Before I set off on this extended metaphor of an actor as bamboo, let me just acknowledge the irony of this comparison and get that out of the way. Yes, we have all been asked if we are “playing the tree” in our next production. And yes, that joke from our Muggle family and friends
remains utterly hilarious. Every. Single. Time.
But in this rare instance, I am actually going to encourage you to think of yourself – for a brief moment, I promise – as a bamboo tree (apologies if this induces any drama school PTSD, folks.)
For the uninitiated, bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world. Certain species have been recorded by Guinness World Records to grow 91cm (35 in) in 24 hours. Insane, right?
The twist, however, is that for at least the first three years, the bamboo tree’s growth is hardly noticeable. To the outside eye, one could easily assume the plant had simply died. Yet, what we don’t see from the outside is the massive underground root network that is being developed
during this time. The massive underground root network that enables and supports the unrivalled and unparalleled growth that comes when the time is right.
So what has this to do with being an actor?
I believe there are three incredibly wisdom-ly nuggets to be taken from this parable that can be directly applied to our lives and struggles as beautiful actor humans. Bear with me, but I’d love to see what you think.
#1 Growth isn’t always obvious.
This can be a tricky one to come to terms with in this day and age, where ‘instant gratification’ is largely the name of the game. But there would be no bamboo in the world if every farmer gave up at any point in the first three years, despairing the lack of external progress. Likewise, we should endeavour to measure our improvement by factors beyond that which are outwardly discernible. If
we are genuinely caring for our precious bamboo plant (ie. your charming actor self), and nurturing it each and every day, we have to trust that all will unfold as and when it should. You absolutely have to do the work, yes, but then you have to leave it with Mother Nature.
#2 Comparing trees is redundant.
Similarly, the nature of our modern existence makes it incredibly easy to compare ourselves to others, but we often neglect to recognise we are looking at two very different experiences. Sure, your pal from high school (let’s say an apple tree for the sake of our metaphor) might look mightily impressive compared to you right now, but you’re not an apple tree. Therefore the comparison is irrelevant and illogical, and should not be the cause of an all-consuming mental downwards spiral. 100% easier to say than do, of course, but just the awareness itself can be a really helpful shift. You would politely point this out to a frustrated bamboo farmer wouldn’t you? You would gently remind this dear soul that bamboo trees and apple trees have entirely disparate journeys.
#3 Lasting ‘success’ requires persistence.
If you take a moment to study the best of the best in any field, you won’t have to dig long to find a common thread: adversity had to be overcome, and determination, tenacity and resilience were all essential components in their triumph. In fact, grit – this resolve and strength of character – has been called a ‘critical variable’ in predicting one’s success in any walk of life, from career to sports to relationships and everything in between. We can all think of at least a handful of individuals that have attained ‘success’ overnight, only to have disappeared into the ether years, or even months, later. That’s not the narrative we’re seeking. We’re here for longevity and impact.
I suppose this all goes to say there has to be some element of faith in our pursuit. Or at the very least, our journey to wherever it is we are individually headed is a lot more pleasant and anxiety – free if we are able to trust in something larger than ourselves. We actors can do a pretty good job of planting the metaphorical seed (our wildest dreams and ambitions), and tending to it regularly (through training, experience and exposure), but we can also be pretty guilty of digging up the damn seed to see if it has grown yet. Or yet. Or yet. (Myself certainly included).
Bottom line: 99% of a panda’s diet comes from bamboo, so without bamboo, we wouldn’t have pandas, and that would be a very sad world.
Likewise, without you, the world won’t get to see the innovation and gifts and brilliance that only you can bring to the table. And that would be an equally sad world indeed.