The importance of bravery, boundaries and beliefs in the performance arts
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours”
Richard Bach, ‘Illusions’ , Arrow Books, 1988
The book ‘Illusions’ by Richard Bach has been incredibly informative to me as a learner. Its foremost lesson is that anyone of us can be a ‘master’ if we choose to be – and that the key to this is imagination. Imagination is a product of a unique mind – which all of us have – and cannot be limited by any external force. The only restraints that can be placed on imagination are those which we set for ourselves.
As an actor, it is vital to remember that you always have a choice to say no – much like the protagonist of Bach's book; Donald Shimoda, a Messiah who decides instead to quit to pilot planes for a living. We all are actors because we love the profession and the craft. Therefore, our primary motivation should be enjoyment. Whatever brings this enjoyment is up to the individual, however we must remember that anything that happens in a rehearsal room must be within your consent. Environments that lack consent also usually lack enjoyment.
How do you identify what is against your consent? By creating and solidifying your beliefs; so that you are aware of when someone comes close to compromising them. This also gives you the choice to discard any production that you disagree with. I believe it is important to not support productions with a racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQIA+ or otherwise discriminatory agenda. This can take the form of overtly discriminatory language, selective and prejudiced casting or the attachment of professionals whose beliefs fall under these brackets.
One must set these beliefs early on, as many young actors – scrambling to find a way into the industry – are likely to sell out their beliefs or compromise their beliefs at the behest of getting a job. You must identify what you will and won’t do as part of a performance before you begin working. You must make yourself aware of the consequences of adopting these beliefs and reconcile whether that is something worthwhile.
You have the ability to rewrite and change your beliefs at any time although one must be wary that once a reputation is created, it is hard to undo. As well as limits that avoid discrimination of others, you are completely free to set limits that are purely personal in nature – this comes from the value of one’s own personal relationships. A personal example of a social limit (born from beliefs on social causes such as race, sexuality, disability) is:
I will not participate in obvious, subtle, physical, verbal, perpetrator or group racism.
This stems from a belief that partaking in anything racist (even if it is the belief of a character) makes me complicit in upholding a society where racism is continually acceptable.
I must make clear that you never have to disclose these beliefs to anyone or explain why you don’t want to do something. It is good to have these beliefs written down and this may help to explain the reason behind saying no to a situation. However, you never have to explain why you hold that belief. Don’t feel pressured by others to change your beliefs if they are living with different values.
You aren’t any weaker or less of an actor because of it.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
The most important person is you and you must fight to protect yourself. It is vital to your creativity to feel safe and respected in a rehearsal. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to explore outside of your comfort zone without breaking those limits.
The comfort zone is defined as the layer in your psyche of styles, approaches, emotions or techniques that you are able to complete with zero apprehension. These things come easily and they require less effort to convince yourself to do them.
The second layer is your experimental zone. This includes techniques, emotions and approaches that are brand new to you and may cause a little apprehension. The second layer is as large as you make it. It ends when you reach the solid beliefs that you will not cross – any language, emotions, techniques or situations beyond this line can be denied. Good directors will be aware of this difference and will make you feel as comfortable as they can when trying new things. They will always reserve your right to stop at any time.
The detail to remember is that you are the only one who can stop yourself from crossing this line. While the director may invite you to cross it or be very persuasive, you must hold solid to your morals and beliefs, because that shows your strength of character. We are creative problem solvers and your beliefs will be another challenge to work around in order to create more inclusive art.
The industry is filled with the power hungry and the narcissistic. Unfortunately, there are those who will attempt to use your beliefs and choices against you in the form of threats.
Those who have high sway or contacts may give you the idea that compromising your standards will lead to success and non-compliance with their desires will lead to being blacklisted. As a young actor, whose career is not yet solid, this is something that comes across quite shocking and unexpected, especially when previously you saw said people as mentors or teachers.
My own experience with this situation was only recognised in hindsight. I disagreed with how a show was being run and was told to compromise on my beliefs and opinions or risk my career, which was very frightening. It can feel like you are trapped and have no way to justify what you are saying as important. I hadn’t set in my brain my beliefs, limits or values, so I couldn’t justify why I had disagreed.
We must keep ourselves safe from these toxic interactions by setting beliefs and finding ways to solidify them. This requires bravery. But there is a process you can refer to.
- First, identify what you believe to be right and wrong in cases of social causes, relationships and political views.
- Write your beliefs clearly and memorise them so you are able to calmly state your limits in times of fear or uncertainty.
- Create for yourself a secure financial base so that acting can become a choice rather than a necessity for monetary reasons.
- Always check potential productions before signing on to see if they will conflict with your limits and make clear to the director what you are willing to do if it is unspecific in the script.
- Always remember that you have the right to refuse at any time.
To dismantle the idea that manipulation and narcissism are allowed to thrive within this industry, we must be brave and say no to the things that threaten the limits we are arguing for.
Food for thought.
- Think of a time when you have gone outside your comfort zone. How did it make you feel?
- How do you feel when sharing work that you have rehearsed alone?