How to Stay Inspired as an Actor | Using Inspiration to Fuel Motivation

How to Stay Inspired as an Actor

Written by on | Acting Tips

Does anyone else feel exhausted already this year? I always make the same mistake of going too hard, too fast at the start of a new year and end up riding the edge of burnout by April. I’ve got a lot of friends who are passionate, talented actors and artists who love what they do. But like me, they hit the same brick wall. Let’s talk about how to stay inspired as an actor.

Learning how to stay inspired as an actor will help you navigate the ‘down times’, when your career is quiet or when you find yourself exhausted from the hustle. The answer doesn’t lie in avoiding feeling tired altogether, but how you can harness dips in energy and ensure you’re fuelling up to hit the ground running again.

Acting is so much fun, but requires so much work. It’s very easy to get carried away with it–particularly at the start of a new year because when you might feel rested and motivated. Sometimes, no matter how driven or passionate you are, no matter how much work you are or aren’t getting, you’ll find yourself in these periods of exhaustion. Learn to cope with these, to deal with these, and you’ll be back on top again in no time. 

Motivation and Inspiration

First of all: I’m not writing an article about how to stay motivated as an actor (partially because we’ve already written that one.) Motivation and inspiration go together like vanilla milkshakes and French fries but they aren’t the same thing.  Motivation is what keeps you moving towards your goals. inspiration is the drive you have to set those goals. It’s that feeling you get from watching a great performance and thinking: “I want that. I want to be them.”

The problem is: when you’re feeling exhausted or downtrodden and you lose your sense of inspiration, it’s hard to stay motivated. And your goals grow old and un-ticked-off. When you’re feeling this way, your body/mind are telling you that it’s time to take a break. That’s normal and we should honour that. The temptation to keep pushing through these feelings is dangerous and can lead to burnout.

The great thing about inspiration is that it’s not as elusive or energy-consuming as we think it is. Motivation will always be there, so long as you’re staying inspired.

The Path to Inspiration: An Acting Parable

To explore the different ways to stay inspired as an actor, I’m going to tell you about my favourite, fictional actor, Nick Von (previously known as Schnitzel Von Crummington III in our stage name article.) Nick has been killing it for a couple of years, now. They’ve been on the main stage, they’ve been in a couple of feature films and they even landed a principal role in a limited Netflix series.

But that series was wrapped and released a couple of months ago. Things have gone quiet. The only auditions Nick is getting are for commercials—which they’re grateful for–but every tape feels like a huge chore just to be present for the camera. Nick watches the tapes back and is disappointed. They start to question whether or not they really have what what it takes to be an actor.

Their instinct is to push harder. They sit down with a two-line script for a toothpaste commercial and develop a character with a three-page backstory and peanut allergy. They ask their friend Claire to come over and workshop the character and give notes. The first thing Claire says when she walks in is: “Wow, Nick, you look exhausted.”

Mindfulness

Lightbulb. Nick is exhausted. They’ve hardly had any time to themselves for the better part of two years. They need some time off, but they’re worried that taking time off is a sign that they’ve lost all their motivation. Claire is watching all this flash across Nick’s face and suggests they do some yoga.

For the next 30 minutes, Claire and Nick are listening to the dulcet tones of Yoga with Adriene. After they’re finished, they spend some time stting and noticing their breath. Nick is already feeling a lot better. They shoot the toothpaste tape and send it off without a second thought. Claire suggests to Nick they should make a daily habit of practicing some form of mindfulness.

Over the next few days, Nick journals in the morning and does yoga whenever they get a spare half an hour. At night, Nick also makes a considered effort to check in with themselves and notice how they’re feeling without judging or trying to change it. The days start to feel a little longer and Nick notices they’re feeling less anxious about their career.

The Neutral State

Practices like yoga, meditation, physical exercise and journalling are essential tools. Our world moves at a staggering pace and encourages people to keep up regardless of how it could be affecting their physical and mental health. We’re so used to being overstimulated all the time that this abnormal state of being has become normal.

Making time to practice some form of daily mindfulness will allow your body to settle back into its natural patterns of regulation. You may have heard of “the neutral state” or “coming back to neutral” being taught in drama classes. “Neutral” is essentially a state of mindfulness where your body is relaxed and aligned so that it can dive headfirst into a character and/or scene without any held preconceptions about either.

Creativity flourishes when you practice mindfulness and allow your body to come to stillness in our nonstop world.

Trying Something New

Claire and Nick have been going to yoga classes for a few weeks now and they have a perspective-shifting conversation after one particularly rigorous Vinyasa session. Nick loves acting. It’s all Nick thinks about, reads about, dreams about and talks about. Claire noticed that Nick is muttering Shakespeare’s sonnets under their breath during their yoga classes and thinks it’s time for an intervention. Claire starts by asking Nick what their hobbies are. What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What’s something that brings them joy? Nick’s answer is: “Acting, of course!”

“Acting is your job,” says Claire, “Even if it’s your dream job. When was the last time you learned a new skill?”

“Well, I learned about a great acting technique by Mike Leigh-“

“That’s still acting. Come on, I’ve got a voucher for a pottery class that we can try this afternoon.”

Work/Life Balance

Actors, even the most passionate of our kind, still need to consider their work-life balance. It’s particularly difficult because the work of an actor is often to imitate life in some way, so the line between where our work ends and where our lives begin can get very blurry. 

