Recently, while listening to Patt Morrison on our local NPR station, our thoughts turned to actors. Not surprising really, most things make us think of actors. The topic was a recent study on puberty. The study suggested that, for reasons that are still unclear, girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever. Like, sometimes as young as seven or eight years old. While everyone on the panel agreed that early onset puberty brought with it a number of negative health risks, one guest offered insight into the psychological effects of early puberty that relate to our work as actors.
The thing about puberty is that many of the physical manifestations of puberty occur before menstruation and the internal feelings of sexual desire. That means a young girl's outward appearance changes before her brain becomes sexual and she desires sexual behavior. But in a society that takes every opportunity to sexualize young women, these young girls learn that their bodies elicit a response from the people around them. The bat of an eye, the movement of their hips, etc. Advertising, TV, and movies reinforce the notion that if they act a certain way, they’ll get a specific reaction from the men and boys they encounter. Even though they don't feel internal sexual desire, they know that their bodies are having an effect on the audience around them. At a very early age girls, learn to equate sexuality with performance. The focus is on how they are affecting the audience with sexual movement and behavior even though, in one panelist’s words, "They aren't developmentally able to connect that to authentic, erotic feeling." It's a performance without a truthful connection. Sound familiar? In a nutshell, they're focused on asking, "What does the audience want of me?" and then trying to give the audience what it wants, before asking, "What do I want?" And they don't know what they want because their internal biology hasn't caught up with their outward appearance and the way in which they are sexualized by clothing companies, cosmetic companies, TV shows, and so on.
The tragedy is that left unchecked, young girls who equate sexuality with performance turn into women who equate sexuality with performance, and an entire lifetime can pass by without those women asking the question, "What do I really want?" They never discover or express their unique sexual voice because the focus of sexual behavior is always on the audience and the performance they believe the audience demands.
Actors do something similar. We can be so focused on getting the industry to pay attention to us and validate us that we ignore our own voice. When we open the email from the agent and read the sides we'll first ask ourselves, "What do they want?" or "What can I do to make them pick me?" rather than, "Where do these moments live in me?" and "How do I feel about the world of this play?" Instead of bringing our unique artistry to the world of the play, we ignore our own voice and put the focus on trying to please someone else. The result is that often times we offer an audition or performance that's not connected to our truth. We put on. We act. We want what they can give us so badly (and the validation and money that come with it) that we do everything we can to focus on the audience and control their response. And when we do that we quiet our own voice and we shirk our duty to add our unique voice to the narrative. And it is our duty as artists in society.
Now, of course it's not all about you. You don't get to impose your point of view on a script and change the tone or, indeed, the story itself. You have to hit their notes and honor the vision of the writer and the director. But why not do that with your own unique voice? If the director says, "be sad," then be your sad and do the work of having it come from a place of connected truth. Actors often go so far in the other direction – desperate to do whatever it takes to make them love us – that we give up our power, our creative voice, and offer a version of what we think sad might look like to them.
At a certain level in the business, being a pleaser won't cut it. If you want them to put millions of dollars of their pilot or feature film money on your shoulders, you need to show up with artistry. And artistry comes with a strong creative voice, the ability to take creative risks, and bringing your unique point of view to the world of the play. And that takes guts. But as the great Brené Brown says, "Authenticity is a choice and a practice." It's up to you. Unlike that 8-year-old kid who isn't developmentally able to connect to her authentic feeling, you are perfectly capable of being truthful. You're perfectly capable of making strong, active choices born of a moment you allowed yourself to create. So do it! Come to class. Do the work. Hone your voice. Be an artist!
Hyper-focus on the audience breeds a performance that is not connected to your authentic feelings. Start by discovering what, if anything, moves you about the scene. What bold, truthful choices would you make if the audience weren't watching? Discover where it lives in you, then ask yourself how your voice might vibrate with what you think they want to hear
Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun are partnered in The Bramon Garcia Braun Studio, dedicated to actors’ whole journey, connecting craft with career. New career changing classes are starting mid March. For more information, visit www.bramongarciabraun.com.
For the past 30 years Bramon Garcia has worked consistently as a director, producer, casting director, writer, and teacher. She directed the cult classic, "200 cigarettes," and most recently, "The Con Artist." She directed extensively in theater and TV. Her casting résumé includes more than 65 feature films, including "Something Wild," "At Close Range," "Angel Heart," "Fatal Attraction," "Wall Street," "Jacob’s Ladder," "Born on the Fourth of July," "JFK," "The Doors," "The Joy Luck Club," "True Romance," "Speed," "How To Make An American Quilt," "Dead Presidents," "Twister," "Benny and Joon," "Flirting With Disaster," and "Roseanne". Currently she's casting the Showtime series, "Masters of Sex."
Over his 15 year career as an actor, Braun has starred in such movies as "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle," "Wrong Turn 2," and "The Trip" and been a series regular on such TV shows as "The Immortal" and "Twins." He has recently guest starred on "CSI: Miami," "CSI: NY," "Bones," "The Closer," "NCIS," and "The Mentalist." In 2007 and 2008, Steve worked Barack Obama’s campaign for president. For the last ten years, he's taught his method of achieving truthful emotional expression to actors of all levels. .