In Defense of Creative Intuition
I have a question for the class. Why do acting schools mainly focus on teaching us all the ways we can fail in this industry? When I left college, I found that I was more focused on the many ways I could fail rather than all the ways we can succeed. In the middle of this pandemic, I found myself finding any way I could make art not out of love but out of fear. Fear of those haunted warnings our teachers told us. *Cue the eerie Haunted Mansion ride music* “Those who don’t start working immediately after college usually don’t end up working at allllllll.” “ It only takes one bad connection to end your careerrrrrrr.” “I hate wasted potential. That shit crushes your spiritttt.” That last one was from Tyler, The Creator song, but it's not far off from what teachers had told me. I didn’t want to be one of the fabled poor unfortunates who threw away their artistic careers and now brew your venti coffee with their tears at Starbucks. Especially after putting so much money into this dream.
Now I’m not saying our educators shouldn’t be realistic with us. Their teachings aren’t wrong. This industry is tough and will spit you out if you aren’t careful. It’s not easy, but then this begs the question, why don’t these programs actually teach us to be self-assured actors? Actors who can’t be shaken, intimidated, or made to feel like our lives are over if the industry doesn’t accept us.
When I was still in the midst of my battle with anxiety a tool that helped me break my negative self-beliefs was reparenting. The process involves acknowledging that our parents are just humans who were doing the best they could but unintentionally passed down their negative self-beliefs on to us. The next step is becoming your ideal parent and restructuring the way you speak to yourself.
Since I was attending university while doing this healing, it made me also think of my educators in this same framework. After all, our teachers play a major role in our nurturing. Our parents affect how we see the world, while our educators affect our relationship with our desired field. When I was thinking of an ideal parent, I thought of someone who strikes a balance between challenging and uplifting their young. They nurture you and show you how to be strong, but then push you out of the nest when it’s time for you to fly, whether you feel ready or not. The problem is most parents and most educators conflate “making you strong” and “pushing you out of the nest” as the same thing. They are very different processes. If you try to push someone out of the nest without making them strong, they’ll crash and burn.
The push in acting school is entering this supposedly vicious industry. Acting schools commonly mistakes “treating students like they will be treated in the industry” as making them strong when really the best way to make a strong actor is to have actors who know what greatness within themselves looks like.
I don’t blame my educators. Like that first step of reparenting, I can acknowledge they learned fearful approach from their own experience. They didn’t get the courtesy of knowing the pitfalls of this industry before entering. When you are guiding through your past experience, it's hard to think of someone possibly not going through the same barriers you have. It’s hard to imagine that one of your students may make a new path available that wasn’t available before or break any of those tall barriers. Maybe I’m young, naive, and wishful but I don't think it's useless to encourage your students to question these barriers. To be unafraid of them. So many of us are afraid and in that fear, awful things have happened in the history of this industry. Just look at Me Too. Just look at Cicely Tyson who was only able to speak of her experience with sexual assault a week ago. Only right before her passing.
In making us strong our educators shouldn’t just educate us on what our worst looks like. We need to understand in detail what we look like at our best. Every now and then I would get a teacher who would ask for compliments on a scene, but those days were occasional. Also, by the time those days came my class was well into the habit of searching a scene for its problems. No one knew how to give a compliment. It speaks volumes about our education that everyone would meticulously write in their notebooks all the problems with their scene, but promptly put away their notebooks and start clearing the stage the second we got to compliments.
Also is it helpful to paint failing in this industry like falling into the River Styx? People leave this industry and live happy, content, fulfilling lives. People fail big in this industry and still manage to find work. Just look at Janet Hubert (AKA dark-skinned Aunt Viv from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.) I think about her story a lot. Her conflict with Will on set, led to her losing her job and being blacklisted when she just had a baby and was in the middle of leaving an abusive relationship. I had always thought the incident ended her career, but Janet has been working and consistently since she left the show. She even has said she was grateful for losing everything because she found the love of her life during that time. No one else decides when your career is over. You do. Leaving this career doesn’t make you unfortunate. Just because we love something doesn’t mean we need to monetize it.
I call this blog Missed Education because this is exactly the type of training I longed for. It’s something those of us who grew up in community theater have tasted. It was our initial drive. In reeducating yourself I implore you to refind that drive. Rediscover what makes you happy to be an actor. Record yourself doing a scene to find what you like. This is your creative intuition. Trust it and follow it wherever it leads you.