An essential part of being a well-rounded human being is to learn new skills and take interest in things you wouldn’t usually consider interesting. Pick up an instrument, read a book about science, go for a hike, take a coding class, go to a karaoke night–the less it has to do with the craft, the better. 

I’ll tell you a secret, though. It’s all part of the craft. Any skill or activity that requires you to engage with the real world in some way makes you a better person and, by extension, a better actor. That being said, try something new that sparks joy, not because you think it would be a good addition to your special skills section of your resume.

Get Social

Nick considers themselves an introvert. They have a handful of close friends, but no one except Claire has heard from Nick since they landed that Netflix series. Nick’s journals are starting to fill up with lines like: “I just need to focus on my work”“I’m too busy to socialise”, “I’ll get back to those texts eventually”.

Once again, our fearless hero Claire is here to save the day. She arranges a dinner with Nick and all of their friends. It’s an emotional reunion, filled with “I haven’t seen you in forever!” and “How are you?” and Nick tells them all about the pottery classes and hikes and piano lessons. They’re all shocked and delighted: they won’t be enduring a night of Nick actorsplaining the intricacies of Stella Adler, but rather one of board games and jokes and deep and meaningful conversations. All the good stuff.

As an actor, you need people in this life: both in the biz and outside of it. There have been a lot of recent studies that show the greatest contributor to good health and overall happiness are peoples’ social connections. It makes sense because human beings are pack animals – back in the day, if you didn’t have a tribe of reliable people looking after each other, you were dead. Engaging with other people doesn’t only give you more insight to the human condition which is necessary to understand if you want to be a good actor, it keeps you happy and sane which is just as necessary to being a good actor.

Back to It

It’s been a whole month and Nick hasn’t felt anxious about their career at all. Their feet are getting closer to the ground in downward dog, they’ve learned to play Hot Cross Buns on the piano and they haven’t spent this much time with their pals since high school. They look at themselves in the mirror one morning and with a glowing smile and a deep breath say: “It’s time.” They open their phone and book tickets to a stage play.

Nick is nervous. What if it’s not the same? What if they’ve been away from it for too long? They take a deep breath, notice how they’re feeling and decide that it doesn’t matter. What will be, will be. The lights go down and the curtains go up. It’s a rush that Nick hasn’t experienced in almost two years. The lights, the set, the electricity in the air, the rise and fall of the actors’ shoulders as they wrestle with their objectives and their relationships and given circumstances. Nick feels a pull to the stage, a deep appreciation for the actors and the director and the writer and everyone who made the show possible. When the curtain goes down, Nick leaps to their feet, applauding. Around them, people are a little confused: it was good but it wasn’t that good…

Over the coming days, Nick gets tickets for as many films and plays as they can. They’re noticing things about the acting, script, cinematography, lighting and the sound that they’ve never considered before. There’s a richness to it all.  And when those auditions finally start rolling around, Nick is excited: ready to meet them with all of this fresh energy.

Finding Inspiration in the Work of Others

You also don’t have to completely step away from acting in order to recover your inspiration like Nick did. Seeing films and theatre shows and reading plays can be a part of your life just as much as yoga and socializing and pottery classes are.

The simple act of exposing yourself to other peoples’ work can be incredibly inspiring and valuable for your own craft. But don’t just stop at film and theatre, though. Read lots of books, fiction and non-fiction, play video games, go to clown shows and puppet shows, art galleries and museums. Find as many stories and ways of telling stories as possible and soak them up. If you’re living fully and experiencing new things and learning new skills, this will inform the way you absorb these stories—and gift you perspectives you’ve never had before.

Conclusion

Simply put: the way to get inspired as an actor is to live a good life. It’s what makes this job one of the best in the world, because all of the best things in life are technically research for the actor. If you’re looking after yourself and the people around you and seeking out new ways to grow and engage with the world, you’re going to be just fine.

 I’ll leave you with a beautiful letter written by musician Nick Cave to a young aspiring artist.

“Read. Read as much as possible. Read the big stuff, the challenging stuff, the confronting stuff, and read the fun stuff too. Visit galleries and look at paintings, watch movies, listen to music, go to concerts – be a little vampire running around the place and sucking up all the ideas you can. Fill yourself with the beautiful stuff of the world. Get amazed. Get astonished. Get awed on a regular basis, so that getting awed is habitual and becomes a state of being. Fully understand your enormous value in the scheme of things because the planet needs people like you, smart young creatives full of awe, who can minister to the world with positive, mischievous energy, young people who seek spiritual enrichment and who see hatred and disconnection as the corrosive forces they are. These are manifest indicators of a human being with immense potential.

Absorb into yourself the world’s full richness and goodness and fun and genius, so that when someone tells you it’s not worth fighting for, you will stick up for it, protect it, run to its defence, because it is your world they’re talking about, then watch that world continue to pour itself into you in gratitude. A little smart vampire full of raging love, amazed by the world – that will be you, my young friend, the earth shaking at your feet.

Love, Nick”

Hope this helps. See you around the traps!

 

About the Author

Frazer Shepherdson

Frazer (he/him) is a writer, actor and director. He has worked professionally in film, television and theatre since 2016 and graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Bachelor in Acting in 2021.

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