, having worked with a great range of clients (both new and returning, recent graduates and those with careers under their belts) to keep them match-fit, is their fear that they are not enough. Well, let me tell you here and now that you are. You are enough.

You. Are. Enough.

It’s not straightforward, but few things seldom are.

But it is that simple:

You. Are. Enough.

If things like identifying your “USP” feels daunting, or knowing what your casting is without any reservation leaves you doubting yourself, then the only thing you need to take from the act of contemplating them, is that they are not helpful. They might be helpful to some people some of the time, but if they are limiting you and stifling your creativity, leave them well alone. If considering yourself as a product, as a sellable good, takes the wind out of your billowing sale of creativity, stop. Stop asking the same questions and achieving no result. Stop looking to limit your creativity. Ask a different question. Ask questions of yourself that grow and develop your creativity; don’t shut down your imagination – find ways to expand it. Ask instead what you can bring to a role. Any role. Engage with solving the problem in such a way that your craft grows.

This is particularly true for those of you reading this who do not see yourself in the work that is going on around you. The world of theatre still needs to do much to address whose stories are presented and who is depicted on stage. And whilst I do not wish to undermine this need, for it is vitally important, I encourage you to knock down the walls that box you in; find how you will meet the roles you would love to play but never dreamed you could. Grasp them. They will be interesting. They will be interesting because you will make them so.

Self-love can take many forms, and the most courageous act you can engage in is not allowing that voice of doubt to marginalise you further before the work has even begun.

Start by believing in your own potential; use what helps you and discard the rest.

Start by knowing that you are enough.

You. Are. Enough.

Now, say it with me:

“I am enough.”

And keep saying it until you believe it:

“I. Am. Enough.”


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