Saturday, 21 December 2013

An Actor's Life

By James Kyle

Imagine an actor preparing for a role as an ageing peasant in a play. The actor will look to the text of the play to find pointers to the character he is about to play. Perhaps the character description will specify an age. Perhaps another character in the play will refer to him as dour. Perhaps a stage direction will mention his limp. The actor will try to get into the mindset of the character he is about to play in conjunction with taking on the physicality of this character. An older person may be bent over, walk slowly, and in general feel weaker. A good actor will not just try to mimic this physicality but approach it from the perspective of the underlying problems that old age brings. He may think of a time he was personally ill and felt weak and exhausted, having difficulty making it from one side of a room to the other. He may go onto think about the struggles he had as a student where money was a challenge so as to empathise with the financial plight of somebody living off the land.

A good actor does not play the person. He becomes the person. However these various attempts to get under the skin of the character only tell part of the story. To consciously take on attributes that a character may have is only one of the challenges an actor faces. A much greater challenge can be to lose those personal attributes and idiosyncrasies that the actor has personally built up as their own persona over the years.

Perhaps a subservient peasant would not talk loudly and at pace, stand directly facing someone else, and gesticulate a lot with his hands. If the actor in his own life does these things and unconsciously carries them over into the performance, it can make the character look unconvincing. In fact, it is probably easier to build the layers of the character being taken on, than strip away the ingrained layers of the actor’s own characteristics.

So what has this to do with personal development? Well as Shakepsepare said “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” We are actors in the play that is our own life. And this is not a metaphor. We actually do play roles. We actually do all adopt characters. And like the actor above, choices have led to the parts we play. But just as above, these personal attributes are ingrained, and for many people they become unquestioned, unchangeable. Even when they are evidently not working!

So perhaps you could consider instead, that in life, just as on the stage, we all have choices on how we present ourselves. And yes, our conditioning can make ingrained habits hard to shift. But by the use of awareness and conscious effort we can choose to express ourselves in a way that is more self honouring. We can choose to break out of the roles that are not serving us.

Are you playing the best you? If not, chose another.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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