Is acting just about confidence?
This month we’ve been exploring the work of Anthony Meindl in StageMilk Drama Club. Anthony calls his process the ”non-method” way of acting, emphasising that his process uses no substitutions, sense memory, or repetition. So it got me thinking… how important are all these acting methodologies, and can sheer confidence be the solution we have all been searching for?
I have to clarify that I’m not talking about the chest pumping confidence we see all too often on our Instagram feeds. I’m talking about the confidence to take risks, follow our impulses, and not base our self-worth on the opinions of others.
I get the opportunity to work with 100s of actors every month and what I’ve noticed is that simply working on your acting, and building confidence in your ability, naturally solves many of the issues most actors face. That’s because most of what holds us back is fear.
Acting training used to be apprenticeship based. Actors would start as Spearbearer 2, and slowly work towards Hamlet. They would clock up serious hours on the job. Of course they were learning tricks and technique along the way but the main training was sheer hours on stage. When I reflect on my own drama school experience, though I learned so many things in class, it was the 8-10 plays that I did over 3 years that really allowed me to improve as an actor.
Even since graduating from drama school I look at my acting peers and the ones who are improving are the ones who are working. They have either been given a major role or a number of smaller roles, and that practical experience has been what has allowed them to develop as actors.
So yes, I think building your confidence is a major factor.
Most actors are innately creative, playful, and have great natural instincts, but they don’t allow those qualities to come out enough. We often obsess over technique to help us with our blocks, but what if you just weren’t blocked? In my experience most actors are blocked because of self-consciousness, acute stage fright, or just run of the mill nerves. And no amount of sense memory exercises are going to solve that.
So if you believe me that confidence could be the key to most of your acting hurdles, what can you do about it?
#1 Get up first in class.
When I was at drama school my best mate Travis would always get up first in class. He did it because he was terrified, and the only way to stop being terrified was to get up first. He would jump up before he could overthink it, and over the course of our training he became one of the most brave and successful actors. Of course this same mentality can be applied to everything in your acting career.
#2 Take chances.
Especially in learning environments like acting class, take chances. Explore that accent, play with that character choice, work on that play that no one has heard of. Sometimes you will make mistakes, but the only way to develop confidence is by pushing past that safe point. We all have things that we are good at as actors, but if you keep staying in that space you will not progress as an artist.
#3 Work on personal confidence.
At the start of this article I mentioned Anthony Meindl. Anthony is a big advocate for working on yourself to improve your acting.The theory goes that your issues in real life will be your issues on stage or screen. So if confidence is an issue, start working on it outside of acting class. Speaking up at parties, say hello to new people, ask your friends to read your play, make that short film, anything and everything that allows you to push past your fears.
#4 Let go of expectations.
For most of us, our fears come from wanting to impress others, or at the very least not wanting to be bad. But this desire to be liked always leads to safe choices. Do what you can to erode this mentality. Make mistakes, take chances, and see everything as a learning experience. This is particularly important in a class environment. This is a place to fail gloriously! One trick that has helped me, is to stop being so judgemental of other actors. How you judge other actors, is how you think you are being judged by other actors. When you start to see the best in other actors you feel less judged when you are on stage; if you are hypercritical about others, you assume everyone is also hypercritical about you. This is a very simple, but powerful mental shift.
#5 Put in the hours.
I know a number of actors who are complete introverts, but when they get up on stage they are larger than life. They are creative, confident and captivating. How can someone who can barely have a conversation at a party, confidently perform in front of 1000s of people? They have become comfortable in that arena. They have put in the hours and can be confident in that particular environment. This is actually very common for actors. If you are nervous on camera, or shaking in your boots when you get up on stage, just PUT IN THE HOURS. The more you get familiar with that environment the more you will start to feel at home in that space.
So there it is. Of course you cannot just rely on confidence, but for me it has been a big factor. My fears have held me back and kept me playing it safe. And safe just doesn’t cut it in this game. I am a strict advocate for developing and refining your process and technique, because that will lead to you feeling more comfortable, relaxed and confident in the work.
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