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Backstage Experts

An Inspiration in Every Breath

An Inspiration in Every Breath

You breathe out, you expire. You breathe in, you in-spire. Every single breath you take is a pure dose of unadulterated inspiration. 

Every time an actor says that their “inspiration” is gone or their impulses have been stifled, it reminds me of a story my father likes to tell…

A man slips and falls off the edge of a precipice overhanging the ocean. Miraculously, he manages to grip a small branch sticking out of the cliffside, preventing certain death. Terrified, he begins praying to God for salvation, but moment-by-moment his grip is loosening. 

Soon, a dog-walker appears over the top of the precipice and reaches his hand down. Not able to fully reach, the dog walker says, “Hold on, I will find something to reach you and pull you back up!” 

“No,” says the man, “I am praying to God to save me. He gave me this branch, he will save me in his own way. I put my faith in him and him alone.” Unconvinced, the dog-walker reluctantly leaves the man clinging to the feeble branch. 

Ten minutes later, and still praying, a fishing boat appears underneath the man in the water. “Let go!” one of the fishermen shouts, “We will catch you in our boat and carry you safely to the shore!”

“It’s too risky,” replies the man. “I have been praying to God for a safer way. He never deserts the faithful.” As a storm is beginning to brew, and fearing for their own safety, the fishermen shake their heads and reluctantly agree to depart. 

An hour later, the storm is right upon him. His energy is almost gone and his grip can surely last no longer. But what is that sound above him? The man looks up and sees a helicopter, sent by the dog-walker and the fishermen. A ladder descends and dangles above him, swaying dangerously in what has become an ever-worsening storm. “This is the Coast Guard!” comes an announcement from a loudspeaker above. “Take the ladder up to us and we will fly you out of this squall!”

“No!” the man shouts. “I have prayed to God and he will save me! I have no need for your assistance!” Fighting every moral compunction to stay, the Coast Guard eventually fly away, barely escaping a fatal end to their rescue attempt. 

Moments later, the tiny branch he has been gripping rips free from the wet soil and he plunges into the raging sea below. Sharp rocks and pounding waves finish the job and he dies an agonizing death.

Standing before the Pearly Gates, the man shouts at St. Peter, “I lived a righteous life and gave regularly to charities! I didn’t drink or smoke, I was never promiscuous and I treated everyone with kindness and honestly. I prayed to God with my whole heart on that cliff! Why, oh why, did he desert me?!”

St. Peter closes his ledger, looks at the man, and counting off on his fingers, says, “Listen. He sent you a dog-walker, two fisherman, the Coast Guard…”

Every breath is an inspiration. Every single moment is an inspiration. Though it may not come in the form you imagined, that’s just the way inspiration works. If you don’t like the current one, don’t worry, here comes another one. And wait a second… another. And another…

If something amuses you, it’s an inspiration. If something angers you, inspiration. Bored, fearful, jittery? Be it the character or you. Inspiration. 

To lament the lack of impulses or inspiration is a waste of breath. Literally. Impulses and inspiration are around you—always. To ignore the feelings that do not comply with your predetermined judgment of how a scene should be in your mind is to do so at your own peril. Not quite the jagged rocks at the bottom of a cliff, but just as wasteful. 

Every breath is an inspiration. And that’s truly divine.

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Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher and Backstage Expert. For more information, check out Barry’s full bio!

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