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How Being Wrong Can Be All Right

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How Being Wrong Can Be All Right

An audition piece is not a problem to be solved. And yet, I find that many actors are hyper focused with finding the “right answers” as quickly as possible. Your decisions will be right only if they connect you to your most alive and compelling qualities and then connect you out into the room with dynamic energy and intensity. Job-getting decisions are never the product of obsession and speed—they are the result of a focused period of exploration and the willingness to be wrong again and again.

The thing about creating art is that all of your exploration shows up in the finished product. There may have been 35 wrong attempts to find the best decisions, but they were all part of what got you to the truth. In this way, art is very much akin to science, where a new discovery is the product of endless experiments and incorrect results. Jonas Salk didn’t walk into a laboratory and intuitively figure out the vaccine for polio, he got to work and explored and experimented, knowing that wrong would be his constant companion for a long, long time.

I used to have a problem using the word “wrong”—especially as it pertained to art and acting, but I realized the problem wasn’t with the word, but with the way I was defining it. I saw wrong as embarrassing, shameful, and something to be hidden. But after a long path of inner exploration, I became good buddies with wrong. Wrong is where the possibilities lie, and it’s a wonderful place to be. If you can be OK with the idea that you may be wrong, then you can stop protecting yourself and your point of view, calm down, listen, and learn. Making mistakes is how we learn to grow and change. There is so much space in wrong. 

When you think you’re right all of the time, as many people do, there is no room for growth or change—you’ve already go it all figured out. This is an absolutely deadly attitude for an actor to have, and guarantees work that is one-dimensional, rigid, guarded, and arrogant.

I have written extensively about the need for actors to go further in their audition preparation and the backbone of my technique is made up of tools to help the actor explore deeply and find the most honest and alive intersection between them and the material. I encourage everyone to not settle for their first choices but to keep going, keep deepening. If you work like this, you’ll discard many of your discoveries, but the final result will resonate with everything you’ve explored. 

In this way we see that right and wrong aren’t separate entities. 

Every wrong contains a particle of what is eventually found to be right, and every right is ultimately the product of a lot of being wrong. 

Tennessee Williams, when asked what the worst thing he ever wrote was, replied, “The first draft of all of my plays.” There is no direct route to greatness in art. The more interesting the journey, the more detours taken, the more mini failures, the more fascinating the result.

I teach all of my students to make friends with being wrong and to hang out with it for as long as possible. It keeps them in the place of wonder that is essential to creating great art. Because right can many times equate to close-mindedness and can eliminate anything that doesn’t agree with it, rushing to get there will cheat your work of all of the gold you find in the expansive, vulnerable space of wrong. 

Right is often a closed and stuffy room, but wrong is always an open field. 

So many things shifted for the good when I changed my definition and my relationship to being wrong and I encourage you to do the same. I listen better and am much less defended—two essential qualities needed for great acting, by the way—and because of that, things are more right than they have ever been. 

I now look forward to and embrace my mistakes and feel a great sense of joy every time I say, “I don’t know.” To me that means that I am in for another adventure in discovering something new—no pressure to get it all right and another chance to spend time in the wonderful land of wrong.

They say that two wrongs don’t make a right. I agree. Two isn’t nearly enough.

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Craig Wallace is an acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Wallace’s full bio!

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